Which came first... the chicken or the egg? This age old debate applies directly to the question posed in the title above. Are mood disorders (anxiety, depression, etc.) caused by poor psychological coping mechanisms or by poor physiology and biochemistry? The answer to this question is a little clearer than the chicken and egg question mentioned previously. The answer is BOTH.
Mood disorders are usually a combination of poor psychological coping mechanisms, choices and various "optional" and "non-optional" life stresses AS WELL AS poor physiological and biochemical health. This dual-causal relationship for anxiety and mood disorders is the exact reason why so many people struggle to find a longer term and manageable plan for managing this aspect to their health
Many patients suffering with these types of issues will seek help via psychological therapies and stress management techniques. Counselling sessions with their health professional to help sort through traumatic issues with their childhood, toxic relationships, etc. They then seek out various physical stress management practices such as exercise, meditiation, yoga, pilates, etc. For many these interventions can be life saving and critical parts of their overall plan to manage their psychological health. Unfortunately for many sufferers these interventions aren't enough to achieve the mental "balance" they strive for. Maintaining positivity and healthy psychological "choices" remains difficult or more work than it should be. Why is this?
In many of these cases, the sufferers can have significant physiological or biochemical factors affecting their mental health and well being. The neurochemistry in our brain plays a huge role in determining our thoughts, perceptions and can affect how we think and the choices we make.
Many people think that people who suffer with anxiety or mood disorders are "choosing" to feel this way and they simply need to (or should be able to) "snap out of it" and "think happy". For many this is impossible. The neurotransmitters in the brain are known to impact how we feel, think and percieve our environments, relationships and this can in turn affect our ability to "think happy".
Serotonin is known to have impact on the happy sad spectrum of thinking. Norepinephrine, Dopamine, and GABA are known to have impacts on how we perceive and manage anxiety and worry. There are many more known correlations between our brain chemistry and mood disorders associated with imbalances in these chemicals.
A sufferer may have the best job, family life, finances, upbringing and environment possible; but can still suffer with mild to debilitating anxiety depression because of a biochemical problem that may have nothing to do with these psychological factors.
The opposite is also true. A person can have the perfect diet, exercise routine and physical health, but yet can suffer with debilitating anxiety or depression due to having very poor psychological coping mechanisms and no psychotherapy or counselling outlets.
To summarize this is different terms... you can have an impeccable diet, sleep routines, work schedule and otherwise physical health and STILL have difficulties with happiness, anxiety and psychological health due to having poor psychological stress management techniques and coping skills.
You can have the best homelife, relationships, upbringing, career, finances and support network (friends, counselors, etc.) and STILL have difficulties with happiness, anxiety and pyschological health due to biochemical and physiological factors with psychotherapy and support can't correct.
If you suffer difficulty in maintaining and managing your positive mental attitude, you have to look at BOTH your psychological coping mechanisms but also at possible physiological and biochemical factors that can influence this aspect to your psychological health and well being.
The most common physiological factors impacting our pyschological health are hormonal in nature.
Reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) can all have significant impacts on our psychological well being. These can become imbalanced for varuous reasons; menopause and "man-o-pause", lack of exercise, poor diet, certain medications, lack of sleep, etc.
Metabolic hormones (Thyroid, Cortisol, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine, Dopamine, GABA) can affect mood and anxiety disorders. The most common issues affecting these hormone imbalances are immune system disorders (hidden food allergies, viral illnesses, immune supression conditions), medications and their side effects (birth control pills, anti-depressants, anxiolytics, sleeping pills, blood pressure medications), and various dietary and environmental influences (caffeine intake, protein intake, altered sleep wake cycles with shift work)
Immune system hormones and immune disorders. Most of us can have some of these immune system disorders and never identify them. People with various health issues like digestive issues (reflux, heartburn, constipation, IBS), skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis), muscle or joint issues, headaches, nerve issues, chronic pain, chronic viral illnesses (shingles, mono, HPV, Herpes), diabetes, or any other chronic inflammatory issue can all significantly impact our psychological biochemistry and thereby affect our mental health.
Most people would not associate any of these types of physical conditions as being related to their pyschological well being, but they are intricately and critically linked together.
Poor psychological coping skills and strategies can burn out our physiological and biochemical systems necessary for our mental health and well being.
Poor physical health (diet, inflammation, hormone imbalances, etc.) and also burnout our psychological and biochemical systems for mental health and well being.
By far, the vast majority of people with mental health struggles have some degree of BOTH aspects to their overall mental health picture, and can benefit from a partial review and "overhaul" of both their psychological coping strategies and also their physiological and hormonal health situation.
It's important to understand that when I discuss improving one's "biochemistry and physiology" I'm not referring to various prescription medication options in this regard. Many sufferers require this type of intervention and they can be life saving when used appropriately and in the right situations. But many people have "variant" mental health pictures that don't fit into the prescription medication categories and these have to be assessed and treated in a more "holistic" manner.
It's also important to understand that many of the prescription medications used for these types of issues don't restore "balance" and adequate levels of the hormone(s) in question. They simply provide a temporary "biochemical boost" without a long term improvement in the overall hormone level. This article explains this effect and how these medications aren't the long term solution with regards to these types of mental health issues.