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Published by: Dr Dushyant Kamal Dhari on Sep 06, 2012
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From Paleolithic times, humans have attempted treatments for those suffering

from mental anguish and odd behaviors. A procedure called trephining was prac-

ticed, which entailed the boring of a hole in the back of the skull to relieve pres-

sure on the head. This drastic procedure would undoubtedly have killed more

victims than it cured. Archeologists have also uncovered evidence that those suf-

fering from mental disorders wore amulets to help drive away evil spirits.

Early ideas about mental illness fell into the realm of the mystical. Primi-

tive humans embraced spiritual theories to explain many of life’s phenomena

and to calm the anxieties of their difficult lives. An attempt to explain strange

behavior is later seen in the writings of the ancient Babylonians, who flour-

ished from 2000 to 500 BCE. The Babylonians, like the Persians, Egyptians,

and Hindus, concluded that mental and physical maladies were a result of

powerful gods who had been angered by the disobedient individual.

The earliest references to fear and anxiety come to us from ancient Egypt,

Rome, and Greece. The Greek god Pan, the instigator of fear and anxiety, was

an irritable and unpredictable satyr whose bellowing would terrify humans. His

name is the root of the word panic. Priests, wizards, shamans, medicine men,

and magicians were the early healers of mental and physical illness. With the

perceptions that mental illness was either inflicted by a god because of one’s

transgressions or actual demonic possession, the goal of treatment was purifica-

tion. Incantations to the deities were often the first steps utilized to free the

victim from his or her affliction. Loud noises, foul odors, and bitter potions

were used to help remove evil spirits. If these steps failed, healers resorted to

flogging, shock, starvation, torture, or surgery. The theory behind treatment

for possession was that the body must be made uninhabitable for the demon.

The early Chinese also built their theories about mental illness and its

treatment around sorcery and magic. Records dating to the fourteenth century

BCE attribute headaches and other ‘‘head disorders’’ to ‘‘malevolent agencies

of the wind.’’ The Chinese established a broad social welfare policy to care for

the ill; they tended to have a much more humane approach than other cul-

tures of the time and eventually shifted away from supernatural explanations

about mental illness. The Shan Hai Ching, written in the fourth century BCE,

listed twenty drugs and herbal remedies that could be used for treating anger,

fear, and jealousy. Mental disorders were perceived as the result of an imbal-

ance in the ‘‘vital elements of life,’’ particularly an overabundance of angry

emotions. Acupuncture was developed as a method to help restore this essen-

tial balance. The philosophy of Taoism stressed the importance of balancing

the opposing forces of the world (yin and yang) and urged the individual to be

part of the rhythm of the world’s natural forces.

Archeological excavations in India have revealed the earliest indications of

the practice of yoga. These drawings of yoga positions date to approximately

3000 BCE. The evolution of yoga centered on developing an inner focus that

allows for deeper understanding by balancing the physical and spiritual worlds

and body and mind through meditation, breathing, physical postures, and

teachings. Good health, long life, and the development of wisdom are goals of

yoga that were later incorporated into the traditions of Hinduism. In the twen-

tieth century, yoga was adopted by Western cultures as a remedy for stress,

anxiety, and depression.

10 Anxiety

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