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Depression seems to have become an epidemic. Nearly 15 million Americans are diagnosed with depression each year, and one in seven of those diagnosed are treated with medication. Often times, depression is treated like a disease; one that’s inherited, based on biology, and requires long-term treatment with medications. But depression is more like a syndrome than a disease, and a diagnosis of depression isn’t a devastating terminal prognosis. On the contrary, depression can be seen as a guidepost that alerts us of the need to care for ourselves in better ways. 

You might be wondering, “What do you mean by depression being like a syndrome”? Think of it this way. Let’s say you have a painful blister on your foot. The blister could have been caused by a number of different things. Maybe your new shoes created it or your long hike uphill caused it to form. No matter what the cause, the pain you feel is simply your body telling you that something is up and is calling your attention to it. Now there are a variety of ways you can treat the blister too. You could take medication to dull the pain (but all medications come with side effects, which we’ll talk about later). You could put ice on the blister, rub ointment on it, put a band-aid over it, or just leave it alone. 

Depression is exactly like the blister on your foot. It’s painful and could develop from many different causes. The diagnosis of depression is just an easy way to describe a set of symptoms, the most common ones being increased sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, feelings of worthlessness, sleep problems, or changes in appetite. Just like in the blister scenario, the expression of these symptoms is your body asking for your attention. There are numerous ways to treat depression, but before you can treat it effectively, you need to know what’s driving it. If you don’t know what caused the depression in the first place, you’ll only being treating the symptoms rather than treating the syndrome (source of the problem) itself. 

I’ve known so many people who feel guilty or ashamed about having a diagnosis of depression, but I see it as a gift and a beautiful invitation from your body to start paying attention to the imbalances in your life. Life is busy and we all tend to put our own self care last on the priority list, but this can lead to nutritional, environmental, emotional, and spiritual imbalances in our lives. The human body is incredible though. It’s always scanning for potential threats to it’s well-being. Depression is your body sounding the alarms that your life is out of balance and needs re-calibrated. Rather than be angry, upset, or ashamed about having depression, we should all be thanking our bodies for alerting us that it’s time to do something more or better for ourselves. 

With depression comes the start of embarking on your own unique journey to redesigning your life in a way that creates balance and true health and wellness. One of the best ways to begin this journey is by working with a trusted therapist who can serve as a guide, providing you with tools and skills you can apply along the way. Unfortunately, many people choose to medicate depression instead. Kelly Brogan, M.D., author of Integrative Therapies for Depression, refers to medicating depression as “opting out of your own unique journey”. Rather than taking the time to reflect, gain insight and awareness, and make behavioral and lifestyle changes, some people opt for the “quick fix”, but opting out of exploring your own way to wellness comes with consequences. 

While medication may alleviate symptoms of depression, it doesn’t treat the cause of the problem. As such, if you stop taking the medication, the symptoms return. This is why vast numbers of people are inappropriately taking antidepressant medication long-term, rather than using medications on a short-term basis as intended. Research has proven that medications can subtly change our biochemistry. Medications don’t just treat one isolated part of the body either. Any medication you take effects and works on the whole body and mind, but not everything needs to be treated. This is where side effects come in. Once we start experiencing unpleasant side effects, we want those resolved too, which leads to more medications. Before you know it, your weekly pill box is full of medications to take daily and your life is still out of balance.

Kelly Brogan raises some excellent points related to the causes and treatments of depression: “Our health is being outpaced by our lifestyles: we are idle when our bodies want to move, we eat unrecognizable foods, and we expose ourselves to environmental factors that assault our cells (we’re stuck at our desks, behind our computers, staring at our phones). Depression is a gift because it reminds us of something we’ve forgotten; we are living in a way that we are not evolved to live (and our) body is screaming “get back to basics”. As sophisticated organisms, we are born with our bodies expecting to be exposed to certain conditions (sunlight, physical activity, plant based foods) in order for it to function optimally”. 

So, why do people often seek medication as the first line of treatment for depression? Our culture plays a huge role in this. We’ve all been raised to believe that if you don’t go to a doctor when you’re not feeling well that you’re being irresponsible with your health. So when people experience the painful symptoms of depression, the doctor is usually the first person they call. However, doctors only receive pharmaceutical tools and training in medical school and know very little about nutritional, environmental, and biopsychosocial factors that contribute to depression. So, the doctor gives medications because that’s the only tool in their tool bag to give. 

This isn’t to say doctors are bad or wrong, but it’s important to know that there are alternative (and arguably better) treatment options for depression. Doctors can and should be used as helpers along your journey to experiencing whole body health, but be sure to work with a doctor who understands depression as a syndrome and not a disease. Work with a doctor, therapist, naturopath, chiropractor, natural medicine practitioner, nutritionist, or other wellness provider who speaks the same language as you and understands the key to effectively treating depression. Effective treatment requires a healing partnership in which you can discuss and explore different ways of creating better life balance. 

If someone you love is experiencing depression, please share this post. This might make all the difference by helping them to shift the way they view depression and begin taking the first steps on their journey toward caring for themselves in new and better ways. If I can be of help to you on your journey toward optimal health and well-being, please reach out to me. 

Nicole Iacovoni is a psychotherapist, personal & financial development trainer, and author dedicated to helping you create a life of happiness & prosperity. Her work is centered around personal growth and holistic health and wealth building. Nicole takes an honest, straight-forward approach to helping clients identify where they currently are in their life’s journey. With expertise in how our DESIRES, EMOTIONS, THOUGHTS, and BELIEFS influence our success, Nicole helps clients create a concrete action plan for living the life of their dreams.

 

The mind is like a puppy; it likes to wander. And when it’s allowed to wander, it gets into lots of trouble. If you don’t train a puppy to follow your command, he’ll do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants. Your mind will too. If you aren’t in control of your mind, you’re mind is in control of you…and this is a very. bad. thing. 

 

When the mind is left to it’s own devices, without our true selves being in charge, it will automatically gravitate toward the negative, ruminate on the past, obsess over the future, and tell irrational stories disguised as the truth. The mind is a brilliant tool and can do incredible things when we use it as such. We can use the mind to problem solve, analyze complex situations, make important decisions, and create cutting edge innovations. But we must know when to calm our minds down and put them to rest. Here’s an example of what I mean:

 

Say you want to hang a picture on the wall. You grab a hammer from your tool box and use it to drive the nails into the wall. Then you put the hammer away. The mind should be used in this way too; it should be used as a tool and then set down when the job is completed. However, we often don’t use our minds like this. We allow our minds to be engaged ALL THE TIME! It’s like carrying around that hammer and randomly hitting walls with it, even after we’ve hung the picture.  It’s completely useless and sometimes destructive. If we don’t “put our minds back in the tool box”, we can experience that same type of destruction in our own lives. The mind can work against us if we let it. And if our mind isn’t “trained”, it will get into just as much trouble as that untrained puppy. 

 

FEAR. WORRY. ANXIETY. DEPRESSION. ANGER. OVERANALYZING. RUMINATING. REGRET. SADNESS. LONELINESS. FRUSTRATION. SHAME. GUILT. 

 

These are all emotions we commonly feel and none of them are all that pleasant. Our thoughts influence our feelings and our feelings influence our behavior. If you want to change the way you FEEL and BEHAVE, you absolutely have to change the way you THINK. You have to take control of your mind so it doesn’t take control of you….and make you feel like crap. But before you can change the way you think, you have to figure out HOW you’re thinking NOW. 

 

What thoughts enter your mind on a regularly basis? Are they mostly positive or negative? Are they mostly about the past, present, or future? What’s the tone and feel of your self talk? Are you typically kind, supportive, and encouraging with yourself or are you skeptical, harsh, and judgmental? We can’t control the thoughts that enter our minds-those are automatic. But we can CHOOSE WHICH THOUGHTS TO PAY ATTENTION TO. (This is part of “training your brain”.)

 

A thought is just a thought unless you feed it with your ATTENTION and ACTION. If you don’t feed the thought, it will die. It will cease to exist and simply fade away. If you feed the thought, it comes alive, it takes form, it grows. Therefore, you want to be very careful about which thoughts you choose to feed. Once you master the ability to choose which thoughts you pay attention to, you free yourself of needless suffering because you refuse to feed the negative thoughts that enter your mind. As a result, all negativity dies and your life is one of positivity, hope, and joy. YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHOOSE YOUR THOUGHTS….claim that power and put your mind in it’s place. 

 

The best way to “train your brain” is through MINDFULNESS PRACTICE. Mindfulness is “informal meditation” and is simply the act of noticing and observing without attaching judgement. Take a few moments to practice tapping into your senses. In this very moment, what are you hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, or smelling? Bring your focus of attention to the present moment and observe your surroundings without labeling them as good, bad, happy, or sad. Just notice. As you do this, your mind might try to wander (after all, it’s like a puppy and that’s just what it’s inclined to do). That’s ok. Expect that to happen. When it does, lovingly and gently guide your mind back to what you were focusing on. We don’t whip and punish the puppy when it wanders off….we kindly guide it back. Do the same with your mind. 

 

By practicing mindfulness in this way (there’s about a million different ways to be mindful and this is just one example) you’re actively training your mind to work for you as a tool. You’re actively taking control over your mind so it doesn’t have power over you anymore. You’re developing the ability to choose your thoughts, and thus choose your feelings and your behaviors. You’re gaining a deep sense of control over yourself, and with practice and time, you’ll eventually be able to feel and behave however you want at any given moment. Once you achieve this ability, you will reach your full potential and you’ll experience ultimate freedom from suffering. (Kinda sounds worth the effort, doesn’t it?)

 

PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS (notice I didn’t say “practice makes perfect”). When it comes to training your mind with mindfulness, consistency is key. You have to practice…everyday. Mindfulness practice is convenient though because you can do it anytime, anywhere, and no one even has to know you’re doing it. You can practice mindfulness for just a couple minutes, a few times throughout during a day. The results are worth it. Practicing mindfulness will bring you into the present moment, which is the best place to live. Here’s a saying I’m in love with because of it’s supreme truth:

 

“If you’re living in the past, you’re depressed. If you’re living in the future, you’re anxious. If you’re living in the present, you’re content.”

 

Put you’re mind in it’s place by not “feeding the thoughts” that focus on the past or the future. Exercise your power and only feed the thoughts of the present, the here and now. If you do choose to think about the past or future, choose your thoughts carefully and use you’re mind as a tool. Once you’re done, put the mind “back it it’s toolbox” by quieting it down with some mindfulness practice that will reposition you in the present. 

 

Much of my clinical practice centers around training the mind and using meditation and mindfulness practice to help you reach your full potential and live a happy life. If you’d like to know more about these areas of my work, I’d love to talk with you more. Send me a message on our contact page or write a comment beside our blog. 

 

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Nicole C. Iacovoni earned her Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Denver. Through her vast experience working in the mental health field and her own personal self growth work, Nicole has developed valuable skills and tools for enhanced self awareness, self care, and improved relationships. Her passion and life’s work is to help women overcome life’s many challenges, become the best version of themselves, and live the lives they envision. She currently serves as the Founder and Executive Clinician at Willow Tree Wellness & Counseling in Bloomsburg, PA.

It seems as if everyone today is suffering from some degree of anxiety or depression. Our lives are busier than ever with increasingly demanding jobs, fast paced technology and media, packed schedules, and pressure to keep doing more. We are a society that thrives on what’s new, which makes things exciting, but also easy to lose gratitude for what we have...because, after all, what we have is probably “so yesterday” already.

 

I grew up in small New England town where the pace of life was a bit slower than city life. In fact when I visited a city and then eventually lived in one, I found myself exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of the day. It was exciting to be in the midst of all the happenings, but I noticed myself getting further and further away from nature and the connection to my body. I often thought, how do these people sustain this level of energy and stimulation all the time? Quick answer, they don’t. Not without a great cost to their physical, mental, and spiritual health. We are a nation that survives on coffee. Really, think about it...how productive would we be without caffeine and sugar to keep us going? Don’t get me wrong, I am not giving up my daily cup of joe anytime soon, but just think about how we keep ourselves going to sustain this whirlwind pace we have created. No one has time for anything anymore! We are all so busy, yet, depressed, have poor energy, stressed to the max, and often sick as a result.

 

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders can have a strong genetic component, but our lifestyle and diet today is also heavily contributing to the sharp increase in morbidity. We all have experienced some degree of depression at some point in our lives. Major clinical depression is another beast all-together that requires an individualistic treatment plan, often including medication and psychological counseling. There are chemicals in our brains called neurotransmitters that allow our nerves to talk to each other. These include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine-our “feel good” chemicals. It is believed that those who suffer from depression have less of these available, and thus, resulting in a lower mood. Antidepressants help make more of these chemicals available, ultimately improving mood.

 

Exciting new research suggests that there are natural “antidepressants” called polyphenols found in many whole foods we consume. Polyphenols are micronutrients found in many plant foods. The studies suggest that these natural chemicals can affect the physiological and biochemical reactions in our body in the same way that an antidepressant medication would. I am never ceased to be amazed at what nature provides for us and how incredibly intelligent our bodies are! These powerful little mood enhancing nutrients can be found in foods such as apples, kale, berries, grapes, and onions. I would also like to highlight three categories of foods that can be crucial to improving mood.

 

1. Chocolate (dark chocolate, or raw “cacao”): Cacao is raw chocolate before we add the cream, sugar, and flavoring. It is high in antioxidants, contains calming magnesium, and decreases toxic stress hormones like cortisol. You can buy it in it’s raw powder form or eat it as delicious dark chocolate in small doses as it is higher in milk fat and calories.

 

2. Carbs: Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately and partially for good reason:

refined sugar, a huge contributor to obesity and diabetes. Not all carbs are bad, however, and whole grain carbs can promote serotonin production, thus increasing mood. Just choose whole, unprocessed, no sugar added varieties such as oats, brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa.

 

3. Omega-3’s: We don’t make this essential fatty acid in our bodies so we need to get it from food. The best source is ground flax seed or flax seed oil, but you can also find it in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can buy supplements sourced from algae.

 

Of course, do not stop or change your medication dose without speaking to your doctor first. These foods can absolutely elevate your mood, but it is important that you have adequate support and oversight if you feel your medication treatment needs to be adjusted. The best place to start is to experiment with these types of foods and note how you feel. Keep a journal so you can track progress and what you learn about how food affects your mood. Most importantly, have fun and get your smile on! 

 

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Shawn Clavelle earned her bachelor’s degree in Nursing from the University of Vermont. She earned her certification in Health Coaching at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Shawn’s vast clinical experience and knowledge of the healthcare system makes her proficient at helping others design their own treatment plan through structured goal setting and continuous evaluation of progress. Using a holistic approach with a focus on nutrition, she helps uncover the obstacles to good health and provides simple options for making better lifestyle choices.  

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