Non-Pharmaceutical Ways To Manage Depression, Anxiety and Stress


My work as clinical social worker and psychotherapist has evolved greatly since I started in the late 80’s.  Historically, the pharmaceutical industry has influenced the treatment of mental health. When I began to realize some of the negative impacts and limitations that it had, I started the slow process of learning a new way of thinking about mental health treatment and realized that I wasn’t the only one with limitations.  The Dr.’s and prescribers were limited and dependent in large part to what the medical community was given. My intentions had always been in giving others healthy options to overcome their challenges but found they had fallen short due to my lack of information and misinformation by the culture.  My practice has now developed a more holistic and integrative model.  There are times when medications are needed but far less than before.   The following is a list of strategies, practices and product options that I have found effective in recovery and healing.   This list is informational only as choosing what is best for you is individual and intuitive to each person.


TALK THERAPY – Building a trusting relationship with a provider is the foundation for growth.  Most therapeutic modalities – all those evidence-based ones – have at it’s core a positive rapport with the person.  That is why choosing the right therapist can be tricky.  We all have unique backgrounds with our own personality style and emotional triggers or allergies as I like to call them.  The heart of growth is this connection.   Remember any teacher that you put your trust in?  Trust on any level is powerful.  I base my practice from a background of cognitive behavioral and trauma theories, systemic family and relationship modalities and an eclectic blend of spirituality, natural healing, and psychosomatic healing approaches.  There are so many effective ones out there in this age of technology.  I’ve incorporated apps, YouTube, and other tools that can help learn/understand a current challenge.


RELATIONSHIP EMPOWERMENT – Most of us grew up in a time when roles were prescribed and planned in one way or another.  We survived because our ancestors found some of these traditions were crucial in this survival.  They did their job and now we are evolving!  This is exciting yet can be pretty threatening to the old ways of living.  Embracing who we are as individuals while creating loving relationships is at the heart of this evolution.  I facilitated workshops over the last year called Living from the Power of your Heart.  There is an empowerment wave going on in the world and we are part of it.  This takes education, knowledge, skills and support…and lots of it!  That is one of my roles as a therapist – I find ways to teach, coach, practice and create a positive environment for this evolution.  My teachers have come from the relationship education, attachment theory and a comprehensive relationship skill program called PAIRS.  Lori Gordon developed this program to find real strategies to solve the puzzles that pain and conflict can create in love relationships.   Sue Johnson is one of the researchers and teachers that have helped others understand how critical it is to get our emotional bonding needs met from infancy until the end of our lives.


NUTRITION/SUPPLEMENTS – Science and wisdom are the keys here.  Mood is entwined with how we feed and care for our brain.  We now know so much more about what to eat to function at our best.  When we are feeling anxious or depressed, our old survival centers of the brain tend to take over and we are drawn to comfort food, caffeine, alcohol, sugar etc.  It’s essential to find the supports to overcome these old habits and urges, make the changes and feel the rewards of a healthy, whole foods, plant-based diet.  Hydration is a key.  I’ve added in a large glass of celery juice each morning to help get a good start for the day.  I was skeptical but now I’m a believer and happy that I created a good habit in my morning routine.  There are others such as starting the AM with the juice of ½ to one whole lemon or lime.  Add it to water immediately upon awakening.  It sends a detox signal to your body.  I often suggest this to the clients I work with to help flush the effects of stress from their bodies.  It’s simple but over time very effective.  Dan Amen has done extensive research on nutrition and the brain and specific foods to focus on.   Minimizing or eliminating sugar, gluten, caffeine and dairy are good starting points for anyone to consider improving mood and heal the body.

Finding the right supplements for your body is another key.  There are many schools of thought about all the things you should take to feel better.  The best antidepressants aren’t always pharmaceuticals.  Nature and smart science can help.  In the Jan. 2020 issue of Psychology Today, there are four compounds that can significantly impact mood.  Omega 3’s, Curcumin, Vitamin C and Magnesium.  According to this research it would take about 3 tablespoons of turmeric to equal the dose or 250-500 mg of Curcumin.  I have worked with a Superfood blend of herbs and antioxidants called MIND to supplement as well.


SPIRITUATLITY – One of the indicators for a healthy relationship is a shared spirituality.  I explain this to couples this way:  Most of us didn’t grow up in families where this was safely and freely done.  We usually passed on what we grew up with or a version of its opposite based on what our parents experienced.  Shared spirituality is learning how to discuss what’s meaningful to each other and how they see their purpose for living on this planet at this moment in time.   It’s learning how to create a depth within ourselves given the ancient truth that each of us is born with an essence to love and be loved that goes beyond just mere survival.  We want to grow, thrive and feel safe.  Most of us got stuck in stress which created a shutdown of the heart, keeping us stuck in the old patterns of survival.  There is a wave of change coming.  We now have the tools available to evolve and reach our potentials like never.  The key is finding tools to learn and a place to practice these new skills.  The rewards are great.


GROUNDING PRACTICES – Everyone needs grounding practices to cope with this highly energized and computerized culture.  We are constantly exposed to EMF’s from environment, our devices and screen time.  Daily body breathing, meditation, energetic techniques to remove stress and spending time in nature are so important.  The simple act of shaking your body gently with the intention of releasing stress can help when triggered.  Animals do this naturally.  In my practice we pick out the types of grounding exercises best suited for the individual.  Doing something is the key. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, are among some of the ancient arts that have stood the test of time.  Developing a basic EMF protocol is new and very important for the brain. Again, temperament, body type and your current situation all play a part in what is best for you.  Recently, I began incorporating Donna Eden’s energy routine to my list of things I do.  Learning to trace your meridians can make a difference.


AROMATHERAPY – I have practiced as an aromatherapist for several years.  I was drawn to the energy of these essences after I experienced a healing using them.  I “woke up” to the plants and to a new relationship with them.  There are several essential oils that specifically help mood and emotional health.  I usually will suggest the ones that may be effective depending on your situation.  My favorites today (and they can change) are Red Mandarin, Eucalyptus radiata, Ravintsara and Lavender Vera.  They help with mood and cold symptoms.  There are blends to motivate, calm, empower and awaken our sensual/sexual selves.


DEVELOPING INTUTION – I once heard the term “Blue sense” when referring to the intuitive abilities of police officers.  There was a training for the officers to help them develop these skills.  We all have intuitive knowledge that is available to us.  These skills have not been taught most likely do to old fears/myths from past connections to “psychics” and witches.  These beliefs are old and do not serve our evolving culture anymore.  Wisdom of the heart is connected to love, authenticity and living to our fullest potential. One tool to help tune in is called muscle testing.  It’s a way to use your own body to connect to your inner wisdom.  It takes some practice but it’s worth it.  Men and women find their own style to tap into themselves.  The Heart Brain Coherence practice is one such way to find these answers.  Check out my earlier blogs for the full exercise.


PHYSCIAL EXERCISE – This is essential for mood health.  You don’t have to run any races or meet some lofty goals.  But you do need something to “Just Do it” The important thing here is finding a way to connect to your body and move.  We are often told to rest if we get injured but the logistics of this is limited.  Rest is good for a brief time only.  Our bodies need to communicate through movement.  Low mood or negative thinking puts a cloud over motivation.  I like to find the tricks to side step this cloud and float through it.  Even marching in place saying the affirmation, I am up and ready, I am up and ready, can start the movement.  Creativity is the anecdote to stress.  If one strategy doesn’t work, find another.  I utilize YouTube often to access some of these strategies so you can try out some of these,



ALPHA STIM – For relief of anxiety, depression and insomnia, Alpha-Stim is a revolutionary tool which helps regulate the body’s own electrical impulses in a safe, easy and comfortable way. The primary distinctive feature in a medical device is the wavefrom, and the Alpha-Stim has a uniquely effective waveform. The application of direct electrical treatment to the brain, along with our treatment protocols for target problems also make the difference that no other device has been able to emulate.

Alpha-Stim is very safe and easy to use. The current is applied by easy-to-use clips that attach on the ear lobes. Used just 20-60 minutes every day, every other day, or on an as needed basis, Alpha-Stim can help induce a pleasant, relaxed feeling of wellbeing. Only one out of 506 people will experience a mild headache, and one out of 910 will have a skin reaction at the electrode site. There are no other significant side effects reported in over 40 research studies.



LIFEWAVE TECHNOLOGY – While on the path of my own healing journey I discovered these patches that facilitate healing through light frequency – “phototherapy”.  These patches use nanotechnology; tiny molecules of oxygen, amino acids, sugars and water that are put together in a homeopathic matrix sandwiched inside the impermeable waterproof patch materials.  Nothing enters the body.  The effect is purely energetic – a signaling mechanism so to speak.  As the patches are placed on the body, it starts to frequency modulate the body’s field of energy, much like a radio frequency modulates the radio waves to get a radio stations signal.   Each patch has a different organic crystalline structure and is designed to balance different body systems through the infrared light spectrum of energy.

Research has shown that you can change a cell’s function by giving it a chemical message or a non-chemical signal.  A chemical message would be a supplement for example.  Life Wave would be a non-chemical signal.  It’s like when you go out into the sun and your skin tans.  The cells of the body respond to the frequency of energy (light) to produce melanin as well as Vitamin D.  When Life Wave patches are placed on specific meridian points, the messaging system is enhanced greatly because the meridians already serve as a superhighway of information.

The patches designed specifically for mood, inflammation, energy, metabolism and immune health.  I have experimented with a variety of patches for health, mood and repair.  I have found them to be effective in my own healing and energy.


This summary is designed to highlight the more natural treatments I use in my practice and my own life to positively impact mood and mental health.  I find the more I practice and tune into my wise heart, the more abundant life becomes.  My belief is that we all deserve abundance in whatever form that will shine.  I welcome your comments and questions.   This is the year of the heart.  May we all find some new ways to let love flow.   Tina M Johnson, LCSW









Brain Revealed and All Those Tests

Calling all you impulsive, compulsive  or anxious people.  For that matter, everyone else can jump into the bus as we all have a lot to learn about this brain of ours.  I’ve been in the mental health field for over 25 years and have weathered many changes, career shifts and passion shifts, I  find myself again at a marvelous crossroads.  I use the word marvelous because the vision of  the everyday person getting savy with their brains is sweet to me…(I’ve cut back on sugar, the mind creates diversions)  Sweet because knowledge and accessible strategies are now available.  We still have a long journey ahead but it is on the road.  I begin with the second brain assessment that is mentioned in Dr. Amen’s book,”Unleashing the Power of the Female Brain” which I have been referring to in the last several blogs.    Falling in love with your brain means having a working knowledge  about how your brain works.   This test is the thinking test – no distractions allowed.  Thirty minutes of focused concentration.  “I can do this, I can do this.”  My rather seasoned mind reflected  both concern and curiosity.  The last time I considered taking the ADHD test in a clinic I worked at was in the 90’s which was conveniently put off for another day.  This test examines emotions, thinking style, concentration and problem solving.   My brain felt exercised by the end; with some harried moments between the tests.  Think fast Zumba class of the mind.  Mind boggling.  The reward for my brain gymnastics was the results page.  I was expecting some kind of grade; where I did well, where I didn’t etc.  This was not the case.  They covered the four areas mentioned above and labeled you in terms of what may create more balance in your brain and the strategies you need to strengthen it.   In my case, I was labeled the Empathizer, great in understanding others, but stress sensitive to the world around me.   Novelty problem solving was the term used  which I think is one way to imply challenges in step by step organized process of negotiating life.  I am researching this as this is a different type of approach to evaluation; positive and novel which, for my brain type is pretty awesome.

There is an app that was recommended  for me and I noticed it was a free one: MyCalmBeat   This is an exercise in calming the breath and can be done multiple times a day to increase awareness and tune into your body which strengthens your brain!  Back to that.   I almost always teach specific breathing strategies to clients in my practice.  Breath is one autonomic system in the body we can control.   No matter what stage in life you are in, managing breath is managing stress and a key to life, love and mental health.  I have decided to follow up on the strategies suggested for me to sharpen and balance.  We’ll see what happens.

Know Your Brain Type – Yikes!

We can’t see our brain…the 2.7-3.1 pounds of brain tissue that floats around in our heads guiding our every movement and thought.  I imagine that there are those who as children were fascinated by biology and dissected all kinds of things to find out how body parts worked.  I think I bribed someone to help me open up the frog in 7th grade.  I simply didn’t want to know, and my stomach, known as the second brain, gave me plenty of signals to avoid these types of situations from then on.  Would there been another way to help us sensitive students to look and see without getting sick?  The digital age may have been just the ticket for me.   Consequently, my perception of the biology of my own brain was limited.  Like many, my mind and body didn’t have a healthy relationship.  I was more driven by impulse and emotion.  What I felt like doing vs what may have been the best for me, meaning my body, mind and spirit as a whole.

I’m continuing my research on Dr. Amen’s book “Unleashing the Power of the Female Brain”.  In my last entry, I highlighted the positive attributes of woman’s brain as well as the related challenges that are associated with them.   Dr. Amen refers to the brain being involved in everything you do.   “It makes the healthy choices or unhealthy choices that make you feel good or bad.  When your brain works right, you work right.  When brain is troubled, you have trouble in your life.”   I was inspired today to clear my glasses and use Dr. Amen’s research tools to further examine my own brain type.   I want to know what’s inside this brain of mine – open my eyes as clearly as is possible to learn ways to change and improve my brain functioning.  The vision of energy, logical thinking, creativity, confidence, and flexibility dance in my mind’s eye.   I took the long test to determine my brain type.   It wasn’t as pretty as I hoped.

Impulsive-Compulsive-Anxious.  There, I said it.  With this assessment came a list of strategies and action ideas to help me improve my brain.  Instead of being a embarrassing label (automatic negative thought) I see this as an opportunity to grow and move through the inner resistance of accepting all parts of self.   To fully accept yourself, you need as much awareness as possible.  This, of course varies with each person.  What is awareness?  This is the subject of  spiritual and philosophical experts now and in ancient times but what I mean here is the ability to see more through the eyes of your heart/soul; where our truth lives.  Connecting can be the tricky part.   The media today is filled with stories on reaching our potentials, maximizing what we like, minimizing what we don’t, and finding love either within ourselves or with others.  The brain has all the  gadgets and switches necessary to make all these decisions.  I’m in awe of this brain of ours.

My assessment indicates decreased activity in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), commonly associated with low brain dopamine levels, increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus, commonly associated with low brain serotonin leverls and increased activity in the basal ganglia, commonly associated with low GABA levels.  My strategy?  Balance serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain through natural means, avoid stimulants, and exercise the brain with tools and techniques that enhance cognitive flexiblity, forethought and relaxation.  OK, then.  I have my mission.  I encourage anyone interested to take this assessment.   It cost me $1 for a 2 week trial.    There is an action plan included in the assessment.  Good base to start on the your goal to healthy brain envy.  I may look for a poster of a healthy brain as my pin up for the year.  More on the action plan later.

Awakening to your female brain

“The female brain can change the world. ” says Dan Amen MD, founder of the Amen Clinic and author of the recently published book, ” Unleashing the Power of the Female Brain”.   The female brain can change the world.  Now, if that were really true, what would happen?  I launch my scenario building mind to visualize a world of collaboration and understanding, conscientious thinking and with love and nurturing energies all around.  Butterflies and birds.   I envision women and men working together to share the wealth and raise educated and happy children.   There would be clean environments and thoughtful sacrifices when the situation called for them.   What if?  I take a deep cleansing breath then slowly open up my eyes to the current climate.  November in North Dakota, gray and formidable, the wind biting from the northwest, the opening day of deer hunting season.   Most women “manage” through these times, attend to details and control their impulses to drive off  to some fantasy driven  destination.  This correlates to the attributes that Dr. Amen gives women to help them live longer lives.  They are empathy, intuition, collaboration, self control and “a little worry.”  Empathy is the capacity to put yourself  in the shoes of another and act accordingly.  Intuition is the inner knowing, feeling, seeing, sensing that is interpreted uniquely by each woman.  “I feel it my bones” was a common expression I heard growing up.   There are many references to wise woman, woman’s intuition and a plethora of information about ways to develop and appreciate your intuitive parts.  For me, it has been recognizing and connection with that part that I had not been awake to.   Collaboration is the ability to work with others to get something accomplished.  Think of the role of mother figuring all the details out and organizing activities, making decisions and setting priorities.  The art of  negotiation with children and adults.  This requires an ability to think in the gray zone and make compromises.   I’m right, you’re wrong is not usually the most efficient path.  Self control is the ability to wait and be patient with self or others depending on the situation.  One of the most compelling movie memories for me was in Out of Africa.  Meryle Strep and Robert Redford.  She stood on the road as her husband left on his horse knowing that it could be a long time before he would return.  She had to carry on despite the challenges.  I can still recall the tears as she learned about the fate of her long awaited lover and the tears of learning of his fatal airplane crash.   I had just finished graduate school and was going through divorce.   Waiting for life.   These attributes can also have their difficult side.  Empathy can turn into co-dependency or living through the lens of other people or things.  Intuition can turn into mind reading and assumptions that may not be true.  It is important to do fact checking in these times.  Collaboration is the putting into action of solving problems or tasks while keeping in mind the emotional dynamics of the group whether it be family, work or organization.  Sometimes, navigating and the desire to make a win win situation can turn into pressure which can evolve into a state of compassion fatigue and stress response.   I encourage clients to be aware of these tendencies and identify them when they emerge.  It’s empowering to know that there is  a light at the end of the tunnels of life’s difficult challenges.

The phrase I appreciated in this book was “Be concerned, live longer and be happy” vs the “Don’t worry, be happy” motto of the 80’s.   There is research related to taking a more cautious approach to life vs the high risk, live for today attitude of life.  So, there is a positive spin to an anxious mind.  Know your brain type!  More on that later.  Meanwhile, time for a little vitamin D, fish oil, and dose of humor for the snowflakes that are falling.

Brain Envy – It’s all about the Brain

Is it possible that our daughter’s today  will  have shorter life spans?   Recent research from the Univ of WA suggests that women’s life expectancy increased only 2.7% compared to men at 4.6% between the years of 1989-2009.  This same study suggested that in 661 US counties life expectancy stopped improving.  For men, the number of counties reporting this decline for men was 166.  Dan Amen, in his book “Unleash the Power of the Female Brain”, states “It’s tragic that in a country as wealthy as the US, with all the medical expertise we have, so many girls will live shorter lives than their mothers.”   Comparatively, Austrailia saw an increase in life expectancy of 12 years in both men and women.  These numbers were eye-opening to me.   Why? Because I have a daughter and I care about anything that will help her and future generations  evolve  forward.   Dr. Amen has some ideas to change this trend by educating more women and men about brain health.   I have known about Dr. Amen for several years and have had clients in my therapy practice that have been patients in his clinics.  He has presented at some of the national conferences that I’ve attended and is persistent in getting the word out to many groups of people, such as  the NFL and their legal issues with brain injuries and football players.  Dr Amen has done  extensive research with athletes in relationship to head injuries and helping them recover.

This blog targets women’s brain health and how crucial it is that women begin to understand the importance of keeping our brain healthy.  We can’t see our brain.  It’s easier to see the wrinkles, feel the muscle or joint pains, sense the tightness/fit of our clothes and be motivated to do something.   Sometimes we will notice the brain fog, fatigue, mood,  concentration, sleep or memory issues and are likely to chock them up to the inevitable effects of getting older.  Mood swings, anxiety or depressive symptoms can sometimes be explained away by other causes.  Often, it is the condition of our brain that determines how we function.  Do we have a healthy brain or one that has used its reserves and is symptomatic?  We live in a country that has stress for its middle name.  We feel it, read about it, watch it, text about it and sit at our computers an write about it.  The effects of brain stress are everywhere too and include most physical problems, emotional pain and cognitive symptoms such as not tracking as well, forgetting and concentration problems.  Anyone that has managed ADD/ADHD or anxiety/depression in their lives has felt some of these symptoms “just naturally”.  Caring for the brain is even more important to keep our “Brain reserves” there for when we need them ie times of crisis and change.

When a client comes in for any type of counseling/therapy I will assess how they are doing in the realms of physical health, psychological functioning , social connections and spiritual health.  Dr. Amen calls refers to the “Four Circles Approach” and states that each of these areas needs to be optimized to ensure brain health.  This is an example of an integrated approach to a health problem.  This is, of course, not the way we are used to having our healthcare managed.  It does take extra time, thought and involvement with the person to come up with a plan that is customized and unique.  He also uses a fancy, high tech brain scan called a SPECT scan that they have used to examine brain activity and show their patients what their brain is doing and how it relates to their problems.

I find this research and data fascinating for the future, especially now, as we evolve and enter a future that is technology driven.  Warp speed.  I hear those words of Captain Kirk in the old Star Trek series as he gives the order to “go fast”.   Our bodies still need the basics, so to speak, and it is vitally important that we take care of our brain in the care of the body.  How do we do that in times of warp speed stress?  This is our challenge and our quest! Here are 4 positive suggestions to consider:

1. Fall in love with your brain.  Learn a little bit about it.  Just like your outward appearance it needs to be appreciated.

2. Examine how you think.  How active is your inner critic?  How is the flow of your thoughts in a given hour?  Just notice.

3. Value the love connections: Who do you love and who loves you?  Who do you associate with?   Do you feel deprived, angry, satisfied content?  Just assess.

4. Explore your spiritual life.  Let your intention be your guide.

These suggestions are linked with the four circles assessment approach to improving brain health.  After all if the brain works right, you work right.  More on the brain later.