Holistic Treatments for Depression and Anxiety

angry doctor on the phoneI guess you could say my big accomplishment for the day was finally calling not one but two psychiatrists … and leaving them messages because I semi-intentionally waited until after 10pm. The first, whom I’ll call Psychiatrist C-1, has an office within walking distance of Wakana’s and is reportedly available on the same days I have music therapy. Two of Wakana’s colleagues referred Psychiatrist C-1 to her, so she in turn referred him to me; she even called me earlier today to make sure I’d at least attempted to contact him. (I’ll file that one under “Tough Love.”)

The second, whom I’ll call Psychiatrist C-2, is the one who received 9 5-star reviews on HealthGrades and whom I mentioned in my last post. I’m actually a bit more inclined toward her because I know for sure that she takes my (current) insurance, she got much better reviews on HealthGrades, and I won’t be doubly-screwed if I don’t feel up to making the trek to Wakana’s office on a joint music therapy and psychiatry day. But, I’ve taken the “passive aggressive” approach of leaving messages and waiting to see who returns my call, instead of directly “confronting” each of them with my request to meet face-to-face. So, now all that’s left is to wait … at least until my next music therapy appointment (in less than 12 hours), when I suspect Wakana will “strongly encourage” me to try again.

Wait. What does all this have to do with holistic treatments for depression and anxiety?

Well, I told Mom how I was feeling about calling a psychiatrist – something I’d probably feel less inclined to do if Wakana didn’t insist that it’s an absolute necessity. I’m angry that things haven’t been going well for me on that front, ashamed that I can’t just “snap out of it” and live a productive lifestyle, worried that I’m never going to find the right doctor and treatment … which leads to hopelessness, and feeling like I don’t deserve any better.

Mom said a bunch of things. She thinks the search for the psychiatrist is doing more harm than good and that the medications were doing more harm than good; I seem to be doing better without them. I’m inclined to agree with her – I’m still struggling AND I feel more like myself, more capable, more in control. Tuesday night / Wednesday morning I was able to act on my need and desire for intimacy with Fox for the first time in months – and thoroughly enjoy it! – whereas while I was on the sertraline HCl (and buspirone HCl) I felt … nothing. I also seem to be regaining my ability to tell when I’m not really hungry anymore and stop eating after I’ve had a reasonable portion / before becoming uncomfortably full. The only time I really feel, well, depressed is when I let myself get caught up in my own thoughts, to the exclusion of physical here-and-now interactive interpersonal reality. And when I first wake up. And when obstacles exceed my frustration tolerance, which seems to be lower than normal.

bossy ladyMom also gave me a long list of things I need to be doing to take care of myself, most of which she’d categorize as a “holistic” approach to treating depression. I need to watch what I eat, exercise, get out of the house, clean up and organize all the stuff cluttering my apartment, meditate, do yoga, join social groups, play music, get a job – or at least volunteer – and so on. Any “explanations” I try to provide for why these things are difficult for me – why I’m not already doing them, why I’ve withdrawn from them – are “excuses.” She says I have to “force” myself or “push” myself.

I’m tired of forcing and pushing myself. I need to take a couple moments (months? years?) to love myself. To care for myself. I need a hug.

I understand that I need to take some responsibility for my own well-being. The depression isn’t going to cure itself while I’m playing Oblivion and complaining about my lack of energy, motivation, confidence … But, can someone – anyone! – try to meet me halfway? If I could just do all the stuff Mom says I need to do, then we couldn’t be having this conversation. Clearly I need some kind of help to be able to do those things; when she says I should be doing them the message I get is that I’m a bad person for not doing them. A disgrace. A failure. An embarrassment.

I want to do these things for myself, I really do. I just need some kind of emotional support. Someone to not only tell me to do them, but to do them with me. Is that really so much to ask?

I looked up holistic treatments online and found a lot of the same things across websites:

  • healthy/balanced diet, including specific nutrients
    • SAM-e
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • folic acid
    • B-vitamins
    • kava
    • valerian
    • reducing caffeine and sugar intake
  • exercise (at least 20 minutes 3 times per week)
  • acupuncture
  • routines, goals, taking on or maintaining responsibilities
  • sleep

The websites in question are MedicineNet, WebMD, and Taking Charge. That last website, Taking Charge, includes a list of medications used to treat depression – some of which (dual-action) were new to me. This might be something to talk to my psychiatrist about, assuming I ever find one.

an orange butterfly and a medication bottle


Of course, the very first website that caught my eye is a giant multi-page advertisement for a supplement called Protazen. It includes a variety of nutrients – including some of those listed above – some of which the brain uses to create essential neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and serotonin (according to the website). The idea of using natural supplements to support healthy brain chemistry is very appealing, especially if it’s possible to do so “without harmful side effects!”

To be honest the whole thing sounds too good to be true … except that they do clearly state that the supplement is not intended to treat clinical psychiatric disorders, and that results may vary. It’s intended to help people experiencing difficult emotional states, not serious medical issues. Consult your doctor first if you are taking antidepressants or other medications.

In other words, I do not recommend or endorse this product. I repeat, I do NOT endorse this product.

In fact, I’d really appreciate it if you’d take a look at the website and comment on this post to let me know whether you think the supplement is worth trying, whether there are likely to be health benefits. Is trying it worth the potential risks (financial, medical, mental, emotional, etc.)? What experiences have you had taking supplements?

But what if it can help, even if just a little bit? More energy, more motivation, an easier time concentrating, less fluctuations in mood, etc. I could buy it right now – 1 non-recurring 30-day supply for $40 – no phone calls, appointments, uncomfortable questions, stuck-up psychiatrists, battles with insurance companies, etc. required. It will be delivered straight to my door, likely within a week. If I don’t like it I can return whatever I don’t use within 30 days for a 50% refund. No psychiatrist or pharmaceutical has ever offered me that!

Beyond tempting.

Aromatherapy Treatment of Anxiety and Depression: More Research Needed!

I did some research in peer-reviewed scientific journals about the efficacy (effectiveness) of aromatherapy as a treatment for anxiety and depression. Most of the articles I read seem to support it as a complementary treatment – that is, to be used along with traditional treatments such as psychotherapy and medication. There is a need for research that 1) separates the effects of aromatherapy from that of massage and 2) examines the relative efficacy of specific essential oils. Lavender is an essential oil that might help with anxiety, depression, and sleep disorder.

Here are my notes on three review articles:

A review of 16 studies from 1990 to 2010 found that aromatherapy can safely be used as a complementary therapy to reduce anxiety (Lee, et al, 2011). More research is needed to understand how best to implement it (e.g. massage or inhalation) and why it works biologically.

A review of 6 studies from 2000 to 2008 found that aromatherapy-enhanced massage can safely be used to improve mood in people with depressive symptoms (Yim, et al, 2009). A substance found in essential oils, citral, “produces relaxation and antidepressant effects” (192). It is unclear whether particular essential oils are more effective than others; additional research is needed.

Perry & Perry (2006) examine use of aromatherapy in a variety of disorders, including sleep disorder, anxiety, and depression.

Sleep Disorder – “In one study, a blend of basil, juniper, lavender, and sweet marjoram was applied by hand massage; satisfactory sleep increased from 73% to 97% of patient nights […]” (264). Lavender is the essential oil most discussed in the treatment of sleep disorders.

Anxiety – There is limited support for use of aromatherapy to treat anxiety, but of the essential oils, lavender seems most promising.

Depression – There is some support for the use of chamomile, citrus, and lavender. Controlled trials are needed to confirm efficacy.

For more information about aromatherapy, including safety and quality information, visit the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.


Lee, Y., Wu, Y., Tsang, H.W.H., Leung, A.Y.., & Cheung, W.M. (2011). A systematic review on the anxiolytic effects of aromatherapy in people with anxiety symptoms. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17 (2), 101-108.

Perry, N. & Perry, E. (2006). Aromatherapy in the management of psychiatric disorders: Clinical and neuropharmacological perspectives. CNS Drugs, 20 (4), 257-280.

Yim, V.W.C., Ng, A.K.Y., Tsang, H.W.H., & Leung, A.Y. (2009). A review on the effects of aromatherapy for patients with depressive symptoms. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15 (2), 187-195.


Awesome things have been happening the past few days!

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an unexpected package on Wednesday. It turned out to be 4 pounds of modeling clay from Banji!

Mom encouraged me to take a holistic approach to treating my depression, including aromatherapy, a better-balanced diet, and seeing a chiropractor. To be honest I’m inclined to take some of her advice with a grain of salt, but it means a lot to me that she’s been looking into things that might help. I figure it can’t hurt to look into holistic approaches and adopt the ones that help me feel better; things like diet are basic to everyday self-care. (And, frankly, I’ve come to see psychiatry as a bit of a Hojo science: “Try taking this random substance that will affect your brain and we’ll see what happens …” If we’re going to be doing that, I might as well get to relax while inhaling a smell I like, thanks.)

More importantly, she’s willing to be involved in my exploration/implementation of these things: cooking for me, covering costs, even going to the chiropractor with me. I just hope this is a step toward her helping me with the things I think/know I need – and not an attempt to distract me from effective treatments that she’s uncomfortable with (because they might change our relationship?). :-/  I’m inclined to be a bit wary, but for now at least I’m focusing on the positive/potential for good: she wants to help me.

Fox has been positively wonderful. Among other things, he lets me read my blog posts to him – even if he’s tired or trying to focus on something else (or both).

He and his Dad both agreed to (collaboratively) make important mental health care decisions for me, in the event that I am unable to do so myself. This means a lot to me because while Fox knows me incredibly well, Dad is in a profession where he gets to see both sides of the coin; he knows what’s available, red flags to watch out for, how to translate from Human to Doctor and back again, etc.

I pushed myself to meet with Wakana today, despite desperately wanting to go back to sleep. It was very good that I did so. We spent most of the session talking about things related to asserting myself, primarily in the realm of receiving the mental health care I need. Then, seemingly out of the blue, I started playing one of the instruments that had been calling to me the whole time; as I played I started to hum; as I hummed, I started to sing:

This is what I need
Listen to me
Fuck your red tape
Listen to me

Forget your procedure
Listen to me
I’ll tell you what I need
Listen to me

Can you do what I need?
Listen to me
Answer truthfully!
Listen to me

If the answer is “No,”
Then I’ll say, “Goodbye,
Have a nice day.”
Listen to me!

At the end of the session I was even able to express, in the moment, how I felt about leaving (sad, and a little anxious). We were able to talk a bit about our (therapeutic) relationship, though a bit awkwardly (from my perspective). I expressed my anger about only having an hour with Wakana – while acknowledging that we need such boundaries and listening to her explain that she needs to make a living and this is how she’s chosen to do it; that doesn’t make our relationship any less genuine. It wasn’t the most comfortable or satisfying thing in the world, but it was a huge milestone in my emotional development.

Best of all, the melody filled me with a strong sense of Self that I’ve been desperately missing. It filled my whole body and spread beyond me to the people, buildings, trees, grass, sky, etc. all around me. The whole world, maybe even the whole universe, reverberated with it. I don’t need labels/categories, hobbies, a profession, relationships, even a name to define me. I just am. And I’m already whole. No matter how chaotic things may be, around me and inside me, I am. (We are.) It can be embodied in that melody. Or whatever melody best fits in the moment. It can be silent, or played by orchestras around the world, or anywhere in between.