When we talk about "brain chemistry," we are generally referencing neurotransmitters and hormones. These chemicals are involved in the mechanics of experiencing emotions. For example, when we hug someone we love, the hormone oxytocin is released and induces in us a sense of well-being.
We are generally not born with "imbalanced" brain chemistry. Instead, we encounter stressors in our environments as children and adults. These stressors can teach us to:
- Negatively perceive ourselves and others
- Expect emotional distress in day-to-day life
- Feel incapable of overcoming adversity
These stressors and the emotions they stir up are processed and experienced through our brain chemistry.
Because some of these stressors may seem common place (i.e. little "t" traumas) they may be disregarded as unimportant. As a result, it may be unclear to us what is the true origin of our depression or anxiety. We simply know that we feel badly and there's no clear reason why. This is how the focus becomes on chemistry rather than real life stressors.
Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications interact with our brain chemistry and thereby reduce the intensity of our emotional experiences on a biological level. Meanwhile, therapy allows us to deal with the stressors themselves and resolve how they impact us on a deeper personal level.
For some people therapy is enough to manage anxiety or depression. For others medication can be a useful tool that reduces the intensity of symptoms enough to be present and focused enough to dig into therapy.
Ideally therapy and medication are thoughtfully implemented. This is why I like to consult regularly with my clients' psychiatrists. A holistic approach to mental health is generally the most effective one.
Reach out and let's continue to discuss how medication and therapy can work hand in hand.