It may be a headache or chest pains that won't seem to go away, a hyper sensitive stomach that has decided that most food is something it doesn't want to tolerate any more or the stiff back that makes even the simplest of tasks feel arduous and uncomfortable. These pains are typical messengers of stress and anxiety.
If they are accompanied by a soul-deep tiredness that makes it nigh on impossible to think straight or make decisions, the inability to feel joy even in things that you used to love or if a feeling of worthlessness and despair has taken root in your heart it is likely that these are messengers of depression and you need to listen to them and take action, please - you deserve to be happy and healthy.
It is worth pointing out that these are only some of the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. How someone feels, their experiences and the severity of their symptoms can vary widely from person to person. What is clear though, is that the long-term effects of stress, anxiety and depression wreak havoc on every aspect of the health of your mind, body and sense of self.
Current medical guidelines recommend antidepressants as the primary treatment for depression and a multitude of stress and anxiety related conditions. This has led to many millions of people all over the world taking them. While they can aid recovery for some, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that antidepressants are ineffective. The guidelines are based on experimental data that is marred by publication bias from studies funded by the companies who manufacture the drugs and the fact that depression is one of the most placebo responsive disorders. Additionally these studies often downplay the severity and rate of occurrence of a long list of negative side effects, including the significant problems and withdrawal symptoms experienced by those trying to come off medication. This often results in long-term drug dependency. In short a placebo would be as effective and doesn't carry the risk of any side effects.
The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are from a group of drugs called SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) - they work by increasing serotonin levels as one possible theory is that depression is caused by low levels of serotonin. Serotonin is often referred to as the 'happy chemical' because it is known to impact happiness, mood, anxiety and your sense of wellbeing. As the precursor for melatonin, it helps to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles and internal clock. It also appears to play a key role in maintaining mood balance. However the latest science would suggest that it remains unclear whether there is any link between low serotonin and increased anxiety or depression.
Conversely, as I alluded to earlier we do know that these drugs cause many harmful side-effects, including weight gain, sexual problems, fatigue and insomnia. Some independent studies have also demonstrated a link between antidepressants and an increased risk of violence and suicide especially in children and young adults as well as psychotic events in women of all ages.
Depression and anxiety conditions such a ocd, eating disorders and PTSD are highly complex both in their origins and their effects on the body, mind and soul. It seems quite a stretch to suggest that they are all caused by a deficiency in a single chemical and that they can all be treated successfully and sustainably by artificially increasing the levels of said chemical.
I believe there is a way to treat depression and anxiety effectively and sustainably and I want to share my experiences and my story to show you it is possible so that you can make an informed decision about whether medication is the right option for you.
I had all of the aforementioned issues plus a whole host more, when I was diagnosed with burnout, severe anxiety and depression in 2018. This diagnosis was the result of the toxic combination of working too hard in an extremely high pressure and competitive environment (70+hr weeks which included working night-shifts and weekends), not getting enough sleep (usually less than 5hrs a night), and generally neglecting me for nearly two decades.
I was working as Aerodynamicist for one of the most successful F1 teams in history - Mercedes Benz - and had been doing so for over a decade. But after six double world championship wins (with the Brawn and Mercedes), including five back to back titles, my aforementioned toxic behaviour led to my OCD getting out of control and it opened the door for depression to sweep in after it. I felt numb, lost and worthless and despite my best efforts I just ran out of energy trying to plug each new hole as it appeared.
It wasn’t just my mental health that was suffering, half of my hair had fallen out and I weighed less than 42kg. When my husband finally convinced me to go to the doctor, they duly prescribed me antidepressants and told me to take it easy before sending me on my way.
I felt abandoned and a little betrayed, that the only help I was given was a piece of paper for a pot of pills. I remember sitting in my car staring into space hearing a loud ringing in my ears, feeling completely hopeless - I really don't want anyone else to feel like I did that day.
Having battled with anxiety and OCD since I was a teenager, antidepressants were something I had read about and watched documentaries on for years. I have always been the type of person that questions and researches everything, especially chemicals that I might have to put on or in my body. I had been curious to know whether they were a ‘magic silver bullet’, the solution to quite literally all my problems. The answer I found each time was a resounding no and the nasty side effects that they can have on up to 70% of people who take them concerned me, a lot.
So I decided I wanted to work my way back to mental and physical health without the use of medication. Please know that my decision was a personal choice. I am not in anyway casting aspersions on people who do choose to take medication, I know it can be helpful for some people and aid their recovery, but I have a long history of reacting badly to all sorts of medication and chemicals so I wanted to try a more holistic route. I also felt that for me medication would be more of a sticky plaster fix or crutch rather than a long term solution because deep down I knew I needed to work through and resolve some long buried things.
Despite the scale of the challenge and some really quite abusive behaviour from one of the GP's I saw along the way, I did it! (I must point out that I also saw a great GP and registrar who were very supportive of what I was trying to do... but they were the minority, the others were extremely dismissive of what I was trying to do and just kept trying to push me into taking medication.)
It took time, effort, compassion, understanding, a lot of research and many, many self experiments, but I figured out what worked for me. The results and long-term effects on how I feel and view not only myself but the world too have made every second of research and every experiment more than worth it.
This Clinic section is where I will share the combination of holistic therapies and practices that I have used and continue to use to successfully and sustainably treat my anxiety, stress and depression.
Almost all of them have considerable science to recommend them, with many, many studies suggesting that they actually work far more reliably than drugs - and without any side effects. But this research is often ignored by most general practitioners who instead choose to follow outdated medical guidelines which recommend medication as the primary treatment.
All I ask is that you read what I have to say with an open mind. I hope what I write about here will help you as much as it helped me.Samantha xGO TO CLINIC »