Notes from a Portland Acupuncturist: Treating Anxiety and Depression Naturally

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treating anxiety and depression naturallyLet’s get Real about Anxiety and Depression

I saw a person on Facebook this week talk about how for her, depression is something that seeps in. She said that there will be a small bit, and it’s no big deal. Then a little bit more comes in, and a little more. And it all piles up so insidiously that she doesn’t notice it until it is burying her.

For others, depression and anxiety change day by day. And for some people it can come on hard and fast, seemingly without cause, and then can disappear just as inexplicably. Then there are those for whom it comes on, sets up camp, and stays for long periods of time.

The point is we can all experience it differently, and yet we are all in it together.

Some of you know that I have a long and intimate history with anxiety. And with anxiety usually comes some amount of depression, just like with depression often comes some amount of anxiety. They are tangled and both can lead to feeling like there is no exit.

So many of us still feel a terrible stigma attached to mental health that would not be present if we had a physical health issue. We feel like depression and anxiety are mental failings rather than a disease. And maybe if we just follow the right diet, exercise enough, meditate more, sleep better, etc, etc we’ll be able to get rid of it once and for all. 

But it often doesn’t work that way. And then we just feel more depressed and anxious because every time it shows up we think “You again?! I thought I already got rid of you!”

That is when the hopelessness sets in. 


these mountains that you are carrying,

you were only supposed to climb

— najwa zebian




Situational anxiety or depression? Or not?

Most people will have at least a fleeting interaction with anxiety or depression. The loss of a loved one or relationship, the loss of a job, an unexpected negative life event — these can all trigger normal feelings of loss, sadness, despair, anxiety. They often slowly lift as time passes, and may never return again.

But for some of us, having depression and/or anxiety is as much a part of who we are as is having blue eyes or being left-handed. It is always going to be something that we have to be aware of. It may pop up from time to time throughout our lives, or there may be long periods of time that feel insurmountable. 


Treating Anxiety and Depression Naturally


So how do you handle it? Not by hiding it. I know this is your instinct. I’ve been there. Isolating myself because I don’t want people to know what a failure/loser/mess I am. The self-talk gets real dark real fast. So you hibernate. You don’t want to burden anyone around you, and they won’t understand anyway, right?

The way you deal with it is by building a toolbox. The tools will vary slightly for all of you, and you often find them by trial and error. They may include a mental health prescribing doctor, they may not.

Here is what I keep in my toolbox:

1. Acupuncture. Acupuncture completely changed my relationship to my anxiety disorder, and it is the first thing I go back to if it starts feeling Big again. It can engage your natural endorphins, and can calm your fight-or-flight system. It can help balance hormones, it can help you sleep OR it can help restore your energy. And it works as an adjunct with pretty much any other tools you might use. 

2. Therapy. I know, I know — it’s hard to find a good therapist. But a good therapist can be incredibly helpful when you need to unload. You are paying them, so you don’t feel like you are a burden when you let loose with the thoughts in your head. They can help you work out a plan, and if they are able to prescribe medications (i.e. a psychiatrist), they are far more equipped to get you the right meds than are regular primary care physicians.

3. Meditation. I know it’s hard to be alone with the thoughts in your head in these times, so meditation sounds awful. That’s why I love guided meditations. They help quiet the negative self talk and shift your perspective without you having to do it all yourself. There are tons of free ones on YouTube, so look through them until you find at least one that resonates. It doesn’t have to be more than about 10 minutes a day.

4. Sleep. I know my anxiety is made way worse by inadequate sleep. If you’re depressed, you may think “but I already sleep too much.” But often people who are depressed are getting poor quality sleep (which is why you don’t feel rested). Acupuncture can help with this. So can meditation. So can certain herbal supplements (ask a professional before you just pick something off the shelf). 

5. Diet. Eating a whole foods diet with little sugar can help. You have more neurotransmitters in your gut than you do in your brain. Researchers are paying more attention to this connection and have already seen that digestive issues are often connected to depression and anxiety. This can become a vicious cycle: digestive issues leading to depression/anxiety which then lead to more digestive problems. Sugar is especially inflammatory and can lead to heightened feelings of despair and anger/irritability.

6. Exercise. You probably don’t feel like it, but mustering up the will to move your body will likely lead to a better emotional state. Some studies have found that regular exercise actually works as well as anti-depressant medication to treat depression. That’s incredible! Find a buddy if you need to, pay for a class in advance — find the motivation you need to get your butt moving, even if it just means taking a 20 minute stroll outside. 

In the end, there are lots of tools that can be in your toolbox. You might include prayer/religion, family time, medication, essential oils, a support group, writing/art. The point is that there is so much hope and so much help out there. I know it is hard to motivate yourself to reach for a lifeline, but you will not regret doing so. Mostly, I want you to know that you are not alone. I understand, and I want to help.




*If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety or depression, have them request a free initial consultation with me to find out more about how I can help. Or just head on over to the scheduling page to schedule your own free consultation or new patient appointment. Know that many insurances cover for this as well, and we are happy to navigate that with you.