Dr. Kristin Schaefer-Schiumo| Manhasset NY

Anxiety & Depression: Is It Emotional? Is It Physical? Or, Is It Both?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, it can be immensely helpful to engage in therapy. As a practicing psychologist with over 20 years of experience, I have seen first-hand the powerful and positive effects of successful therapy. But, I am also a huge proponent of the mind-body connection; so, when working together, clients will often hear me integrating questions about blood work or recent examinations by their PCP. They will also hear me work to develop or improve habits around exercising, healthy eating, and the use of emotional regulation and mindfulness strategies. Because I believe, and research has clearly shown, that a healthy mind is connected to a healthy body, and vice versa, I truly work from a holistic, multi-pronged approach. Extensive research clearly demonstrates that the mind/body connection is not a bunch of hocus pocus, it's the real deal. In fact, there are often medical factors that can negatively impact your overall emotional well-being. At times, the effective treatment of these medical factors can greatly lower symptoms of anxiety and depression and can facilitate the positive effects of therapy, often without the use of psychotropic medications. While there are many medical conditions that can impact mood, I would like to share some of the most common ones I have seen in my practice:

  • Vitamin D Deficiency:Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that our bodies make using sunlight. There are many factors that currently limit our exposure to sunlight that include intentionally restricting exposure to the sun or consistent use of sunblock due to legitimate concerns around skin cancer or limited exposure to the sun due to living in Northern regions of the country, where daylight hours are shorter during the winter months. For these, and many other reasons, more and more people are finding that their Vitamin D levels are unhealthfully low. This often translates into symptoms of emotional dis-ease, including feelings of sadness or depression, low energy levels, or increased agitation or anxiety. If blood test results show low Vitamin D levels, this can be treated with prescribed Vitamin D. As the amount of Vitamin D is restored to a level that allows the body to function optimally, people often report decreased symptoms of anxiety or depression. Further, the improved feeling of being physically at ease allows individuals the ability to utilize their therapy much more effectively.
  • Thyroid Issues:The thyroid is a gland, located in the neck, which produces hormones that have a tremendous impact on multiple systems in our body. In Hyperthyroidism, too much of the thyroid hormone is produced, which can lead to an increase in nervousness and irritability. In Hypothyroidism, too little of the thyroid hormone is produced. In this case, symptoms such as depression and fatigue can be present. Part of effectively alleviating anxiety or depression in therapy incorporates an understanding of current blood work. Individuals should absolutely have their blood tested for thyroid hormone levels and, if need be, talk with a trained professional about how to best adjust those levels.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS):PCOS causes hormone imbalances in women that can lead to symptoms including infertility and weight gain and struggles with low mood or depression. In my work, I often suggest that women struggling with depression make sure that PCOS is not part of the equation. This can be diagnosed by an OB/GYN through a blood test and physical exam. At times, hormones are then prescribed by the doctor to help manage this condition, while at other times women choose to balance their hormones through a holistic approach that may include dietary changes or the use of herbs or essential oils. In all cases, I encourage women to work under the supervision of a trained professional.
  • Sleep Apnea:We now know that the appropriate amount of and quality of sleep is critical to many areas of functioning. If disruptions in sleep occur long enough, they become the primary issue and focus of treatment. Difficulty breathing during sleep, or Sleep Apnea, can negatively impact sleep quality. A proper night's sleep is important to brain function and lack of it can contribute to fatigue, depression, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. The results of a needed sleep study can lead to treatment that may help with a more restful sleep, thereby reducing mental health symptoms.

I encourage those I work with to truly tackle challenges holistically. When you address underlying physical imbalances when treating anxiety and depression, you may see significant improvement in psychological functioning. I work to facilitate meaningful interactions with trained professionals (with your consent) while simultaneously working with me in therapy, which facilitates a supportive and positive journey toward your overall healing.