Holistic Therapies for Anxiety and Depression: Medication is Not the Only Answer
Jan 03, 2019 02:11PM
● By Roseann Capanna-Hodge
When we consider treatments for anxiety and depression, there is a pervasive false belief that pharmacological interventions are the only effective treatment. The truth is that other potentially more effective treatments than medication do exist and the central nervous system (CNS) can be regulated through these clinically valid therapies.
Addressing how the CNS responds to stress is an important first step that many natural therapies effectively cover. When we are under stress, these brain structures jump into action and prepare for a crisis, which then triggers the fight-or-flight response. The amygdala and hippocampus have a major role in emotional regulation and stress responses. They are part of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis that can cause the CNS to react strongly to stimuli. The amygdala overrides the prefrontal cortex when involved with the fight-or-flight system. Without good prefrontal control, the amygdala hijacks the brain. That means we react in less rational ways because the brain has gone into survival mode. Calming the CNS is critical in reducing anxiety and depression. Here are six natural therapies for anxiety and depression with research that supports their efficacy.
This is a highly researched and effective treatment for a variety of conditions, including anxiety and depression, as documented through 3,000 peer-reviewed studies. Brain functioning is monitored through computers during a session and that live feedback is shown to the client. A person is trained to promote or reduce different brainwave frequencies; the brain is then rewarded for changing its activity to produce more appropriate patterns. Through this reinforcement, new electrical activity is produced in the brain, and the brainwave activity is “shaped” toward a more desirable, more regulated performance. These changes result in a reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms as the brain learns to self-regulate and be calmed.
We can use this technique to learn to control the body’s functions, such as heart rate, skin temperature or breath. When we have anxiety and depression, learning how to self-regulate our bodily functions can reduce stress by balancing the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system.
With biofeedback, we are connected to electrical sensors that measure and give information (feedback) about the body (bio). This feedback helps us focus on making subtle changes in the body—such as relaxing certain muscles—to achieve the desired results. The results can be pain reduction or body temperature control to reduce stress. Biofeedback differs from neurofeedback because it requires conscious control over our thoughts and autonomic functions. Biofeedback gives us the power to use thoughts to control the body, often reducing stress or improving a health condition or physical performance.
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field and Bioregulation Therapy
Bioregulation therapy (BRT) is a unique approach to health and wellness that uses biofeedback and pulsed electromagnetic field-based (PEMF) electromagnetic technology to help the body better self-regulate, adapt and heal naturally. It helps to align the body so the brain can work better.
BRT is a body-balancing method where a computer reads the electrical impulses (frequencies) being emitted by the body. BRT signals target very specific communication channels in order to clear blockages and restore communication pathways. It does this by filtering out the disharmonic “unhealthy” vibrations that interfere with optimal cell communication in order to promote optimal functioning. During a therapeutic session, “healthy” harmonic frequencies are amplified and then sent back to the cells. These harmonic frequencies invigorate the cells and promote beneficial cellular communication. The nervous system calms down once the cells are working more optimally. It diminishes disruptive signals, such as pain or anxiety, which have become magnified over time. With feedback, the cells better align themselves within the organ system and entire body, typically resulting in feelings of wellness.
Audiovisual entrainment (AVE) is a technique that uses pulses of light and sound at specific frequencies to safely and gently guide brainwave patterns. Through a process of entrainment, which is the tendency of physiological processes to mirror environmental stimuli, AVE regulates brainwave functioning. By presenting combined pulsed audio and visual stimulation to the brain, over a period of time the brain begins to resonate at the same frequency as the stimuli. It also increases cerebral blood flow in the brain, as well as impacts the electrical activity of the brain. AVE increases the metabolization of glucose in the brain for improved functioning of the neurons. The combined action of these processes results in improved mental performance and focus, and quiets internal dialogue or chatter, which are often negatively impacted by anxiety and depression.
Psychotherapy can help with a lingering issue, such as childhood wounds. It also aids in gaining support for a new problem, like parenting support, addressing anxiety or managing depression. A good therapist will help support us in adopting healthy new habits and gaining new skills. The problem with talk therapy is that it doesn’t address the underlying CNS dysregulation resulting from anxiety and depression, and which often leaves individuals feeling activated. In other words, when we talk about a stressor, our CNS goes into a hyper state and can’t regulate; we often feel physically or emotionally agitated. This agitated state makes the reasoning process in a traditional talk therapy session almost impossible as people can’t access their rational brain and think clearly. A good therapist has additional tools to help calm the nervous system, such as biofeedback, neurofeedback, meditation, play and art therapy, EFT/Tapping, and EMDR to calm the nervous system before introducing cognitive behavioral therapy. Once regulated, psychotherapy can address looping thoughts, negative beliefs, worrisome thoughts, moods, behavioral regulation or other issues that need to be addressed.
Emotional Freedom Technique/Tapping
Emotional freedom technique (EFT), often referred to as tapping, is a tool used for physical, emotional and performance issues. It should be done under the care of a licensed professional. EFT works like emotional acupressure to quickly, gently and easily release negative emotions and beliefs that are at the root of the problem. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure, based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments for over 5,000 years. Simple tapping with the fingertips is used to input kinetic energy onto specific meridians on the head and chest while we think about our specific problem and make statements.
Not only is EFT a self-help tool but, when done under the care of a licensed psychotherapist, it is a therapeutic technique. As a self-help tool, one can use EFT for anxiety, stress management and wellness promotion. When done in a therapy session with a licensed psychotherapist, EFT helps address clinical issues such as anxiety and depression.
When looking for clinically valid natural treatments for anxiety or depression, consider these research-based therapies.
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge is an integrative psychologist and certified neurofeedback practitioner with offices in Ridgefield and Newtown. She can be reached at 203-438-4848 or [email protected]. See ad, page 30.