Past Experiences are not your only Sources of Depression and Anxiety

Past Experiences are not your only Sources of Depression and Anxiety

I am going to apologize ahead of time because this might get too sciencey at times, but bear with me please.

In summary, there is a lot more we can do to treat anxiety and depression than traditionally thought. Psychotherapy and medication have been the two most prescribed methods of treatment, along with body work, lifestyle factors, etc. But now I want to challenge you to think more outside the box. Let’s talk about body inflammation and overall body burden.

Most of us think about inflammation from the standpoint of tissue injury. This could be from a cut, sprain, break, bee sting, or allergen. The tissue gets tight, red, inflexible, and inflamed. This is a healthy and a normal response to trauma. Acute inflammation is the body’s amazing way of repair. Like almost ANYTHING in life, acute, short-term incidents are fine. Chronic is not. Note the various other examples of acute stress in your life that occur on a daily basis, such as acute anger, acute sense of guilt…all normal. When it becomes chronic, that is when there is a problem.

Now, when our bodies undergo chronic inflammation or chronic illness (because one is the same as the other), because our brain is connected to our neck and hence our bodies (except for the headless horsemen of course) our brain becomes inflamed. Neurons become stiff and inflexible. What does that mean for thought processes? Well, our brain cells, called glial cells, are metabolically compromised, making it difficult for the cell to uptake glucose or ketones to produce the energy used to function. The neurons are not able to fire as they once did, and do not speak to each other in a way that is optimal. You are not able to think quickly and crisply and be present in your natural surroundings. Sound familiar? Mental fatigue, brain fog, forgetfulness, depression, and anxiety are all symptoms of inflammation.

You might be asking, ‘Is it the chicken or the egg?’ What comes first? The inflammation or the depression and anxiety? Well, this is very individual of course. Adverse conditions, social isolation, interpersonal conflict (thought) would all play a role in stress hormone production or cortisol. Cortisol stimulates systemic inflammation in our bodies. And what did I just tell you? Inflammation drives altered thinking processes and therefore, it becomes a negative feedback loop. It is hard to have one without having the other.

Depression and anxiety

Now you might be wondering ‘Why are you telling me this or why is this important’? It is important because now we know that theris another way of assisting depressive and anxious thoughtsIf we can calm down body burden by ridding body inflammation, then we have more leverage managing emotional stress.

How do I know if I have inflammation in my body? Well, there are many ways, but the most rudimentary way is through standard blood work. There are blood biomarkers that test for inflammation including white blood count, HS-CRP, and more. However, there are two problems with solely relying on this method. One, our standard conventional ranges are so wide that there is often a fair bit of inflammation already occurring by the time it shows up on your labs. Secondly, it doesn’t provide you with enough detail in terms of where to start. For example, if your white blood count is low, you know you have an underlying infection…but where? It could be coming from many sources.

You must think of this in the bigger sense of, ‘How do I feel daily?’. Do I feel chronically fatigued (hormone dysregulation, circadian rhythms altered due to poor sleep hygiene, lack of sufficient nutrients or minerals)? Is my digestion off (gut dysbiosis, constipation, diarrhea, parasites or infection)? Do I get sick often? Suffer from migraines, bloating, dry itchy skin or hair loss…Do I experience constant migraines, brain fog, forgetfulness, etc.

“Chronic stress shouldn’t be part of your life. It is important to recognize whether you see this as short-term stress or long term, and to seek assistance accordingly.”

via @luellajonk

Thinking like this is preventative. Because of the feedback loop I just described, we cannot disregard diet, sleep, stress management, screen use (including time on social media), movement, and your relationships may be what is keeping you inflamed. It is another entry way into finding a solution to your labile mood, depression, and anxiety. It may be advantageous for you to explore supplementing with adaptogens or other supportive vitamins and minerals as a way of calming down the inflammation. Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, American ginseng, or licorice root are a few that come to mind when I think of downregulating the cortisol response. It really depends on what stage of adrenal fatigue you are in. Are you at the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue or are you hanging by a thin thread? Food and lifestyle factors come first, but sometimes we need a bit of help to manage symptoms. Chronic stress shouldn’t be part of your life. It is important to recognize whether you see this as short-term stress or long term, and to seek assistance accordingly.

Finally, if you really want to zone in on the cause of the inflammation and you recognize that it tends to be focused more on hormones (sex, thyroid, cortisol production) digestion, toxins in your environment, etc. then there are specialized tests to consider so you can get more granular and proactive in disease prevention. I personally feel these tests are excellent if you are tired of guessing why you ‘feel the way you do’ and you want to take action. Please contact me if you are at this stage of your journey – I can help.

Either way – I hope this gives you a clearer sense on how to approach your mood and overall well-being. Brain inflammation is a real thing and I suspect you will start to hear about it frequently in psychological and psychiatric articles.

Did you take your Vitamin N today?

Did you take your Vitamin N today?

We all need it, and when you were young, you craved it daily. That magic little green pill.


If I think back to when I was a kid, most of my memories were of being outdoors. I was either playing with friends, siblings, animals, or an imaginary friend. I was so fortunate to be brought up in the country, where I could wander into the trees a few feet from my house and start my imaginary play.

If you have kids now, you are likely reminded how much they want to be outside. Their need to run, jump, swing, bike, scooter, skateboard, ski, etc.

Why do we crave it so much? There are many reasons. Here are a few.

Nature stimulates the dopamine centres of the brain. When dopamine is released so are the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline. As a child, you paired the activity of being in nature to feeling good. We were ‘free’. Therefore, you are wired to seek and perpetuate this activity.

The act of being in nature often makes us active. Activity alone stimulates dopamine, so now you are getting a double dose of the feel-good chemicals. But not everyone has the need to be active to get what they are craving. I have had many of my clients remark how simply sitting on their deck, backyard, porch, balcony, or sunroom is enough to bring happiness.

Another likely co-occurrence of being outdoors is the chance of either seeing people or talking to a neighbour. Connection, especially during the pandemic, is yet another method of triggering the reward centres of your brain.

Earlier, I mentioned playing with animals. As an adult, we are drawn towards the care of animals. Also, we often see, feel, and hear animals in nature. Bird song, bunnies hopping, squirrels chirping, or deer sightings are common these days. Hearing and seeing acts of nature puts us in a state of awe. It connects us to wonderment and a higher power.

Spirituality humbles us. It takes us away from our egocentric tendencies and realigns us to our core values while reminding us of our flawed souls. There is something bigger and better than self and we would do best to serve it.

The sense of smell is also known to have a tremendous effect on our mood. Currently, the beautiful scents of lilacs and grass cuttings fill the Manitoba air. Soon the flax and canola fields will be blooming across the prairie landscape.

Are you getting the picture? It is like our body is switched from OFF to ON when we enter nature. It is a sure-fire way of stepping into the present since it is very hard to ignore the sights, sounds, feel, and scents of nature.

It is like our body is switched from OFF to ON when we enter nature.

via @luellajonk

There are many studies supporting the idea of nature shifting us towards happiness. One study that comes to mind was completed with groups of seniors comparing levels of happiness while living in long-term care facilities. One group had pictures of nature in their common rooms and suites (note: simply pictures – not actually plants) and the other group did not. After months of this type of exposure the groups were given questionnaires and well, you can likely guess the outcome. Those surrounded by images of nature were less depressed. Another similar study of seniors looked at the impact of caring for plants. One group was given plants to care for while the other group was not. The group needing to take care of a living organism (I am guessing there would be similar benefits seen if it was an animal or another human being) were happier at a statistical level of significance.

This post would not be complete if I didn’t mention the benefit of sunshine as a medium to obtain adequate levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D has been in the limelight as of late with Covid-19 touting its immune boosting properties. If you don’t think sunshine and vitamin D is related to your health, then you need to read up on Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It is a real thing. And instead of calling it ‘flu season’, we should be calling it ‘Vitamin D deficient season’. In other words, there is a reason that flu and cold season happens when daylight dwindles. Sunshine is the cause and the cure. Nature is free and readily available. You won’t have to ask your kids or your dog twice either. They will likely race you to the door.

Meanwhile, do me a favor – take your vitamin N and call me (your therapist) in the morning.

Good night and sleep well.