What is your guess of how many prescriptions are written each year in Rutherford County for emotional problems such as depression? One pharmacist friend estimates the number to be in the tens of thousands.

According to an article published last recently by Scientific American, “…close to 10 percent of men and women in America are now taking drugs to combat depression.” According to pain management professionals approximately 20 percent of patients that have complaints of chronic pain report a problem with emotional health.  

Compared to only a decade ago Americans are reporting significantly more problems with emotional and mental health. We are also taking more drugs designed to address these issues. Doctors report that many patients are entering their offices asking for anti-depressant medication. Billions of dollars are being spent annually by pharmaceutical companies to promote anti-depressant drug therapy. 

Are we as a culture really undergoing a trend toward more prevalent emotional health problems? Or are we the object of the over-zealous marketing efforts of pharmaceutical companies. Perhaps both possibilities play a role in this trend.

You can probably relate to the observation that lifestyles in general are more demanding, more hectic, less satisfying, and less wholesome than only a few years ago. The pace of life has accelerated to the point that many people are simply hanging on, rather than truly enjoying life. The constant strain of maintaining this kind of lifestyle can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Overwhelmed emotional states can lead to clinical depression.

Another reason that prescriptions for the treatment of depression have increased in recent years is that there have been several scientific breakthroughs that resulted in better medications to treat emotional problems. One reason many of the new products are so effective and reasonably well-tolerated is their effect on the neurotransmitter serotonin. 

Proper levels of serotonin in your brain are necessary for emotional well-being. Before I tell you about natural ways to increase your levels of serotonin, I will point out that some people do require prescription medications for clinical depression and other serious emotional conditions. Your medical doctor can advise you of possible medications that might be appropriate for you.

Not everyone that has mild or temporary emotional distress will require medication. Everyone has periodic variations in serotonin levels. There are drug-free ways to balance the level of this important neurotransmitter. For example, anything that you do to create positive emotions temporarily raises the serotonin level in your brain. Singing a song, smiling at the next 10 people you see, watching a funny movie, calling an old friend, making a new friend or even simply recalling pleasurable memories can all result in elevated serotonin.

Physical activity elevates the level of circulating serotonin. This is the reason for what is known as a “runner’s high”.  Even light exercise, such as walking can improve the serotonin balance.

Certain foods, including chocolate and other foods that you find intensely pleasurable, can increase serotonin levels. Stimulants such as caffeine are effective as well.

One of the observed physiological effects of acupuncture is a boost in serotonin levels. This may be why many people find acupuncture so relaxing, pleasurable and pain relieving.

Acupuncture has been found to help people with depression, mood issues, anxiety as well as many forms of chronic pain. In our clinic, our exclusive comfort acupuncture is so relaxing that many patients report better sleep afterwards as well as less anxiety, less pain and other benefits.

Many people affected by depression, however, struggle with consistent motivation. That is why so many people turn to medication to address emotional issues; it is much easier to take a daily pill than methodically change habits to create a healthier emotional balance. 

If you have emotional issues that are mild or transient, realize that you may see more positive and longer lasting results by working with a counselor or therapist to create healthier emotional habits.

Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at

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