About 8 years ago I was struggling with a battle over stress and it was clear that stress was winning. At the time I was feeling disempowered by a relationship with both a boss and a teacher with whom I was in training. I was overwhelmed in a job dealing with chronic crisis and was also in a partner relationship that was all kinds of wrong My external environment represented how lost I was within. Stress had been attacking my gut causing me to be sick all the time. I was drained and would complain to anyone who would listen. My spirit felt broken. While I had this gnawing feeling I wanted to head in a different direction, I had no idea how to get there.
Although my story feels personal, I know that it is far from unique. The CDC reports that between 1988-2008 there was a 400% increase in prescriptions for anti-depressants with 11% of Americans over the age of 12 being prescribed this medication. Currently they are one of the three top selling medications in the U.S. After working in mental health clinics as a therapist for 13 years, this is not surprising to me. I have seen many people over the years diagnosed with depression who appear to be struggling with complex human emotions due to life situations. In the 1980s pharmaceutical companies began directly advertising to consumers. In 1997 the FDA relaxed federal rules which caused an escalation in the rate at which the companies marketed their products. While this marketing reduced stigma of mental illness, it also caused an increase in the diagnosing of emotions as mental illness.
This increase in mental health diagnosis and prescription medications also came at a time when cost of living was increasing faster than income growth. In a Gallup poll taken during 2013-2014, 50% of people were working over 40 hours a week in their full time job with 18% of those people working over 60 hours a week. Predominantly these workers were salaried employees. While we are treating the human body like a machine, we are not allowed the time and energy to take care of it. Reports of soaring rates of obesity and addiction are everywhere. This mounting pressure on Americans has spun out of control. My question is…with all this pressure and financial stress who isn’t depressed or anxious these days?
Traditional approaches to mental health, while well intentioned, tend to feed into our inherent desire for a quick fix. Given time constraints on both patients and providers, it appears we simply don’t have the time to deal with our complex human emotions. Although the quick fix is fleeting, it is widely supported by our culture. Medications often cause side effects which can then lead to more medications. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a study in March of 2013 which showed that anti-depressants have no greater affect than placebos in mild to moderate depression. A perfect storm has collided between the current stress levels of Americans, our inherent urge for a quick fix, “Big Pharma” and our Western healthcare system. Everyone wants the problem to go away without focusing on the central cause.
The above evidence, both factual and subjective, has lead me to this question… “Where do we go from here?” As a whole we need to journey back to our heart. All this stress and pressure has caused deep disconnection. Due to the above evidence, it would seem that the human body simply can’t keep up with the pace at which we are living. Quickly fixing symptoms as they arise is like putting a band aid on a gushing wound. My concern is that the brick wall is not that far ahead. While the quick fix of prescriptions may be offered, we have control over the decision to take them or not. Pausing before moving forward could help you discover what is causing the symptom you are trying to treat. Interestingly, newer research on gut microbiome is showing the connection between the gut and brain. Serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter that is low in people with depression, is primarily housed in the gut. This biological fact offers validation that treatment without consideration of diet and lifestyle change is not a comprehensive approach. While this research is not currently integrated into mainstream healthcare, it does have the potential to drastically change how illness is conceptualized and treated.
My journey towards wellness began with traditional talk therapy, followed by a variety of integrative health practices including yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic care and nutrition. Change came slowly but over time a commitment towards quality of life was born. Changes in my relationships became noticeable. I decided to let go of the relationship with my partner that wasn’t working. After that I left the training that was not a good fit. As I became healthier, I began to stand up for myself with my boss instead of being emotionally reactive. Slowly life became more manageable. Over time I took various trainings in wellness. Eventually I left my job to start my business, Your Whole Healing where I use my experience and skills to help others better manage stress and anxiety.
Change occurred for me when I began to invest in my health. While all of the above has impacted my life as well as yours, things only changed once I decided that I was done letting it all weigh me down. The more I vented and blamed others, the sicker I got. Taking responsibility actually gave me more control over the outcome. Once I realized that happiness began with making peace within, everything on the outside began to fall into place. There does appear to be a connection between our healthcare system and the pharmaceutical industry, workplace pressures continue to mount but we have the choice to do something about it today before we crash into the proverbial brick wall. Where do we go from here? Back to the heart where the meaning of life truly resides.
Stephanie Troy, LICSW, RYT is a Mind/Body Therapist & Coach, yoga instructor, writer and lover of enhancing authentic happiness. She is the owner of Your Whole Healing which focuses on providing mind/body services to assist people in better managing stress through building resilience. Her blog is a composition of musings on health, wellness, and healing. Stephanie is passionate about living, learning and loving