By Dustin Luchmee
Millions of Americans struggle with depression and anxiety, with antidepressant use increasing in the general population.
Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications often have undesirable side effects including weight gain, sexual dysfunction, cognitive disruption, and gastrointestinal disturbances. They can also take significant time to work, with some people needing to change medications due to inadequate relief of symptoms or undesirable side effects.
Dr. Joseph Yi, a holistic psychiatrist in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has treated patients with depression and anxiety for over 17 years using a more natural approach. “Western allopathic medicine looks at mental health disorders from one angle, whereas holistic psychiatry looks at the person as a whole,” Dr. Yi told The Epoch Times.
The solution to depression and anxiety disorders goes beyond the pharmacy counter, starting with us. “The ultimate secret to health is realizing that you are the CEO of your body. I’m here to assist patients and put them in the right direction, but the individual needs to do it,” said Dr. Yi.
The Problem With Depression and Anxiety Medications
Medication can be a necessary tool to help individuals experiencing severe symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or trauma.
The problem with these medications is that when people get to a place where they’re doing well, it can be difficult for them to stop, explained Dr. Yi. “SSRIs slow down the breakdown of serotonin, which indirectly and artificially raises your serotonin levels. When you taper off the medication slowly, serotonin levels begin to drop, which is why people really struggle with coming off of SSRIs.”
Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome can occur when someone abruptly stops an antidepressant medication. Individuals can experience flu-like symptoms, insomnia, nausea, dizziness, sensory disturbances, and mood imbalances when this happens. Because of these unpleasant symptoms, patients may fear discontinuing their medication.
Improving Mental Fitness
“I have a saying that most of the people that come into my practice for mental health are not mentally ill; they’re mentally unfit. For someone to become mentally fit, they need to sleep, eat, and move their body properly,” Dr. Yi said.
According to Dr. Yi, most people do not get enough sleep, which is the “quickest turnaround” for people struggling with mental health. According to the world’s largest sleep study, people need about 7.2 hours of sleep per night for the brain to function properly the next day. To smoothly and efficiently transition into slumber, sleeping in a room at 62 to 82 F and 40 percent to 60 percent humidity is ideal, he said.
When people sleep poorly, they opt for foods high in fats and carbohydrates, which give them a boost of energy. However, consuming foods such as coffee and doughnuts will result in a drastic energy crash, causing one to consume more calories for energy.
Many Americans consume a standard American diet with processed foods and seed oils, which Dr. Yi advises patients to avoid, as these contribute to inflammation in the body and brain.
To eat smart, a diet rich in whole, natural foods, including meat, fish, mushrooms, vegetables, fruit, and nuts, will provide key macro and micronutrients to nourish the brain, fight inflammation, and boost brain function.
Without the proper nutrients, the brain is unable to synthesize neurotransmitters. Tryptophan, tyrosine, vitamin B complex, and magnesium are needed to produce critical neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. “If you’re not eating clean, then your body is not able to produce enough of these key neurotransmitters,” explained Dr. Yi.
Lastly, exercise is essential for energy expenditure and muscle maintenance and development and can be a more effective method of treating anxiety and depression. Going to a gym, particularly when someone is anxious or depressed, can be intimidating. To get started and to stick with exercise, Dr. Yi says to “move your body in a way that’s fun for you and gets you sweating a little bit. If someone plays pickleball for 15 to 20 minutes and they’re sweating, that’s great. I will ask people to do that three times a week for 30 minutes or so.”
While modifying these habits can be daunting, the good news is that doing so allows an individual to decrease their risk of developing anxiety or depression and needing medication. “If we focused on changing these health habits, most of psychiatry would be out of business,” said Dr. Yi.
How Relationships Impact Mental Health
While often overlooked, the people you interact with can significantly impact your health.
“A social psychologist taught me that a relationship is an exchange of value. A relationship is like a business, where two people are gaining something from one another. You wouldn’t want to spend time with someone who does not make you feel good,” said Dr. Yi.
When observing those succeeding in life versus those struggling, Dr. Yi said that those doing well tend to surround themselves with goal-oriented people. In contrast, those struggling with their mental health often find themselves with people who are negative influences.
Navigating relationships is something all people struggle with, particularly when it comes to handling a toxic relationship. Toxic relationships can occur in families, workplaces, and even in friend groups. For people with depression and anxiety, setting and maintaining boundaries and self-advocacy can be very challenging.
Those who find themselves in a toxic relationship contributing to their anxiety and depression, such as an unpleasant boss at work, have three healthy options: changing their thought process about the person, confronting them, or leaving.
For situations where confrontation or escape may not be feasible, Dr. Yi advises individuals to redirect their mental resources. “I’m a big fan of the concept of either giving love to something or not giving love to something. If you’re in a situation where you’re experiencing resentment, anger, or feeling negative energy toward or from someone, you are directing energy to that person or situation. When you do this, you internalize negative energy.” Instead, he says to acknowledge that you don’t love that situation or how the person is contributing to the negative feelings you are experiencing and focus only on the things that you do love.
Retrain Your Mind for Success and Wellness
According to Dr. Yi, a key difference between individuals struggling with anxiety and depression and those doing well in life is their thought processes.
“People struggling with these mental health conditions chronically focus on the things that they don’t want, whereas people who are soaring in life are relentlessly optimistic, focusing on the things they do want,” said Dr. Yi.
Further, the thought processes of individuals with depression versus those with anxiety differ. “When you think about someone who’s depressed, you think about someone with a dark cloud over their head. It’s like their energy is sucking them dry, like a black hole. With anxiety, you feel that nervous energy, which is a byproduct of a person constantly worrying about certain things that haven’t really happened yet. They’re thinking about the worst possible outcomes,” explained Dr. Yi.
Using motivational interviewing, positive psychology, and principles from the law of attraction, Dr. Yi teaches his patients to reframe their thought processes toward more positive thinking. Other practices used to reshape an individual’s thought processes include psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Depending on the individual, some therapeutic techniques may be more beneficial than others. Dr. Yi cautions that overanalyzing and constantly talking about a problem may keep an individual in a negative frame of mind instead of helping them take action and move into a more positive mental state.
To reshape a person’s thought processes, Dr. Yi has his patients perform the following five-minute exercise that anyone can do:
“For five minutes, practice deep breathing and go for a walk. Then, think of three things that you are truly grateful for, to the point where you can feel it inside you. Next, think of someone, focus on them, and genuinely wish them happiness, peace, and love. Take the time to get outside yourself. Lastly, focus on what it is that you’re moving toward in life. Visualize this goal and believe that it’s already been achieved. Observe how you feel. This short exercise allows you to feel fulfillment and helps to retrain your mind to cultivate better energy, better vibes.”