Earthing for Chronic Stress & Depression
It is normal for everybody to feel stressed once in a while. Tensions can quickly rise after a hard day at work or a frustrating drive home in slow traffic. But when stress becomes a daily occurrence, it can lead to a whole host of other physical and emotional issues. Furthermore, chronic stress can easily turn into depression, with of all its associated symptoms of low mood, fatigue, insomnia and anxiety.
Earthing is the practice of bringing the human body into conductive contact with the earth. It has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep, increase energy levels and bring about a more positive mood. These are all helpful in managing chronic stress and depression.
What is Chronic Stress?
When we are faced with a stressful situation, out body’s sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This is known as the “fight or flight” response, and is controlled by the hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
These hormones cause the heart rate to increase, blood flow to be diverted to the muscles and energy to be released into the bloodstream in the form of glucose. The digestive and immune systems are suppressed and we become more mentally alert. This prepares us to make decisions and take swift action in the face of danger.
The fight or flight response can be life saving when we are faced with a real threat. However, if it is triggered too regularly, or does not switch off when it should, this can cause problems. Being under chronic stress means that cortisol levels remain elevated in the bloodstream. This can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, low mood, fatigue, insomnia and digestive issues.
High cortisol levels have been linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It is now also thought to be linked to some cases of depression.
When does Stress Become Depression?
Neurotransmitters are chemicals which transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain. They are responsible for controlling mood, appetite, sleep, memory and libido. Our emotional well-being relies on these neurotransmitters being in a state of balance. When this is disrupted for any reason, mental health problems such as depression can occur.
Some of the neurotransmitters involved in controlling our mood and emotions are:
These neurotransmitters are affected by stressful events. When we are stressed over a prolonged period of time, this can upset the balance of both our neurotransmitters and our emotions. For example, norepinephrine is activated by stress, and low levels of serotonin are associated with low mood and depression.
When somebody becomes so stressed that they feel they can no longer cope, they can easily fall into depression. This causes not only low mood but also symptoms such as fatigue, poor memory or concentration, changes in appetite and reduced sex drive.
Cortisol Levels in Stressed and/or Depressed People
It is thought that around half of clinically depressed people also have elevated cortisol levels. This could be due to the disruption of cortisol that is caused by ongoing stress.
This theory is supported by this meta-analysis of seven research studies. It found that people suffering from depression had higher levels of cortisol compared with non-depressed people after being exposed to a stressor.
In healthy people, cortisol follows a natural cycle throughout the day. It peaks in the morning at about 8am and decreases throughout the course of the day. It should be at its lowest levels around midnight.
As well as being involved in the stress response, cortisol is one of the hormones responsible for our circadian rhythms, our natural biological clock. It causes us to wake up in the morning and keeps us mentally alert as the day goes on.
In chronic stress, the natural rhythm can be upset. This causes cortisol levels to remain elevated throughout the day resulting in both physical and emotional symptoms. Increased cortisol can also lead to decreased production of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This link could help to explain the role of high cortisol in depression.
Inflammation and Depression
Inflammation is part of the immune system’s response to injury or infection. It occurs when the body is under threat from invading pathogens and is a natural part of the healing process.
When you are suffering from a cold or flu, it is normal to feel run down. This knowledge has led researchers to suggest that there may be a link between inflammation and depression. This large research study carried out between 2007 and 2012 found that people suffering from depression had 46% higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.
The exact mechanism of how inflammation affects depression has not yet been established. One theory is that inflammatory chemicals interfere with the production of serotonin. It has also been suggested that certain anti-inflammatory medications may help to improve mood. However, these can cause side effects and many people would prefer to reduce inflammation using natural methods.
How Earthing Lowers Cortisol and Inflammatory Markers Naturally
Earthing, also known as grounding, is a safe and natural way of reducing both cortisol levels and inflammatory markers. It works on the principle that the earth’s surface is rich in free electrons, giving it a negative electrical charge.
When the human body is brought into conductive contact with the earth, these free electrons are transferred via the skin. This allows them to act as powerful antioxidants, neutralizing harmful free radicals which cause inflammation and disease.
Free radicals are a by-product of the immune response. They actually play a valuable role in breaking down damaged cells. However, left unchecked, they can begin to attack healthy tissues. This can cause chronic, widespread inflammation which has been linked to a wide range of conditions including depression.
By neutralizing these free radicals, earthing can stop inflammation in its tracks, thus reducing the risk of its associated problems.
Earthing also regulates cortisol levels naturally. It effectively resets circadian rhythms, increasing energy levels during the day and improving sleep at night. By bringing raised cortisol levels back into a normal range, earthing can help to relieve the symptoms of chronic stress and depression.
Earthing can be done by walking barefoot on conductive surfaces such as grass, dirt, sand or unpainted concrete. You can also use an indoor earthing system, a specially designed product made with conductive fibres. This is connected to the earth via a wire either attached to a conductive rod placed outdoors, or through the earth port of a powerpoint.
Research on Earthing and Inflammation
The electrons provided to the body by earthing act as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals and relieve inflammation. This study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked at the biological effects of earthing on inflammation. (1)
They suggest that one of the ways earthing reduces inflammation is by providing the body with more antioxidants.
“Perhaps if there were more antioxidants available, not only might the original damage be resolved more quickly, but the damage to healthy tissue might be reduced and the recovery process might proceed more rapidly.”
The study took eight healthy, male subjects who undertook extreme physical exercise to induce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), a form of acute inflammation. The researchers measured a total of 48 different inflammatory markers before the exercise and again at 24, 48 and 72 hours afterwards.
Half of the subjects were grounded to earth using conductive patches and sheets, and the other half were sham grounded as a control. The study found that there was a significant difference in 30 of the 48 markers between groups following earthing.
One of the most notable differences between the groups was the number of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. These are involved in the immune response and one of their functions is to produce free radicals. The study found that levels of neutrophils increased in the control group, whereas in the earthed subjects they decreased consistently after 24, 48 and 72 hours. This supported the hypothesis that earthing provides the body with a source of antioxidants that help reduce excess free radicals.
The subjects in the earthing group reported reduced pain and faster recovery time compared with the control group.
Research on Earthing and Cortisol Levels
A further study conducted in 2010 looked at the effects of earthing on cortisol levels, pain, stress and sleep. (2)
Twelve subjects suffering from poor sleep, pain and stress, slept on conductive mattress pads for a total of eight weeks. Their cortisol levels were measured by testing their saliva at four hour intervals in order to establish a 24 hour profile. This was done at the beginning of the study and repeated after sleeping grounded to earth for six weeks.
The results showed that following earthing, the subjects cortisol levels had been brought back into a normal range. The subjects also reported falling asleep more easily, staying asleep longer, reduced pain, improved mood and increased daytime energy.
The authors concluded:
“Results indicate that grounding the human body to earth (“earthing”) during sleep reduces night-time levels of cortisol and resynchronizes cortisol hormone secretion more in alignment with the natural 24-hour circadian rhythm profile.”
Research on Earthing and Stress
A 2011 study published in the Integrative Medicine Journal looked at heart rate variability as a measure of autonomic nervous system balance. (3)
For this study, the 27 participants were seated in a comfortable reclining chair with conductive patches attached to their hands and feet. For the first 40 minutes, the subjects remained ungrounded. Then, after taking baseline measurements, the earthing system was switched on for a further 40 minutes. Again, measurements were taken and then the system was switched off. The participants remained seated for a further 40 minutes, bringing the total time to two hours.
It found that earthing improved heart rate variability, suggesting that it has the effect of balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. It may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.
Some of these changes occur as soon as the body comes into conductive contact with the earth. The authors of this study state:
“When one grounds to the electron-enriched earth, an improved balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system occurs. Previous investigations reported a marked change in biological parameters after about 20 to 30 minutes, others in several days, and a few others show a drastic change immediately at grounding.”
How to Get Started with Earthing
The easiest way to get started with earthing is by going outside, kicking off your shoes and walking barefoot on the surface of the earth. You can also bring earthing home using an indoor earthing product such as a conductive mat, pad or sleep system.
These allow you to experience all of the benefits of earthing in the comfort of your own home, whatever the weather, whenever you please.
1. Oschman J, Chevalier G, Hill, M. ‘Pilot study on the effect of grounding on delayed-onset muscle soreness.’ Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 2010 Mar; 16(3): 256-73.
2. Ghaly M, Teplitz D. ‘The biologic effects of grounding the human body during sleep as measured by cortisol levels and subjective reporting of sleep, pain, and stress’ Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2004;10 (5): 767–776.
3. Chevalier G, Sinatra S. ‘Emotional stress, heart rate variability, grounding, and improved autonomic tone: clinical applications’ Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2011;10(3).