Beliefnet
A Prescription for Healthy Living

Non-Drug Options for Dealing With Anxiety and Depression

Tired of taking your everyday pill hoping it will help you with your depression? Your medication is not helping you anxiety? Don’t want to take medication dreading the compelling side effects ?

When considering your mental health, it’s important to recognize your diet and lifestyle as foundational factors that must be optimized if you hope to fully address mental health concerns of any kind, including depression and anxiety. Your body and mind are closely interrelated, so while you may think of your brain as the primary organ in charge of your mental health, your gut may play an equally important, if not more important, role.

Unfortunately, The drugs available today to treat depression fail miserably in addressing mental health problems, and the side effects of antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs can be worse than the original complaint, running the gamut from lack of emotions to sexual side effects and irritability, and to sleep disturbances.

These powerful medications can even put you at risk for homicide and suicide! They may result in chronic, long-term, worsening depression. Why not avoid them unless absolutely necessary, and generally only as a “last resort”?

Healthy Diet, Lifestyle Are Crucial for Optimal Mental Health

As with most medical conditions, your diet is a crucial first place to start when looking for ways to improve your health and sense of well-being. Research tells us that the composition of your gut flora not only affects your physical health, but also has a significant impact on your brain function and mental state.

As such, your gut microbiome can be quickly impacted by dietary changes — for better or for worse. Research has also revealed a number of other safe and effective ways to address depression that do notinvolvehazardous drugs. So, if you suffer from an anxiety- or depression-related disorder, please consider addressing the following diet and lifestyle factors before you resort to drugs.

If you are already taking a prescription medication for mental health, you can make these changes along with taking the medication until you are able to successfully wean off the drugs — with the help and oversight of your doctor, of course.

1. Eat real food

Making a commitment to eat whole, organic, naturally-occurring food will mean you also choose to ingest less processed foods, sugar (particularly fructose), grains and genetically engineered (GE) foods.

High sugar and starchy carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can trigger hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, anger, anxiety, depression and panic attacks. Sugar also creates inflammation in your body.

Processed foods typically contain high amounts of sugar, damaging omega-6 fats and many chemical additives that can affect your brain function and mental state. Aspartame and MSG are two I would most definitely seek to avoid. Gluten sensitivity is a common, hidden cause of depression, so you may want to consider implementing a gluten-free diet.

Recent research also shows that glyphosate, used in large quantities on GE crops like corn, soy and sugar beets, limits your body’s ability to detoxify foreign chemical compounds. As such, the damaging effects of those toxins are magnified, potentially resulting in brain disorders with both behavioral and psychological effects.

2.Increase your consumption of fermented food

Reducing gut inflammation is imperative when addressing mental health issues like depression or anxiety

, so optimizing your gut flora is vital. To promote healthy gut flora, increase your consumption of probiotic foods, such as fermented vegetables, kefir, kimchee and natto. If none of these foods is available, consider taking a probiotic supplement daily.

3.Get adequate vitamin B12

Several vitamin B deficiencies are capable of producing symptoms of neuropsychiatric disorders. As such, B vitamins can be a valuable adjunct in the treatment of anxiety, attention deficit disorder, depression and schizophrenia, among other mental illnesses. I recommend you pay attention to vitamins B1, B2, B6, B8 and B9, but most especially B12. One in 4 people are thought to be deficient in vitamin B12.

3.Optimize your vitamin D levels

Vitamin D is very important for your mood. Remember, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression related to sunshine deficiency, so it would make sense to optimize your vitamin D levels through UV exposure.

4.Get sufficient animal-based omega-3 fats

Since your brain is 60 percent fat, DHA, an animal-based  Omega-3 fat, along with EPA, is crucial for proper brain function and mental health. Although anchovies, sardines and wild-caught Alaskan salmon are excellent sources, most people don’t get enough omega-3s from diet alone. If that’s you, make sure you take a high-quality omega-3 supplement, such as krill oil.

5.Evaluate your salt intake

Believe it or not, sodium deficiency creates symptoms similar to those of depression. Take a pass on processed salt (regular table salt), however, and choose all natural, unprocessed salt like Himalayan salt, which contains more than 80 different micronutrients.

6.Get adequate daily exercise

Studies have highlighted a strong connection between aerobic activity and improved mood. There is also growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, which means maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.

Exercising also boosts your levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, which help elevate your mood and counteract the effects of stress.

7.Get enough sleep

You can have the best diet and exercise program possible, but if you do not get enough high quality sleep, you put yourself at risk for depression and other illnesses. The two are so intricately linked that it is often difficult to tell if depression is causing your sleep problems or sleep problems are causing or contributing to depression and other mood disorders.

Regardless of the connection, most adults require seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep a night. Children and teenagers require even more.

8 Engage in relaxing diversions

Take a walk, listen to music, take a hot bath, love up your pet—any of these will calm jangled nerves and help you regain a sense of being grounded on the planet.

9.Meditate

Mindful meditation brings profound calm, especially welcome to those suffering with anxiety. Meditation is simply sitting or lying still and letting your mind empty. However, for most this is easier said than done. You may even find you feel too agitated to sit still. Do something active first and then try sitting.

 

Haven’t  felt the urge in a while? Perhaps it just hasn’t felt as good as it used to. It could be stress, or it could be something more. When it comes to boosting your sex drive, the topic may seem a bit taboo to discuss. Regardless, a healthy sex life is important for reducing stress, building a healthy relationship with your partner, and improving overall wellbeing. Diet and exercise offer the best solutions for stimulating sexual desire; yet, a number of herbal tools may also provide support. When you need a little boost, turn to these 10 herbs for help.


1. Ashwaganda Root
The Kama Sutra identifies ashwagandha as a potent igniter of passion and desire. While that benefit may get your immediate attention, its popularity with women has more to do with the way it stimulates libido and increases satisfaction. The herb may increase blood flow to the clitoris and other female sexual organs, creating an intense sexual experience.

2. Maca Root
This has been the go-to herb for women living in the Andes for centuries. Maca’s high iodine content supports a woman’s hormone balance and its high zinc levels, an essential mineral for sex hormones, does more than fan the flames of desire. Women who took maca root in one study reported improved sexual experiences and satisfaction.

3. Muira Puama
Women who use muira puama report a surge in libido, desire, sexual enjoyment and intensified orgasms. Its positive effect on both pre- and post-menopausal sexual experience supports its overall benefits for female sexual and reproductive health. It probably comes as no surprise this herb is often called “potency wood.”

4. Dark Chocolate
This one doesn’t make the list by accident. Although not technically an herb, dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa may help increase dopamine levels in the brain. A rise in the brain’s “pleasure chemical” dopamine lifts the mood, relaxes, and improves the body’s response to stimulation.

 5.Avena sativa
women stand by oats (Avena sativa) for its aphrodisiac and libido-stimulating qualities. Tradition holds it increases vaginal stimulation and advances the physical and emotional desires for sex. Scientists trying to understand how it works.They believe it frees bound testosterone, providing the body with the hormones needed for sexual stimulation.

6. Catuaba
The Tupi tribe of Brazil praises catuaba for its potent aphrodisiac qualities. Its active compound yohimbine energizes and stimulates libido and desire. Research has determined it increases dopamine levels in the brain, resulting in greater sensitivity to erogenous stimulation. Regular use is known to create erotic dreams and heighten sexual satisfaction and orgasm intensity.

7. Damiana
Turnera diffusa, better known as damiana, grows natively in the American Southwest, Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. Many consider its leaf a highly-prized libido enhancer. Flavonoids, phenolics, glycosides, terpenoids, and even caffeine all contribute to reduced feelings of stress and increased blood flow, particularly to the pelvic area where increased sensitivity leads to heightened stimulation.

8. Suma root
Sometimes called Brazilian Ginseng, this herb is extremely popular with the native population in South America for the way it aids female hormonal balance and excites libido. Science has confirmed suma root increases levels of estradiol-17beta, the primary estrogen hormone during a woman’s reproductive years. Women who use this herb report more intense sexual experiences and greater satisfaction.

9. Tribulus terrestris
Studies of women who use this herb report greater desire, increased arousal, lubrication, more intense orgasms, and satisfaction.  Tribulus stimulates androgen receptors in the brain making the body much more responsive to testosterone and other sex hormones. It also helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

10. Tongkat Ali
Called the greatest natural aphrodisiac by Dr. Oz, Tongkat ali extract has been used by women to arouse desire and increase erogenous sensitivity. It’s traditionally given to women suffering from low libido, as it also supports positive responses to stress and stimulates memory and overall brain function. By normalizing hormone levels with a gentle increase of testosterone, women also experience increased metabolism and an easier time losing and maintaining weight.

What Are You Waiting For?
Don’t let stress drive away desire, and certainly don’t believe the desire for sex should fade with age. Maintaining balanced hormone levels promotes overall health, not to mention a healthy libido. So if the flames of passion seem more like cinders these days, it may be time to consider additional tools for kindling your inner fire.

If you like the sound of any of the herbs above, there’s no need to limit yourself to one at a time as they blend well and complement each other’s properties. For the maximum libido-stimulating effect, you may be interested in trying a blend of ashwagandha, maca, tongkat ali, wildcrafted suma, tribulus terrestris, avena sativa, muira puama, and other herbs designed to regulate hormone balance to support female vitality.

Ginseng, Fish, Berries, or Caffeine?

Listen to the buzz about foods and dietary supplements to stay sharp and maintain a healthy brain, and you’ll believe they can do everything from sharpen focus to enhance memory, attention span, and brain function.

But do they really work? There’s no denying that as we age, our body ages right along with us. The good news is that you can improve your chances of maintaining a healthy brain if you add “smart” foods and drinks to your diet.

 

Caffeine Can Make You More Alert

There’s no magic bullet to boost IQ or make you smarter — but certain substances, like caffeine, can energize you and help you concentrate. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up buzz, though the effects are short-term.But you have to check with your provider before using any of these. Some people should limit having caffeine or energy drinks due to a health condition. Also, having too much is never healthy. Overdo it on caffeine and it can make you jittery and uncomfortable.

Sugar Can Enhance Alertness

Sugar is your brain’s preferred fuel source. I’m not referring to table sugar, but glucose, which your body processes from the sugars and carbs you eat. That’s why a glass of something sweet to drink can offer a short-term boost to memory, thinking, and mental ability.

Have too much, though, and memory can be impaired. Not only that but other health issues may surface along with the unwanted extra number of pounds. Go easy on the sugar so it can enhance memory without packing on the pounds.

 

Eat Breakfast to Fuel Your Brain

Tempted to skip breakfast? Studies have found that eating breakfast may help in keeping a healthy brain and improve short-term memory and attention. Students who eat it tend to perform better than those who don’t. Foods at the top of researchers’ brain-fuel list include high-fiber whole grains, dairy, and fruits. Just don’t overeat. Researchers also found high-calorie breakfasts appear to hinder concentration.

Fish Really is Brain Food

A protein source linked to a great brain boost is fish — rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are key for brain health. These healthy fats have amazing brain power: A diet with higher levels of them has been linked to lower dementia and stroke risks and slower mental decline; plus, they may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older. For brain and heart health, eat two servings of fish weekly.

Add a Daily Dose of Nuts and Chocolate

Nuts and seeds are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which has been linked in some studies to less cognitive decline as you age. Dark chocolate also has other powerful antioxidant properties, and it contains natural stimulants like caffeine, which can enhance focus.

Enjoy up to an ounce a day of nuts and dark chocolate to get all the benefits you need with a minimum of excess calories, fat, or sugar.

Add Avocados and Whole Grains

Every organ in the body depends on blood flow, especially the heart and brain. A diet high in whole grains and fruits like avocados can cut the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol. This reduces your risk of plaque buildup and enhances blood flow, offering a simple, tasty way to fire up brain cells.

Whole grains, like popcorn and whole wheat, also contribute dietary fiber and vitamin E. Though avocados have fat, it’s the good-for-you, monounsaturated fat that helps with healthy blood flow.

Blueberries Are Super Nutritious

I know I have mentioned the importance of blueberries in previous posts, but it is really beneficial in many ways. Research in animals shows that blueberries may help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Studies also show that diets rich in blueberries improved both the learning and muscle function of aging rats, making them mentally equal to much younger rats. Perhaps these are results of rats researches, but as I mentioned before it has proven to be working with human beings.

Benefits of a Healthy Diet

It may sound trite but it’s true: If your diet lacks essential nutrients, it can hurt your ability to concentrate. Eating too much or too little can also interfere with your focus. A heavy meal may make you feel tired, while too few calories will not stop distracting hunger pangs.

Benefit your brain. Strive for a well-balanced diet full of a wide variety of healthy foods.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements?

Store shelves groan with supplements claiming to boost health. Although many of the reports on the brain-boosting power of supplements like vitamins B, C, E, beta-carotene, and magnesium are promising, a supplement is only useful to people whose diets are lacking in that specific nutrient.

Some researchers are cautiously optimistic about ginseng, ginkgo, and vitamin, mineral, and herb combinations and their impact on the brain, but more proof is still needed. Never forget to discuss any supplements or vitamins with your provider before taking them.

I am getting ready for a big day

Want to power up your ability to concentrate? Start with a meal of 100% fruit juice, a whole-grain bagel with salmon, and a cup of coffee. In addition to eating a well-balanced meal, experts also offer this advice:

  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Exercise to help sharpen thinking.
  • Meditate to clear thinking and relax.

If you are still having problems focusing or concentrating, then you need to discuss this with your provider to make sure there aren’t any underlying health issues.

Have a powerful day!

What do firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, factory workers, and office cleaning staff have in common? They all are at risk for shift work sleep disorder. If you work at night or often rotate shifts, you may share that risk. Working at night or irregular shifts can keep you from getting the regular snooze time that most daytime workers take for granted.

Working non-traditional hours is more common than you might think. In industrialized nations, up to 20% of workers work either night or rotating shifts, according to an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Although not everyone who works odd hours has shift work sleep disorder, a lot can be at stake. People with shift work disorder have higher rates of absenteeism and accidents related to sleepiness than night workers without the disorder.

Memory and ability to focus can become impaired, and shift workers who are sleep-deprived often get irritable or depressed, says Wesley Elon Fleming, MD, clinical assistant professor at Loma Linda University and director of the Sleep Center Orange County in Southern California. Their relationships and social life can suffer, too.

Shift workers also face potential health problems, researchers have found. Overall, those who work night or rotating shifts seem to have a higher risk of ulcers, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

 

Working Shifts: 9 Tips for Better Sleep

If your job requires that you work the night shift or hours other than the traditional 9 to 5, you need to pay close attention to your sleep. These tips can help you get good sleep:

  •  Try not to work a number of night shifts in a row. You may become increasingly more sleep-deprived over several nights on the job. You’re more likely to recover if you can limit night shifts and schedule days off in between.
  • Avoid frequently rotating shifts. If you can’t, it’s easier to adjust to a schedule that rotates from day shift to evening or night shift rather than the reverse order.
  • Try to avoid long commutes that take time away from sleeping.
  • Keep your workplace brightly lighted to promote alertness. If you’re working the night shift, expose yourself to bright light, such as that from special light boxes, lamps, and visors designed for people with circadian-related sleep problems, when you wake up. Circadian rhythms are the body’s internal clock that tells us when to be awake and when to sleep. These rhythms are controlled by a part of the brain that is influenced by light. Fleming says that being exposed to bright light when you start your “day” can help train your body’s internal clock to adjust.
  • Limit caffeine. Drinking a cup of coffee at the beginning of your shift will help promote alertness. But don’t consume caffeine later in the shift or you may have trouble falling asleep when you get home.
  • Avoid bright light on the way home from work, which will make it easier for you to fall asleep once you hit the pillow. Wear dark, wraparound sunglasses and a hat to shield yourself from sunlight. Don’t stop to run errands, tempting as that may be.
  • Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule as much as you can.
  • Ask your family to limit phone calls and visitors during your sleep hours.
  • Use blackout blinds or heavy curtains to block sunlight when you sleep during the day. “Sunlight is a potent stimulator of the circadian rhythm,” Fleming says. “Even if your eyes are closed, the sunlight coming into the room tells your brain that it’s daytime. Yet your body is exhausted and you’re trying to sleep. That discrepancy … is not a healthy thing for the body to be exposed to.”

Sleep and the Night Shift
Could you have shift work sleep disorder?

Why do night shifts wreak havoc on sleep? “The circadian rhythm is so [ingrained] in each one of us that what we’re doing is going against the body’s natural desire to be asleep at nighttime and to be awake during the daytime,” says Fleming. “Some people have ways of coping that are better than others, but for the most part, it’s very difficult to feel your optimal self when you work the night shift.”

Rotating shifts are even harder on the body, Fleming adds. “The body likes to operate on a routine schedule. The body likes to know what to expect in terms of production of certain hormones,” he says. “When you expose yourself to sunlight at some times during the week, but not others — when you’re sleeping at nighttime some nights and then during daytime at others — the body has difficulty knowing what to anticipate and when to produce those transmitters and neurochemicals for sleep and digestion and proper functioning of the human body.”

Regular, restful sleep is crucial for the body’s repair, Fleming says. “The body’s ability to recover and recuperate from the damage done during the daytime on a cellular level is affected by the night shift –because that’s the purpose of sleep. If our sleep schedule is erratic or irregular, that synchrony of repair that’s supposed to happen at nighttime doesn’t get played out the way it’s supposed to.”

Treating Shift Work Sleep Disorder
Despite the prevalence of irregular work hours in our ’round-the-clock, technological society, sleep experts say that people usually don’t show up at sleep labs with complaints about topsy-turvy schedules. “Most patients feel that there’s nothing they can do about it,” Fleming says. “It’s not a very common source of referrals to a sleep center, even though it should be.”

The hallmarks of shift work sleep disorder are excessive sleepiness during night work and insomnia when a worker tries to sleep during the daytime. Workers with significant symptoms — including headaches, lack of energy and trouble concentrating — should talk to their doctors.

 

To treat shift work disorder, doctors usually start with improving sleep hygiene with the nine tips covered at the beginning of this article. Using blackout curtains and keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule can help your body adjust to sleeping during the day.

If those behavioral changes don’t help, doctors can prescribe medications to help people stay alert when they need to be awake and help shift workers fall asleep.

Stimulant medications such as Nuvigil and Provigil can relieve sleepiness when people need to be awake. These drugs are approved for the treatment of excessive sleepiness related to shift work disorder, among other conditions.

Sleep aids such as Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata may be prescribed to help with falling asleep. Certain antidepressants and benzodiazepines may also be used to help with sleep.