Archive for the ‘Be healthier’ Category

grounding techniquesAround the time that I started this blog (back in late January/early February), I started experiencing very bad dissociation for the first time. I’ve written about my experiences with dissociation for Summer Beretsky’s blog Panic About Anxiety before, so I won’t rehash that for you in this post. I’m not experiencing the sort of acutely disturbing dissociation that I described in that post. Instead, I’ve been experiencing a sort of low-grade depersonalization for the past few months.

Unlike my bad experiences where I feel like I’m a video game character, lately I find myself just zoning in and out of awareness more often. A good example: once in awhile, when I’m alone, I’ll forget where I am or how I got there. The memories flood back almost immediately, but it’s unsettling, and it used to cause me a great deal of anxiety. Occasionally, it feels like I’m not physically present, but merely an observer to some alternate reality. It’s sounds a bit odd, but I’ve come to accept it just comes with the package of chronic anxiety.

Luckily for me, while I can’t seem to escape these experiences, I can certainly control how they affect me. Unless I’m in a particularly troubling situation, I’m generally not scared of these dissociative episodes anymore. To combat my anxiety, I’ve learned a host of grounding techniques that have really helped me. I wanted to share a few concrete examples with you today.

Also, just a quick note: grounding techniques are often prescribed for sufferers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but I’ve found them useful in many different contexts. They are especially effective at diminishing the effects of my dissociation, but are also great for keeping panic attacks at bay as well.

Mental Grounding is all about keeping your mind focused in the present reality. Here are some examples:

  • Orient yourself in your physical surroundings. Sometimes I get so lost in my anxiety, I lose tract of myself and where I am. Try asking questions like, “Where am I?” or “How did I get here?” Sometimes just providing yourself with an answer to these simple questions is enough to pull you back down from your anxious plane. 
  • Orient yourself in the present moment. Similarly to losing myself, sometimes I also lose track of time (on a small scale and a large scale). If you have a watch or cell phone, check the time. Remind yourself of the date and day of the week. Ask yourself what month it is, and why you like or dislike that month.
  • Be intellectual. I use this tactic a lot. Remind yourself that you’re not actually floating away from the present moment, you’re just experiencing anxiety/dissociation. A typical reminder I might give myself goes something like, “Justin, you are present in this moment right now, you just feel otherwise because of your anxiety. You are experiencing dissociation, which is a common phenomenon among sufferers of anxiety like yourself. There is no danger.”
  • Keep your mind occupied with other, more difficult, things. During some of my worst panic attacks, I find doing mental arithmetic helps me stay grounded. Starting at 2, begin doubling numbers until you lose track of where you are or can’t do the mental arithmetic anymore. When you reach that point, start over. Keep going until you get bored. Chances are, if you are able to feel boredom, you’ve outlasted your anxiety. (This doesn’t work as well for dissociation, unfortunately.)

Physical Grounding is about taking advantage of your senses to bring you back into the moment. Here are some examples:

  • Try the “3 by 5″ technique. List three things you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. 
  • Become more aware of your body. Think about your arms as you move them around, and pay attention to how they feel. Touch your face and note how it feels. Does your skin feel warm or cool?
  • Take a hot shower. The constant flow of warm water on your body will keep you grounded in the moment.
  • Try a progressive muscle relaxation. The goal is feel your muscles tense and relax. It’s tedious and often doesn’t hold my attention very well, but if you can manage to concentrate, it really does help relieve anxiety (and definitely keeps you grounded).

Try out these different grounding techniques and see which ones work well for you. Some will work better than others. Maybe you’ll even come up with your own techniques.

Do you have any other grounding techniques that work well for you? If so, leave them in the comments below!

 

 

photo by: aguscr
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not being hard on yourselfThis summer has been a very odd time for me. On the one hand, living in Montreal with great company and lots of entertainment has been a nice vacation from the stresses of school that are looming on the horizon. On the other hand, I’ve been far less productive than I would have liked to have been.

For the large part, I realize that this down time has probably been necessary for my mental well-being. I’ve learned that I need to set aside a significant amount of “me time” in order to beat the panic that inevitably ensues after working too hard for too long. I’ve learned that while I enjoy socializing, I also crave alone time, and my mind never feels quite right if I don’t get it.

But beyond my learning experiences, there’s still a part of me, the driven, perfectionist part that is unarguably causing my anxiety, that can’t help but berate me for my lack of productivity. I can’t help but feel guilty when I think about how infrequently I’ve been blogging, how little I’ve been running, or how few books I’ve read. I feel like I should have been preparing for school (my first full semester in a year) or redesigning Anxiety Really Sucks! or training for a marathon.

This sort of self-imposed guilt has caused me much depression and anxiety in the past. I’m hard on myself, and no doubt you’re hard on yourself too. Being hard on yourself is probably a huge contributing factor to the anxiety that has brought you to reading my blog.

So how do you learn to stop being so hard on yourself?

The best way I’ve found is to simply change the way I see the situations that cause me guilt. Instead of focusing on the things that I haven’t been doing this summer, I should instead be focusing on the things I have been doing. Leisure time is something that is often condemned in our society, but as I’ve argued before, I think leisure time is just as important as productivity. I’ve had a lot of leisure time this summer; time to recharge and let my mind relax and focus on the things that I don’t have time to think about when I’m in the thick of school.

If you’re not being as productive as you could be, there’s probably a reason for it. Look for that reason. And let yourself be content with it. Maybe you’re spending more time with your kids. Maybe you’re cooking more. Maybe you’re simply catching up on some long-awaited TV series. Whatever it is, there’s a reason you’re doing it; and it’s probably a good reason!

Your mind isn’t designed to be constantly busy. You need some down time. And oftentimes, us anxious folk drive ourselves to be busy simply to avoid our anxiety, rather than face it head on. It’s in our downtime that we have the capacity to reflect on our anxiety and deal with it.

Are you hard on yourself too? Let me know how you deal with self-imposed guilt below in the comments!

photo by: VinothChandar
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Swallowed In The Sea[Note: the following is the second guest post from Jared Friedman.]

Is your spouse acting differently? Are you feeling like something is wrong, but you can’t quite put your finger on the problem?

The changes may be chemical, but are coming out to you as behavioral changes in the person you love most. There are signs you can use to gauge if your spouse needs mental health treatment.

Millions Affected

Depression and anxiety affect millions of people each day, and we often attribute the symptoms to long work hours, lack of sleep, or life changes, but mental illness is not something to take lightly.

Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are altering the lives of silent sufferers, and the lives of those who care for them the most. When left untreated, mental illness only gets worse.

Warning Signs

Does your spouse show the following symptoms of mental illness? Do you need to look into mental health treatment?

1. Loss of Interest

For many people with the symptoms of a mental illness, activities and hobbies that used to bring joy are no longer of any interest.

Did you and your spouse used to participate in a group of any kind, or a social activity together that he or she no longer wants to do? If your spouse had a hobby that no longer warrants any time, or interest, this may be a significant sign of a mental illness.

Withdrawal from activities, friends, and family members is an indicator of the need for mental health treatment.

2. Changes in Mood

Does your spouse express, verbally or nonverbally, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fear, or worry? Depression and anxiety are the most common forms of mental illness, but low self-worth and constant mental and emotional discomfort can also indicate another type of mental illness.

Did your spouse used to be happy and more upbeat than he or she has been lately? Changes in mood that have impact on relationships is a tell-tale sign of mental illness requiring professional assessment.

3. Anger or Hostility

Along with emotional changes and mood swings, newly expressed anger and hostility can indicate underlying issues. Anger can present as an external expression of internal pain and sadness. If you notice progressively worse rage in your spouse, it’s time to think about mental health treatment.

4. Substance Use

In countless mental illness cases, the sufferer attempts to treat the symptoms with drugs and alcohol. If your spouse is drinking or using drugs to self-medicate, mental health treatment is probably needed. Dual diagnosis, the clinical applicability of a mental illness and a substance abuse or eating disorder at the same time, requires special treatment. Your spouse can be treated for two disorders at the same time, and can heal from both concurrently.

5. Detachment From Reality

Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder lead people to do things out of their normal character. The chemical imbalance leads to an inability to live a “normal” daily life, and can even lose touch with reality. If you notice a detachment of any kind in your spouse, seek the guidance of a mental health professional.

Treatment is available for every mental illness when approached the right way. Any signs of mental illness are cause for immediate intervention.

Jared Friedman has a masters degree in psychology from Pepperdine University.

photo by: KellyB.
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tackling stressLast Friday, I had the final for the summer statistics course I was taking throughout June. It was an intensive course; four months worth of material condensed into a month-long semester. Usually, school isn’t something that actively stresses me out, unless of course I’ve been procrastinating. And yet, the morning of my final exam, I had a panic attack and was forced to take a propranolol so I could get through my exam. (The exam went fine, but not as well as it could have.)

Stress hits us anxiety sufferers particularly hard. While stress and anxiety are distinct states, they do overlap in much of their biological underpinnings and definitely seem to work together. Stress brings on the release of adrenaline, just like anxiety, and thus leaves us with a lot of the same feelings: racing hearts, labored breathing, restlessness, decreased focus.

Acute stress is beneficial in many ways, and for most people it can be a helpful force. Unfortunately for those of us with sensitivities to increased arousal, acute stress can also make us panic. Stress seems to pile on quicker when you’re living with an anxiety disorder, and it seems to be lurking around every corner.

While learning proper stress management techniques is important for everyone, it is especially crucial for us anxious folks. We have brains that are constantly on the look out for potential stressors, so we need to do everything we can to make sure there are as few stressors as possible in our lives. Since we can’t eliminate all sources of stress of course, learning proper stress management is necessary.

So how do we deal with stress?

Tackling stress goes back to the same sorts of coping techniques we used to overcome our anxiety.

Deep breathing is always a good starting point. Remember that proper diaphragmatic breathing helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system that works against your fight-or-flight response to calm you down.

Mindfulness can be another great coping technique. Try to keep yourself in the present rather than letting your mind wander to those “what if” scenarios that are major sources of stress. (“What if I don’t get this paper in on time?” “What if I’m late for that client meeting?” “What if I don’t pass this big exam?”)

If you’re a procrastinator like me, maybe you need to look into methods to reduce your procrastination. Procrastinating is a big source of stress for me. “Why didn’t I start studying for this exam earlier? Maybe I would have been able to finish all the practice problems if I’d just started earlier.” I’m not only stressed that I haven’t studied enough, but I’m also frustrated at myself for putting things off, which just ends up leaving me more unsettled.

Having a health lifestyle is probably the most important, yet most vague, way you can help reduce your stress. Rather than dive into healthy eating and exercise, I will leave you with some great resources that you can peruse if you’d like to know more. (I will delve into eating and exercise later on!)

Coping with Stress from the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Stress Management from the Canadian Mental Health Association

Stress Management from Health Canada

How do you deal with stress? 

 

 

photo by: Helga Weber
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Memories.[Today is a guest post from ex-anxiety sufferer Ryan Rivera.]

If you suffer from anxiety, whether it stems from work, school, a friendship, a romantic relationship, your home life, or post-traumatic stress, it is important for you to have a safe place to retreat to where you can privately examine your thoughts and feelings without feeling overwhelmed or pressured. This is why many people choose to keep a private journal.

Keeping a journal is an easy, stress-free way to privately express yourself. It can be as simple as writing down a description of what you do each day: you’ll find yourself adding little details about how you felt and what you thought about the people and events you encounter, and pretty soon you will be able to write entries entirely made up of things you are thinking about. If you enjoy writing, keeping a journal is an inherently soothing experience.

Whatever your skill or interest level, you will find that journaling is a reliable way of decreasing your anxiety.

How to “Write Right” and Achieve Anti-Anxiety Effects

Putting pen to paper may not seem like it would be much help at first glance, but that simple action can have a multitude of benefits for anxiety-sufferers. Find out below how allowing yourself to literally “read your own thoughts” can relax you in the short term, while making you less susceptible to anxiety attacks in the long term.

  • Create A Familiar Space – Journal writing, when done regularly (for example, right before you go to sleep) becomes more than just a chore. Your journal is a space for you to say whatever you want and examine how you really feel without any judgment or pressure from the outside world (and can be carried with you almost anywhere you go). The anxious brain appreciates reliable routines and spaces where it can feel safe, and over time you will begin to find that just picking up the pen in your hand and opening your journal to a fresh page in and of itself has an instantly calming effect on your mind and body.
  • Take Your Mind Off the Stressor – When you are anxious, sometimes what you need the most is a temporary escape. Journal writing can serve as an opportunity for meditation, not just on the event, person idea causing you stress but upon any subject you can possibly think of. When you need to calm your mind, writing in detail about what you see around you, or things that make you happy (such as baby animals, walks in the woods, your favorite holiday) can help you to stop obsessing and reach a more positive, functional mental state.
  • Get to Know Yourself – The added benefit of journaling is that it forces you to make time for yourself. In the midst of texting and running errands and getting to our jobs and various appointments on time, it’s a rare moment when you are allowed to get in touch with yourself. Use this time to organize your thoughts. This allows you to find out, almost from an “outsider” perspective, what your thoughts/experiences “sound” like when written out, which can give you valuable insight into what parts of your mental process are less rational than you may have realized, and show you how you can behave more rationally next time.
  • “Tell Yourself a Different Story” – To help prepare your mind to better handle anxiety in the future, try writing “stories” or brief narratives in which you encounter and overcome your fears. Describe the scenario as vividly as possible, writing down exactly how you will behave and what you will say. Another good way to “rewrite” bad mental habits is to list any negative thoughts or stresses you are having that day, and then write an accompanying list of positive, believable thoughts or “solutions.”
  • Expose and Halt the Vicious Cycle of Anxious Thoughts – Writing while experiencing anxiety can help you examine your thought patterns when you reread the entry later, or even while you are writing it. Watching for thoughts that reoccur within the writing can reveal to you to the beliefs that trap you in that loop of anxiety, which you can then address directly (for example, by asking yourself “what belief would be more useful to me?”).

Whether you are dying to go out and find a beautiful and artfully designed journal that reflects who you are, want to save a few bucks on an ordinary one you can leave plain-looking or design any way you want, or find it easier to imagine keeping a journal online or in a text document, today is as good a day as any to start using journaling to stop anxiety from your affecting life.

About the Author: Ryan Rivera was someone that suffered from a great deal of anxiety in his life before finding relief from many home methods. Now he has a website about overcoming anxiety at www.calmclinic.com.

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mental health stigmaMental illness is stigmatized. Society looks down on those of us suffering from mental health issues. Sometimes we’re looked at with fear or apprehension; other times with judgement or condescension. As I mentioned in a previous post, a recent survey found that almost half of the respondents believed mental illness to be an “excuse for poor behavior and personal failings.” About 42% said they would no longer socialize with a friend diagnosed with a major mental illness.

The human race is certainly not devoid of other types of stigma. We stigmatize people for a variety of reasons, from sexual orientation to religious upbringing. So why is mental health stigma worth talking about?

Well, for one, it affects treatment outcomes. An individual suffering from a mental illness is much less likely to seek help than the same person with a physical illness. With a large lack of social support, that individual will probably find it difficult to adhere to a treatment regime even if they do seek help.

Mental health stigma can also prevent people from getting jobs, securing loans, even having children. Mental illness makes it harder to make friends, keep up relationships, and feel accepted.

I could write an entire article (perhaps an entire book) on the obstacles created by mental health stigma, but today I want to give some tips on how you can help reduce this stigma.

1. Education. 

The first step in overcoming any type of intolerance is education. Before we can address a problem, we must first be aware of it. Since mental health education does not come passively, you must seek out this information. To start out, read up on some general psychiatry. The Canadian Mental Health Association is a great place to start. The National Institute of Mental Health is another great starting point. Wherever you’re looking, just make sure it’s accurate, verified, and unbiased information.

You may want to get a little more specific with your research if you have a close friend or family member who was recently diagnosed. If your brother tells you he has major depressive disorder, instead of judging him, read up on the disorder. Hear him out. Learn about how debilitating MDD is. Listen to the symptoms he faces on a regular basis.

We all have preconceived notions of what it means to be “depressed” or “schizophrenic”, but most people actually have a frighteningly incorrect understanding of these illnesses (you can probably attribute most of that miseducation to media portrayals of mental illness…more on that later). Only through re-education can you correct these lapses in judgement.

2. Conversation.

Talk about your mental health more often. The less we hear about a topic, the more easily it can become stigmatized. So open up. You don’t have to spill out your darkest secrets, but you can start small. Everyone has mental health – it only seems to become relevant in our society when that health is compromised. We can change that by changing the way we converse. Everyone feels depressed and anxious sometimes, but we rarely talk about it. If we can get to the point where it’s okay to say “I’m depressed” or “I had a panic attack yesterday”, maybe we can be on our way to eliminating mental health stigma.

3. Language reform.

The last thing – and perhaps the hardest thing – you can do to help eliminate mental health stigma is to change the way you talk about mental health. Mental health vocabulary is often used in a derogatory manner, sometimes unconsciously. Speaking about mental health in this way perpetuates the ideas that cause stigma: that mental illnesses are not real afflictions, that “the mentally ill” should be avoided, and that individuals with mental illness are just weak and whiny.

In order to illustrate my point, I thought I would go through some commonly heard phrases that contribute to stigma and delineate why you shouldn’t say them.

  • “Amy gets so moody sometimes – she’s so bipolar”
  • “Ben is acting really weird, I think he’s schizo”

In both examples, the speaker is implying that a complex illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia is simply “moodiness” or strange behavior. Phrases like these trivialize the experience of the individuals who actually suffer from these illnesses. Also, saying things like this perpetuates the idea that mental illnesses are not real illnesses, and are merely normal experiences exaggerated by “weak” and “lazy” people. Just because someone is moody does not mean they have bipolar disorder.

  • “I would rather kill myself than take that exam again”
  • “I can’t believe I didn’t get invited to that party – I’m really depressed now”

Suicidal ideation is a common symptom of a range of illnesses, most notably major depression. As someone who has attempted suicide in the past, I find it incredibly insulting when someone implies their day-to-day woes are comparable to the mental state one is in before attempting suicide. Similarly, sadness is not the same thing as depression, and implying so is trivializing the experience of someone who is clinically depressed.

In both of these examples, the speaker (who is not mentally ill) is comparing their daily experiences to the experiences of someone with an illness. I would never say “I have a terrible ache in my side – this pain is worse than cancer” so why should you compare your experience to my illness?

  • “Did you see the news story about that psychotic criminal last night?”

In this example, the speaker has labeled a criminal as “psychotic” with (presumably) no real reasoning to do so. The word “psychotic” refers to the state of psychosis, which involves hallucinations, delusions and a general loss of contact with reality. Throwing around labels like “psychotic”, especially in the context of crime, is stigmatizing to those individuals suffering from real psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. Psychosis is a disease state, not some sort of umbrella term to describes criminals and other social deviants.

  • “You’re acting crazy – are you off your meds or something?”

People who take anti-depressants or other psychotropic medications (anti-psychotics, benzodiazepines, etc.) are often looked down upon. Taking a medication for depression is no different than taking a medication for the flu, yet society sees things quite differently. Society sees those who take psychiatric medications as “crazy”, “weak”, “lazy”.

Assuming that someone is taking psychiatric medications just because of a particular change in mood or behavior is insulting to both that individual and all the individuals who are actually taking these medications. It perpetuates the stigma of psychiatric medications, which enforces one of the biggest barriers individuals with mental illness face when seeking treatment.

Wrapping things up…

Fighting any sort of intolerance is a difficult battle, and is certainly not won with a single defeat. To fight stigma, we have to change the way we think, feel, and speak about illness. We need to educate ourselves and seek out stories. This isn’t about being politically correct, this is about making people feel comfortable living their lives. It’s not easy, and we all slip up sometimes (I use the term “crazy” sometimes by accident), but if we try, I know we can change the way society sees mental illness.

How do you fight stigma? If you have any ideas I haven’t mentioned, please leave a comment!

 

 

photo by: Bhumika.B
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self-medicatingMost of us like to have a few drinks when we’re out socializing. After a long week of work or school, what sounds more pleasant than hitting the patio at a local pub for a pitcher of cold beer or a glass of Chardonnay? Maybe you’re more into martinis or daiquiris. Well, whatever your poison, drinking alcoholic beverages is a lasting aspect of human culture; one that surely isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Social drinking presents a particular challenge for those of us who suffer from social anxiety. For someone who fears social situations, consuming a depressant like alcohol in a socially acceptable manner seems like the perfect solution. Alcohol lowers our natural inhibitions, making us less worried about how we present ourselves, which is a dream for social phobics.

Unfortunately, alcohol consumption is often a safety behavior, which means that it’s perpetuating your anxiety. As I’ve mentioned before in my post on agoraphobia, anxiety is all about associative learning. The anxious brain has learned to fear particular situations thanks to years of reinforcement.

If every time the phone rings, you avoid it at all costs, your brain begins to associate the phone ringing with the sensation of fear. Similarly, if you get drunk every time you’re out at a party, you will learn that you can’t handle social situations when you’re sober.

The problem is teasing out the difference between self-medicating and having fun. Just because you have social anxiety doesn’t mean that every drink you take is perpetuating the problem. When I’m sitting around with my roommates polishing off a case of beer after a tough exam, I’m certainly not self-medicating. I’m just being a regular college student. But when I have to do five shots of tequila before I can leave for a party, then maybe it’s time to start looking at my behavior.

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself when considering your (potentially) self-medicating behavior:

  • How often do I enjoy social events when I’m sober?
  • How often do I turn down alcohol when I’m in a social situation?
  • Do I ever drink alone?
  • Do I make stronger drinks for myself than for others?
  • Am I always the one who instigates drinking?
  • Am I always encouraging my friends to start drinking earlier in the day?
  • Do I reliably drink much more when out at an event than in the comfort of my home?
  • Do I feel like I’m always in a rush to get drunk?

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some drinks with your friends. I don’t even believe that drinking alone is always a problem behavior – sometimes a cold beer is just so much more pleasant than a Coke.

It’s in exploring the motivation behind these behaviors that we can get to the root of the problem. If you’re having a glass of wine because you love the taste of wine, then you’re probably fine. If you’re polishing off  a bottle of wine in order to be better prepared to socialize at a work party, then maybe it’s time you take a hard look at your drinking habits.

To finish off, I just want to mention that there are many other reasons for self-medicating than social anxiety. Some people drink before bed to sleep better, others drink to avoid painful memories, while still others drink to avoid life in general. Today’s post was not meant to touch on addiction or mood disorders. Alcohol consumption is a touchy issue, so I may devote a more comprehensive post to it later.

Is self-medicating something that you struggle with? How did you answer the questions listed? If you feel like sharing, feel free to leave a comment. Have a great weekend!

photo by: bachmont
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[Today marks the first ever guest post on Anxiety Really Sucks! I haven’t touched on the topic of depression yet, so I was happy to see this post from Jared Friedman.]

 

If you know that your depression has reached a point that you would call severe, keep reading!

Every day, millions of Americans struggle with the symptoms of depression that can be debilitating when left untreated. You are not alone. Depression, even when it has become severe, does not mean that you will be living like this forever. With appropriate tools, what you are experiencing can become manageable. Many people who find the right treatment program for them go on to lead the lives they wanted to live, and always knew they could live.

The fact that you are reading an article like this is a great sign. You recognize that your symptoms indicate depression and that you can no longer handle this on your own. You should be proud of yourself for looking into ways that can change your current life circumstances, and for acknowledging.

There are many resources that can help you answer the question:

I am severely depressed, how do I find help?

Step 1: Talk with a friend or family member who you trust.

Discuss how you have been feeling and that you can no longer manage the repercussions of your severe depression anymore. Ask this person to help you, first with finding the best set of treatment procedures, and then with whatever happens along the way during and after treatment. It is important to know that you are not alone in this process.

Isolation, which you may have already been participating in, only adds fuel to the fire of severe depression. What might seem like the hardest thing for you to do right now, may actually be what is the best next step in finding help to alleviate the severe depression that has taken over your life.

Step 2: Identify, if you can, the Cause or Causes of Your Severe Depression.

The more you can start to identify and understand what initially caused, and then perpetuated, your severe depression, the better equipped you are to make good decisions on how to treat the depressive symptoms.

Common causes of depression are:

  • Loneliness
  • Lack of social support
  • Recent stressful life experiences
  • Family history of depression
  • Marital or relationship problems
  • Financial strain
  • Early childhood trauma or abuse
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Unemployment or underemployment
  • Health problems or chronic pain

If you can pinpoint one or a few of these, or other causes, of depression, then you can better communicate what you need to a trained professional. Also, if you can, talk about these and other causes of depression with the trusted friend or family member you chose in Step 1.

Step 3: Talk to a Trained Professional.

A formal assessment conducted by a mental health professional is the first external step in seeking the treatment that you need for your severe depression. Treatment has to be catered to your individual set of needs, and a mental health professional conducting an assessment will know how to distinguish that unique set of needs.

From there, the assessment conductor can discuss treatment options with you. Individual, group therapy, medications, forms of alternative treatment, an exercise regime, a shift in diet and lifestyle, and many combinations of these forms of treatment can be pieced together to find what will work best for you.

Step 4: Enroll and Participate in Formal Treatment.

Whatever you have decided will be most practical and helpful for you, based on what you and the mental health professional discussed, do it! Start every aspect that you can start right away. If you said that you will walk outside for thirty minutes each day, then start walking today. If a diet alteration was needed, take steps to change the way you eat today.

When a formal inpatient or outpatient treatment program is beginning, show up and be as present as you can. Try to step outside of your comfort zone to form connections with the treatment team, your individual therapist or counselor, and your fellow treatment mates.

Make an effort, as best you can, to believe that you will no longer be severely depressed.

Image author owned

Jared Friedman is quality improvement manager for Sovereign Health Group a dual diagnosis center providing help with mental health with depression treatment as well as addiction treatment.

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tribesportsI’m not a real big sports fan. I avoid team sports at all costs, I find the gym to be a scary environment, and I cringe when someone asks me if I “saw the game last night” (what game?). I think my natural aversion to everything sports is at least partly responsible for the fact that I’ve never been as fit as I’d like to be. I rely on internal motivation to keep myself exercising every day, which is a lot tougher than I’d like it to be. That’s why I tried Tribesports – and why I suggest that you give it a try too.

First off, lets get the obvious stuff out of the way. Exercise is good for you. Many studies have explored exercise as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders and life stress. Research suggests that even small amounts of exercise can be beneficial in the treatment of anxiety and other mental illnesses. But this post isn’t meant to be a lecture on getting more exercise.

No, today I wanted to explore how I’ve overcome my natural aversion to organized exercise. See, I don’t like joining exercise classes because I find them intimidating, and thanks to my wonderful social anxiety, I’m constantly imagining how idiotic I must look flailing around like a dead fish in a pair of neon red shorts. Exercise classes make me more anxious, which kind of defeats the purpose in my opinion.

But being in a social environment is encouraging. If you’ve taken intro psych, maybe you’ve heard of social facilitation, the tendency to perform better on simple tasks when you’re surrounded by other people. When you’re alone, you can do as much (or as little) exercise as you’d like, and no one will know the difference. But when you’re out in public, you know other people are watching you, subtly trying to run just a minute longer than you or lift just a few pounds more than you (or is that just me?).

tribesports

Enter the world of Tribesports. You create a profile, join tribes, engage in athletic challenges, and watch the encouragement roll in…all from the comfort of your home. It’s like being part of a network of virtual fitness classes, except you work at your own pace. There are hundreds of tribes to choose from, each with different focuses – from trail running to kickboxing. You can take challenges, like “do 10 push-ups every day for a week” or “run your first 5k”.

Tribesports is kind of like Facebook for athletics. You can follow people and watch their progress. Instead of “liking” status updates, you “encourage” activities and progress. Taking a “challenge” is a great way to become accountable for your exercise – all your Tribesports followers are watching to see when you’ll be able to hold the bridge for 5 minutes. You even get to level up as you progress with your account. The more challenges you complete, followers you accumulate, and tribes you join, the higher your ranking on the scoreboard.

I’m not usually one to promote individual sites like this one, but honestly Tribesports has renewed my interest in general fitness. Instead of forcing myself to get on the treadmill, I’m now excited to be able to push my athletic limits just to be able to click “Challenge Complete” and see my rankings improve. “Drop and do 15 push-ups right now.” You’re on!

In our technologically driven society, what could be better than a social media site geared towards exercise? I’ve already found Tribesports to be more addictive than Facebook . It’s a win-win situation – you have another social media site to join, and you’re exercising more. Give it a try – there’s really nothing to lose.

Have you tried Tribesports before? Tell me what you think! Are you as addicted as I am?

photo by: mikebaird
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sleep hygiene

Promote better sleep hygiene to cut down on the sleepless nights.

I think I was born to be an insomniac. Starting in my preteen years, I developed a complete aversion to falling asleep before midnight. I also developed this amazing talent where I feel sleepy all day and perk up as soon as I should be going to sleep. I can spend hours upon hours on Facebook, but only after the sun sets. I also tend to discover new passions when the rest of the world is asleep – it’s 2 am and I just have to learn to speak Japanese by tomorrow morning!

So how does a guy like me get any sleep? Well, the answer to that question is still in the makings. But I can offer you some tips that I’ve found helpful over the years in my quest to overcome my nocturnal nature and embrace the wonders of sleep hygiene.

How to avoid BAD sleep hygiene 

1. Do NOT consume caffeine close to bedtime. Obvious, right? Well, I bet you’re still doing it. I’ve spent many a night lying in bed with my eyes glued open, staring at the ceiling fan as I count the number of pages I have to read in the next week because of that extra cup of coffee I just had to have at 10 pm. There are many alternatives to caffeine to give you a little energy boost – I recommend that you become familiar with them. 

2. Do NOT go to bed after drinking copious amounts of alcohol. This is another common tip, but you’ve probably ignored it because it sounds paradoxical. Alcohol makes you sleepy, right? Sure, in the short term. But if you’re looking to get a good night of sleep, don’t turn to alcohol. It may put you to sleep faster, but once it is metabolized from your system, it will disrupt your sleep. Alcohol has a pretty complex relationship with sleep, so it’s best to just not mix the two.

3. Do NOT spend hours on the computer right before sleep. You’ve been told a million times before – don’t surf the web before bedtime. But how often do you listen? It’s tough, because often, our computers are what keep us entertained. Shut off the computer at least two hours before bed, and pick up a book or take a bath or something. Life goes on even when you’re not constantly checking your email.

4. Do NOT spend time in bed when you’re not sleeping. As much as we love watching TV, surfing the web, and playing Skyrim while lying in our comfy beds, these behaviors perpetuate sleep problems. You should keep your bed for two things: sleeping and sex. That way, you will develop a stronger association between lying in bed and falling asleep.

5. Absolutely, whatever you do, do NOT plan for the future right before bed. This is often my biggest downfall. I’m up late, worrying about something, and so I decide to make a plan. Sounds reasonable, right? WRONG. Planning for the future is very stimulating and will keep you up all night obsessing over details. “Maybe I should read that chapter Tuesday instead of Wednesday, and then that will leave Wednesday open for finishing my essay, oh but wait, I also have to start my proposal outline, so maybe I should finish my essay Tuesday, and oh….damn it, I’ll just get out of bed and start now!” Insomnia: 1. Justin: 0.

How to promote GOOD sleep hygiene

6. Stay physically active throughout the day. While the exact relationship between sleep and exercise is not really clear, years of research have shown that physically active people do sleep better, on average. Whatever the real cause, I find that I sleep much better when I’ve been going for regular runs or hitting the gym at least 3 times a week. If you’re not an exercise fanatic, don’t worry. Physical activity can be as simple as walking briskly with your dog or doing 20 crunches before a meal.

7. Stay mentally active throughout the day. Part of the reason some of us can’t sleep at night is because we’re just not active enough during the day. Yes, physical activity is a big part of that, but something that often goes overlooked is mental activity. Activities that require intense concentration or problem solving skills wear down your energy reserves just as much as exercise. Instead of watching three hours of TV in your free time, try playing a video game, writing poetry, or whatever you enjoy doing that requires brain power.

8. Try to have a regular sleep-wake cycle. I always want to scream when someone shares this tip with me. Get up and go to bed at the same time EVERY DAY? Are you delusional? But alas, from personal experimentation (and I use the word “experimentation” in the loosest sense for you science buffs), I’ve found that I do in fact sleep better when I stick to a fairly regular sleep-wake cycle. Go to bed at 12, wake up at 9. Repeat. Repeat again. And so on. Eventually, your brain starts learning when you should be falling asleep and when you should wake up. It sucks, I know. But give it a try.

9. Practice relaxation techniques. My last post was about practicing mindfulness in conversations. Well, lo and behold, I will argue again for the benefits of mindfulness – one of which is better sleep. Practicing some form of mindfulness (meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, eating without distractions, etc.) every day will help you sleep better.

10. Get lots of natural light throughout the day. If you weren’t aware, your entire body works on a close-to-24-hour cycle. This is called your circadian rhythm. It’s partially controlled by your suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a part of your hypothalamus that is directly connected to your eyes and thus senses light. Your SCN controls the release of the hormone melatonin, which you may know is involved in sleep. To make a long story short, get lots of natural light throughout the day and avoid getting any bright light for a couple hours leading up to bedtime in order to keep your circadian rhythm in check. This is a simple way to listen to take advantage of your body’s natural sleeping mechanisms to overcome insomnia.

Were these tips helpful for you? Have you already heard all of them? Do you have any other tips? Leave me a comment; I’m interested to see your answers.

photo by: Cia de Foto
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