Why Depression is More Than a Chemical Imbalance

Depression, Empowerment, Energetic Coherence, Limiting Beliefs, Meditation, Postpartum
January 22, 2018

The Authentic Wife and Mom

Beth Rowles | The Conscious Marriage Coach

From postpartum depression to clinical depression, it seems like no one goes untouched by this debilitating condition at least once in their lifetime.


“…Depression is caused when the brain’s stress machinery goes into overdrive.  The most prominent player in this theory is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.” (Science, Holden 2003)

Knowing what causes depression helps us uncover how to best treat it.

Depression is caused by chronic or repeat firing of the body’s stress response – also known as Fight-or-Flight.  Our amygdala (part of the limbic system in our brain) sounds the alarm, the hypothalamus (part of the crown chakra) triggers our sympathetic nervous system, and the adrenal glands flood the body with a hormone called cortisol and raise our heart rate and blood flow with adrenaline.
This originally saved us if we were running from a real threat (remember that saber-toothed tiger I talked about last week?), but today it can be triggered by anything from an alarm clock to a screaming child.
Cortisol lowers your immune system, increases your blood sugar, and shuts down digestion as well as your libido. Worse, it keeps us in this state until the PERCEIVED threat is gone.
Melatonin also decreases during stress, making it hard to sleep.
And oxytocin, the love hormone (also key to breastfeeding), decreases – meaning we’ll have a hard time feeling strong attachments to those around us, as well as just living in a state of love rather than fear.
An overproduction of these hormones create low-frequency states, such as anger, fear, envy, hatred, and aggression – which lead to a sense of frustration, anxiety, insecurity, sadness, depression, and hopelessness.
The emotional energy tied to our thoughts about the fear are also stored in our bodies if we don’t allow ourselves to experience them, to feel pain.  If you are depressed, you’ll have a loss of sensation all over your body, and almost total loss of sensation in your extremities.  To move this fear energy out you either must feel it or help it be released through physical activity, especially yoga.
The good news is: you can turn this stress response off by thought alone – moving into a state of love within yourself and/or being comforted by someone you feel attached to (usually a spouse if you’re an adult, or a trusted coach or friend).

You can deconstruct the fear as one of two types; either emotional fear or physical fear.

If it’s physical fear, it will be rooted in worries about injuries, illness, or death.  If you have paranoias or phobias, those can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.   This process will slowly desensitize you to your fear.
If it’s emotional fear, it means a worthiness-killing story has kicked in, or a thorn has been triggered.  You may feel a fear of abandonment, abuse, or powerlessness.  In this state, people often end up in a codependent relationship, sabotage their relationships, or avoid them altogether.
“Every distress and every dysfunction of the physical body, every illness, can be understood in terms of power loss to an external circumstance or object through one of several energy centers within the body.  You lose power when you rage against an injustice.  You lose power when you are threatened by another person, or other people.  You lose power when you distance yourself from your fellow humans out of resentment or bitterness, or a sense of disappointment or unworthiness or superiority.  You lose power when you long for something or someone, when you grieve, and when you envy another.  Beneath all of these is fear, fear that you are vulnerable, that you are not able to cope without the person or the situation that you miss, that you are at a disadvantage without that which you envy.  You lose power whenever you fear.  That is what a loss of power is.” – Gary Zukav, The Seat of The Soul

The key to overcoming this fear is to remember that you are energy that can never be destroyed.

Yes, our bodies come and go, but we exist forever.  I love this quote from Dr. Laura Berman, in her book, Quantum Love: “Don’t be scared of heartbreak or you won’t fully experience the joy of the heart.  Remember, energy cannot be decreased or destroyed.  You are always okay.  You are never alone.”  Trust that everything is FOR YOU and though the stress response may seem like a bad thing, sometimes it is there for you to pause and uncover what lesson you have yet to learn.

Perhaps you aren’t putting yourself first, or asking for enough support, or even just getting enough sleep.
“Depression is the reward we get for being good – if you want to feel better, declare what you want for people to do that would fulfill your need to be loved.” – Marshall Rosenberg, Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life


“Resentment creates defiance. If you try to control it, it will become stronger — or crumble and turn into depression.” – Dr. Shefali Tsabary, The Year of The Awakened Heart
Acceptance of what is (we often call the As Is), and living only in this moment (we often call mindfulness), is key to not letting your thoughts take you to a place of fear.  It is looking only at the facts of the situation rather than creating judgments about it or drawing our identity from it.
This means you create new pathways in your brain that take a stimulus (your crying child for example) and create a new thought about it.  Instead of perhaps going to the victim mode, you just remain in awareness of what is, mindful of your breath, attending to your child’s needs as necessary or just providing comfort.

It is often said that depression is a chemical imbalance, but it’s so much more than that

 It’s a complex issue that starts with a failure to regulate our stress response – meaning, we either keep ourselves in stressful situations or allow our thoughts to create more and more fear, contributing to more and more stress.
“In a revealing study published in 2003 in Science, researchers considered why patients on SSRI antidepressants, such as Prozac or Zoloft, don’t feel better right away.  There is usually a two-week lag between starting the drugs and and the time the patients feel they are getting better.  The study found that depressed people exhibit a surprising lack of cell division in the region of the brain called the hippocampus, a part of the nervous system involved with memory.  Hippocampal cells renewed cell division at the time the patients first began to experience the mood-shifting effect of the SSRI drugs, weeks after the onset of the drug regiment.  This study and others challenge the theory that depression is simply the result of a ‘chemical imbalance’ affecting the brain’s production of monoamine signaling chemicals, specifically serotonin.  If it were as simple as that, the SSRI drugs would likely restore that chemical balance right away.” – Dr. Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief
Antidepressants have such varied results because the issue is so complex and people are so different.  As you can imagine, if it were just a chemical imbalance, we should be able to easily restore order. In fact, a recent study found that there was no link between serotonin and depression.
“This review suggests that the huge research effort based on the serotonin hypothesis has not produced convincing evidence of a biochemical basis to depression. This is consistent with research on many other biological markers. We suggest it is time to acknowledge that the serotonin theory of depression is not empirically substantiated.” – Moncrieff, J., Cooper, R.E., Stockmann, T. et al. The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidenceMolecular Psychiatry (2022).
One way antidepressants work is by creating new nerve connections in the brain, a process that takes weeks.
“So, the theory holds, the real value of these medications may be in generating new neurons (a process called neurogenesis), strengthening nerve cell connections, and improving the exchange of information between nerve circuits.” – Harvard Health Publishing, What Causes Depression. 

Well, here is an exciting fact: you can do this all on your own with meditation. Not only does meditation help you create new neurons, but it also creates new neural pathways, connecting both the left and right sides of your brain.

“It is through actually FEELING what we WANT to feel that we engage our hippocampus in committing to a new belief.” – Dr. Laura Berman, Quantum Love
Further, it releases melatonin (sleep), serotonin (mood balancing), dopamine (reward and pleasure), and oxytocin (love and bonding) hormones through stimulation of the vagus nerve, which puts us into “rest-and-digest” mode.  Basically, our body tells our brain it’s time to chill out.

For anyone experiencing depression, the treatment is going to come in layers:


  1. Work on halting the stress response through mindfulness (living in the NOW) and by removing the stress from your environment if possible (seek help if you’re a parent), making sure you’re getting enough self-care and sleep
  2. Learn to sit with your pain when you are stressed rather than finding relief from synthetic bliss like food, sex, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors.  Almost none of us were raised to do this, so it is challenging at first.
  3. Shift your focus outside of yourself.  Often what stresses us is not even real, and merely shifting our focus to others and how WE can help or show love to OTHERS in need moves us out of the pain almost instantaneously.  If you have a real problem, focus only on the solution.
  4. Eat high vibration (fruits, vegetables) foods, so your food isn’t keeping you in a low-frequency state (especially avoid sugar) – soy milk can also have a hormone-regulating effect despite all of the myths circulating about phytoestrogens
  5. Move old emotional energy out with physical activity (yoga)/feeling your feelings
  6. Start a regular meditation practice to both stop the stress response and begin neurogenesis
  7. Deconstruct/heal old wounds and triggers, seeking specialized treatment for severe physical or emotional trauma
  8. Keep a gratitude journal so you begin to shift from a LACK mindset to an ABUNDANCE mindset – even if it means you can only find the next breath to be grateful for – and start thinking about the ways in which you could help those less fortunate than you
  9. Find comfort from a loved one or trusted coach/counselor/therapist that will listen to you and help you release emotional energy as well as shift to new beliefs
  10. In cases where medication is indicated, I recommend using genetic testing via Genomind to help you determine the RIGHT treatment for you without months of trial and error


“If there is unhappiness in you, first you need to acknowledge that it is there.  But don’t say, “I’m unhappy.”  Unhappiness has nothing to do with who you are.  Say: “There is unhappiness in me.”  Then investigate it.  A situation you find yourself in may have something to do with it.  Action may be required to change the situation or remove yourself from it.  If there is nothing you can do, face what is and say, “Well, right now, this is how it is.  I can either accept it, or make myself miserable.”  The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it….  Facing facts is always empowering.  Be aware that what you think, to a large extent, creates the emotions that you feel.  See the link between your thinking and your emotions.  Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth


If you want to learn more about what you’re feeling and how to use your emotional guidance, download my free emotion  assessment, The Princess & The Peeve and check out my  course on emotions, Royally  Guarded. 
Beth Rowles
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I'm Beth Rowles, Hi!

I help driven moms use the conflict in their marriage as a feedback loop to grow in self-awareness so they can create the marriage they, and their kids, deserve without leaving the one they're in or waiting for their husband to evolve.

I'm the author of The Authentic Wife: Uncaging Yourself Through Marriage and host of The Authentic Wife Show podcast & YouTube channel.


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"Your partner is ultimately a mirror of how you feel about yourself, and your relationship will call on you to get into integrity with earlier wounds and negative life patterns."

--Dr. Laura Berman, Quantum Love

Love Queen, Enneagram 5, Child Prioritizer, Problem Solver, Book Lover, Authenticity Expert, And Your Marriage Saver

I’m Beth.
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[to keep it a Family] Coach.

You and your kids deserve a marriage that brings your light to life. That may seem far away right now, but I’m proof that it’s possible and in your power to create! Stop worrying about what your kids are learning from him and let’s figure out what they can learn from you, mama!