The Chemistry of Joy: A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom

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9780743265072: The Chemistry of Joy: A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom

The classic book that New York Times bestselling author Dr. Larry Dossey called “a valuable guide for anyone wishing to find greater exuberance and fulfillment in their life,” The Chemistry of Joy offers a unique blend of Western science and Eastern philosophy to show you how to treat depression more naturally and effectively, and what you can do TODAY to create a happier, more fulfilling life for yourself.

The Chemistry of Joy presents Dr. Emmons’s natural approach to depression—supplemented with medication if necessary—combining the best of Western medicine and Eastern teaching to create your body’s own biochemistry of joy. Integrating Western brain chemistry, natural and Ayurvedic medicine, Buddhist psychology, and his own joyful heart techniques, Dr. Emmons creates a practical program for each of the three types of depression: anxious depression, agitated depression, and sluggish depression.

The Chemistry of Joy helps you to identify which type of depression you are experiencing and provides a specific diet and exercise plan to address it, as well as nutritional supplements and “psychology of mindfulness” exercises that can restore your body’s natural balance and energy. This flexible approach creates newfound joy for those whose lives have been touched by depression—and pathways for all who seek to actively improve their emotional lives.

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About the Author:

Henry Emmons, MD, is a psychiatrist who integrates mind-body and natural therapies, mindfulness and allied Buddhist therapeutics, and psychotherapeutic caring and insight in his clinical work. Dr. Emmons is in demand as a workshop and retreat leader for both healthcare professionals and the general public.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: The Mysterious Mix of Science and Spirit

Surely joy is the condition of life.-- Henry David Thoreau

Imagine for a moment a cardiologist seeing a new patient. The man smokes, is forty pounds overweight, and subsists on a diet of pizza, french fries, and Big Macs. He works at a stressful job that leaves him agitated at the end of every fourteen-hour day, and his most strenuous exercise is walking from his office to the parking lot. He has a family history of heart disease, and his blood pressure and cholesterol are through the roof.

"Okay," says the cardiologist after he reviews the results of the tests, conducted by the nurse and a junior associate. He himself has spent just ten minutes with this patient, and already he's late for his next appointment. "Here's something to help your cholesterol go down, and something for your pressure. You shouldn't have many side effects, though you might experience some memory problems, and, of course, a loss of sex drive. But I wouldn't worry about it. Good luck, and I'll see you in three months when your prescription runs out."

You don't even have to be a first-year medical student to see what's wrong with this picture. Wait a minute, you say. Why didn't the doctor tell his patient to stop smoking, eat better, get more exercise, and find some strategies for coping with stress? Why isn't he monitoring the patient more carefully? And why is the patient's only option medications that, while they may save his life, will make it even less pleasant?

At this point, we'd never think of treating heart disease in such a limited fashion. It may have taken a while, but both the medical community and the general public have finally adopted an integrated approach to this potentially fatal illness. Yet depression -- once viewed entirely as a psychological or spiritual problem -- is now treated almost exclusively with medication alone by the vast majority of the medical establishment. While it's hard to imagine the cardiologist who would treat a heart patient in the way I've described, some version of this scenario would be not at all unusual for a harried psychiatrist at an HMO, under pressure to find the quickest and most cost-effective treatment for depression, nor for the family doctors who prescribe antidepressants while ignoring their patients' diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Even responsible, caring physicians -- psychiatrists as well as general practitioners -- are unaware that depression requires a "brain-healthy" diet and lifestyle to mirror the "heart-healthy" regime that we've come to know so well. Even well-meaning psychiatrists tend to see depressed patients as brain chemistry gone awry rather than as a complex integration of mind, body, and spirit. And many patients who try to eat well, exercise frequently, and live a healthy life remain ignorant of the specific diet and lifestyle choices that might cure their insomnia, lift their moods, soothe their anxiety, and generally ease their depression.

Depression is a holistic illness that affects every aspect of who we are as human beings. It only makes sense to address it from every available angle, both with regard to our bodies and brain chemistry and vis-à-vis our psyches and spirits. So in this book, I offer you a revolutionary model for treating depression, one that integrates physical, mental, and spiritual approaches to help you discover "the chemistry of joy" -- that mysterious mix of body, mind, and spirit that Thoreau called "the condition of life."

I believe that no matter how much pain each of us is given to endure -- and for some of us, the burden is considerable -- we can also always access the joy that is our birthright. But to find the joy we're all meant to experience, we need to understand ourselves fully, including our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. A program for overcoming depression that omits any one of these aspects of our humanity is almost certain to fail.

A Three-Step Program to Creating Joy

My approach to overcoming depression and creating joy is based on two decades of work as a psychiatrist who has also studied Jungian psychology, Christian theology, Buddhist philosophy, Ayurvedic medicine, and the groundbreaking mindfulness approach to physical and mental health pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli. In developing the program I'll share with you here, I've drawn on the latest developments in Western biochemistry to help me understand the elegant and complex interactions that take place constantly within our extraordinary brain. I've refined my understanding of diet, exercise, and lifestyle through the Ayurvedic Mind-Body medicine I learned from my study with Deepak Chopra. And I've deepened my approach to psychotherapy by incorporating a Buddhist Psychology of Mindfulness. Together, Western science and Eastern wisdom have enabled me to create this three-step program.

Step One: Understand Your Brain

Step One is your first line of defense against depression, the techniques to which you turn when you're in the throes of a depressive episode and need immediate help. It's based on the understanding that just as the heart patient needs a "heart-healthy lifestyle," so do depressed patients need a "brain-healthy" program that includes diet, exercise, and a healthy relationship to natural cycles -- the ultradian, circadian, and seasonal rhythms that affect us more than we think.

Although by now even fast-food addicts have the guilty sense that french fries and pizza aren't exactly good for our health, very few of us realize that these poor food choices are also disastrous for our mood. Too many refined carbs and unhealthy fats play havoc with our brain chemistry as well as our weight, working against our efforts to overcome depression no matter how much medication we take.

Depending on our individual system, even apparently healthy diets can be bad for our brains. I recently met a man in his fifties who worked out regularly and had a lean, healthy physique. He ate mainly home-cooked, low-fat meals featuring high-quality proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables. But he wasn't getting the complex carbohydrates that he needed to overcome a lifelong serotonin deficiency, nor the healthy Omega-3 fats that his brain craved. As a result he suffered from anxiety, insomnia, and a tendency to depression. When he added more whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables into his diet, his mood, sleep, and well-being improved almost instantly. In Step One, you'll learn how to tell if you, too, are eating exactly the wrong foods to balance your brain chemistry, with concrete suggestions for how to switch to a "brain-healthy" diet.

Step One is also where I'll introduce three types that you'll continue to encounter throughout the book, although they may appear slightly different each time you meet them. One of the most exciting discoveries I've made in my practice is the way Western biochemistry, Ayurvedic Mind-Body medicine, and Buddhist psychology have all identified three distinct types, each of whom needs a different physical and emotional approach to overcoming depression. In Step One, we'll start with a Western scientific explanation, based on the balance of biochemicals in the brain. Our mood, energy level, and outlook are determined to a remarkable extent by the relationship between our levels of serotonin -- a soothing chemical -- and our supply of dopamine and norepinephrine, which stimulate us. When these chemicals go out of balance, we become depressed -- but different types of imbalance result in different categories of depression, which seem in turn to be tied to different personality types:

  • Anxious Depression: People with low levels of serotonin often feel fearful, inadequate, and nervous, always worried about the future and their own inability to measure up to life's demands. They tend to hold on too tightly and may become dependent in relationships.
  • Agitated Depression: People with high levels of norepinephrine/ dopamine, possibly combined with low levels of serotonin, frequently feel angry, resentful, bitter, and despairing. They're often judgmental, demanding, and highly critical in relationships, with a tendency to push away anyone who doesn't meet their high standards.
  • Sluggish Depression: People with inadequate levels of norepinephrine and dopamine tend to slow down, sleep way too much, and have trouble concentrating or motivating themselves to work. When depressed, they often become confused and "absent," even -- or perhaps especially -- in their most intimate relationships.

Because Western scientists developed these categories in terms of depression, each description represents the most extreme, unhealthy versions of each type. But all of us have tendencies in one or more of these directions, whether we're talking about an occasional "blue day" or a diagnosis of clinical depression. Thus, all of us can benefit from the diet and lifestyle recommended for our "type," once we've identified which it is.

So in Step One, you'll find out what kind of diet your brain-chemistry type requires, as well as the exercise, daily schedule, and sleep patterns that can help keep your brain chemicals in balance. Even if you've never been diagnosed with depression or don't think of yourself as depressed, you can benefit from identifying your particular brain-chemistry needs and then following the recommendations in Step One.

Step Two: Make Use of Mind-Body Medicine

Step Two is your next line of defense against depression, a further effort to rebalance your system once you've begun making the diet and lifestyle changes in Step One. It's based on the principles of Ayurveda, an ancient system of Mind-Body medicine used for centuries in India and neighboring countries. Since this healing system has been around for several centuries, imagine my surprise when I realized that it basically offered more a spiritual and poetic version of the same three brain-chemistry types that Western medicine had identified -- co...

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