On SAGE Insight: Treating Chronic Stress to Address the Growing Problem of Depression and Anxiety: Biofeedback and Mindfulness as Simple, Effective Preventive Measures

From Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Depression and anxiety are undertreated and represent a growing health crisis and economic burden. Current treatment approaches (medications, psychotherapy) appear insufficient to resolve these problems. Difficulties with current treatment approaches include cost, side effects, and stigma. Because of the physiological similarities in cortisol in stress and depression, Robert Sapolsky (2004) argues that chronic stress and depression are really the same thing; that is, people have been beat up and overwhelmed by life stressors for so long that they have become depressed. The stress response is an adaptive, evolved response helping humans to cope with problems and survive. Biofeedback and mindfulness both increase HRV. This increase in heart-rate variability (HRV) may be a key mediator between effective interventions and reduced depression and anxiety. Genetics also play a role in depression and anxiety: Genetics and stress interact in predicting the likelihood of becoming depressed. Perhaps what matters is type of stressor and age at which it occurs, so that more negative early-life stressors such as childhood maltreatment are more likely to contribute to gene–environment interactions in predicting adult depression.

Biofeedback and mindfulness are two innovative approaches that reduce stress and negative mood and effectively treat depression and anxiety. These approaches are significantly less expensive, more time efficient, maintain therapeutic gains over time, and do not have the stigma associated with medications and psychotherapy. These approaches have broader social acceptance, and modern technologies (particularly smart phone apps and Internet programs) dramatically increase the ease of use and continued practice over time, contributing to significant reduction in costs. Taking a preventive medicine, public health perspective in treating chronic stress on a national level has the potential to significantly reduce the disease burden and suffering associated with depression and anxiety, as well as reduce the significant economic impact associated with health care and decreased work productivity. Read more…

Abstract

Depression and anxiety are undertreated and represent a growing health crisis and economic burden. Current treatment approaches (medications, psychotherapy) appear insufficient to resolve these problems. Difficulties with current treatment approaches include cost, side effects, and stigma. Given that depression and anxiety share significant features and a common etiology in chronic stress, an effective approach to reduce depression and anxiety may be to reduce chronic stress. Chronic stress is on the rise, with more than one third of Americans reporting high levels of stress with which they feel they cannot adequately cope. Treating chronic stress at the population level has the potential to reduce the rising tide of depression and anxiety. Biofeedback and mindfulness are two interventions that demonstrably reduce stress and negative mood, are cost and time-effective, have no side effects, and have minimal stigma relative to medications and psychotherapy.

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Article details

Treating Chronic Stress to Address the Growing Problem of Depression and Anxiety: Biofeedback and Mindfulness as Simple, Effective Preventive Measures
Patrick R. Steffen, Tara Austin, Andrea DeBarros
First Published December 28, 2016
DOI: 10.1177/2372732216685333
From Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences

 

 

     
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