Stress, Anxiety, Depression: Today’s Bermuda Triangle

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The Stress-Anxiety-Depression triangle is a tough one.   It's tough for several reasons, the largest being that the  stigma associated with mental illness continues to prevent people from seeking help.  There can be  considerable overlap between stress, anxiety and depression  and as most doctors have less than 10 minutes in which to ascertain the patient’s symptoms and prescribe a solution, it is not surprising that mistakes are made, yet giving anti-depressives to someone suffering from an anxiety disorder, or tranquilisers to a person battling depression can exacerbate the initial problem exponentially. Furthermore, while dishing out medicine may be all a busy GP has time to do, biochemicals may not necessarily be the best solution.

If you are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, talk therapies present a good option, lifestyle changes and some herbal remedies can also help. All of these have enjoyed impressive results but they may be solutions that you'll have to find by tracking down  an open minded GP, or a specialist therapist that is approved by your GP.

So, how do we identify when our daily stresses have pushed us too far? All of us experience traumatic times which make us feel sad and anxious but if these feelings continue for longer than six months, or are transferred from one problem to another, or are accompanied by fatigue, digestive problems, sweating, restlessness, shoulder and neck pain or headaches, then it may be symptomatic of a deeper condition that needs help.
Both depressive and anxiety disorders are caused by an interaction of psychological, biological and environmental factors. This year’s discovery by British scientists of the brain’s “misery molecule” in the pituitary gland has given hope that new drugs may soon be available capable of targeting the rogue protein – named CRF1 – and so disable it from triggering the hypothalamus to produce hormones which cause stress, anxiety and depression. Although this latest find offers future promise, the production of new remedies remains several years away.
The lack of a quick fix has entailed that only 50% of sufferers actively seek conventional treatment. So, outside of the doctor’s arsenal of anti-depressants and tranquilisers, what is available today? If a patient is taking any mainstream drug, they must let their practitioner know before taking any botanical medications as some of these can interact adversely. However, Kava is one botanical favoured to relieve anxiety and used in many over-the-counter remedies. Kava has shown success in small clinical trials, but this has not yet been duplicated in larger studies.
Omega-3 deficiency, or an imbalance with Omega 6, has been shown to increase both anxiety and depression with studies displaying patient improvement with as little as 1 gram of fish oil a day. B-vitamins, St John’s Wort and Valerian are other botanicals that have enjoyed positive responses.
However, for all three problems: stress, anxiety and depression, life style changes can be as important as medication. Regular exercise, good diet – particularly the avoidance of refined sugars and caffeine, undisturbed sleep, social interaction and avoidance of alcohol have all been shown to alleviate anxiety and depression. Ignoring these healthy routines is frequently the first thing to occur when a person becomes stressed. Music and art therapies, meditation, hypnosis and traditional Chinese medicine using massage have also been shown to have beneficial effects.
For many patients talk therapies offer a real breakthrough in their cycle of hopeless feelings. This is especially true of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which Jerilyn Ross, president of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, credits with an 80-90% success rate in getting people back to normal functioning “provided it is done correctly”. There is evidence to show that CBT can cause the brain to create new circuits that avoid the dysfunctional response pathways. Treatment usually lasts no longer than 15 weeks.
The toxic mix of similar symptoms suffered by patients with stress, anxiety or depression means that patients need to take positive steps to identify their problem in order to avoid misdiagnosis at the surgery. Once it is recognised which of the three a person is suffering from, is it possible to utilise the most beneficial solutions. The good news is that with assistance from professionals who can navigate the patient through the available options, more than 80% of those seeking help learn to control their symptoms effectively and enjoy their lives once again.

Take a look at  the Patient QI stress anxiety strategy to find out more about the different treatments and therapies that can help.


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