obsessive thoughtsIn my last post, I explored the four types of obsessive thoughts that commonly occupy my mind. Today, I want to spend some time discussing techniques we can use to put those obsessive thoughts to rest.

Practice Thought Stopping

Thought stopping is a technique used to halt unwanted or intrusive thoughts in their tracks. You simply have to imagine a big red Stop sign or a loud “Stop!” command every time you are having obsessive thoughts. You can go about this in a lot of different ways, but the basic idea is just to remind yourself that these thoughts are detrimental and unwanted.

While there is some evidence to suggest that thought stopping is not an effective method for dealing with obsessive thoughts, I would say that it’s much worse to allow yourself to continue having these thoughts uninterrupted. Oftentimes these thoughts become so automatic that we don’t even take the time to realize how damaging they are. Thought stopping is a way of reminding yourself that you can control what you’re thinking, rather than letting these thoughts go unchecked.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a technique that focuses on present awareness. I wrote about mindfulness as a tool to improve conversational skills in a previous post, and I will continue to emphasize the importance of mindfulness.

A key aspect of mindfulness is about not letting your thoughts wander. Rather than judging yourself for letting your thoughts wander, you are encouraged to accept that it happens and try to bring your mind back to the present. In other words, mindfulness is about accepting your obsessive thoughts. They’re there, you can’t control what you’re thinking about, but you can guide your thoughts in the right direction.

A quick and easy example: try sitting on the floor with your legs crossed. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself sitting on the beach, listening to the waves roll in. Focus all your attention on the sound of the waves, the feeling of the sun beating down on your skin, and the smell of the sea water. Every time your thoughts wander away from the beach, acknowledge this, and bring them back. Practice this simple activity for a few minutes every day. Eventually, you will notice yourself gaining control over your thoughts.

Mindfulness activities may seem simple – but they’re incredibly difficult to master, especially for those of us with obsessive tendencies. I’ve been practicing mindfulness for a couple months now, and I can already see a difference. I’m much better at clearing my mind and not letting worries seep in. But of course, it’s much easier to have control of your mind in peaceful situations than in stressful ones. My ultimate goal is to see my mindfulness skills help me out in my panicked moments. More on that later.

Practice Positive Self-Talk

Obsessive thoughts are generally a form of negative self-talk. Unfortunately for us, we rarely obsess over niceties, but rather focus our obsessing on worries and worst-case-scenario thinking.

Naturally, the opposite of negative self-talk is positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is comforting and reassuring yourself, while challenging your negative thoughts. Oftentimes, the best way to approach positive self-talk is to directly counter your negative thoughts.

Here are some examples:

  • Thought: “I’m going to make a fool of myself during my presentation tomorrow”
  • Counter: “I am an intelligent, capable person. I’m well prepared for this presentation, and I know the topic very well. I will not make a fool of myself tomorrow.”
  • Thought: “What if our plane crashes?”
  • Counter: “The likelihood of a plane crashing is very low. Millions of people fly every day, perfectly unharmed. There is no reason to suspect my experience will be any different.”
  • Thought: “I can’t believe how low I scored on that exam…I’m an idiot! I’ll never amount to anything”
  • Counter: “A single exam is not representative of my intelligence. There are many different types of intelligence, and I’ve done well on prior exams. There could have been an error in grading, perhaps I misunderstood some of the questions, or maybe I didn’t fill in my answers correctly. I’m an intelligent person.”

Positive self-talk is a difficult thing for many people. Many of us have spent our entire lives telling ourselves how inadequate we are. Start small if you have to. Instead of saying “I’m an intelligent person,” try saying “There are less intelligent people than me” or “I’m not completely unintelligent.” Any thought that challenges your negative thinking is a good thought.

One caveat: There is some research to suggest that positive self-talk is only effective if you actually believe what you’re saying. That makes total sense to me; if you’re telling yourself something you don’t believe, you just end up strengthening the opposite statement. When you start out with positive self-talk, start small and make sure you’re telling yourself something that you can at least partly believe in.

In Conclusion

Thought stopping, mindfulness and positive self-talk are three techniques you can employ to combat your obsessive thinking. While thought stopping may not be effective over the long term, mindfulness and positive self-talk are two strategies that get easier with practice and will eventually help you win back control of your thoughts.

How do you cope with obsessive thoughts? If you have another strategy, leave a comment – I would love to hear it!

photo by: Neal.
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obsessive thoughtsObsessive thoughts really are a drag. As if having insecure thoughts wasn’t bad enough on its own, our minds take those thoughts and broadcast them on a sadistic loop that never seems to end. And for those of us with anxiety disorders, those obsessive thought loops can be quite debilitating.

My obsessive thinking causes me a lot of problems. It loses me sleep, it prevents me from meeting people, it makes me seem aloof and distant at times. It even makes conversations more difficult than they should be. At times, it may help me stay motivated to achieve my goals, but really, the costs outweigh the benefits a-thousand-to-one.

There are a few different sorts of obsessive thoughts I tend to have. I like to think that there are four different types of obsessive thinkers in my head. No, I’m not implying distinct personalities. These are all parts of me, they just have different motives. Today I thought I would introduce them. I have a feeling you’ve met them before.

 

1. The WorrierThis type of obsessive thinker likes to worry a lot. (I chose a really creative name, right?)

Time frame: events that are beyond the immediate future (days to years)

Types of obsessions: approaching due dates, meetings, interviews, and exams. Also: plane rides, social functions, medical appointments, and work reviews. Basically, The Worrier likes to remind you of upcoming events when you’re not in a position to prepare for them.

Example: “I know you’re about to fall asleep,” it might say, “but I just thought you should obsess over the presentation you’re giving next week. Did you forget you’re afraid of presentations? No? Well good. Because you are. You’re terribly afraid of them. And you’re going to screw it up big time. Let’s think about that for awhile, shall we?”

 

2. The PanickerThis obsessive thinker comes free with one order of panic disorder. But you can also buy it if you have enough anxiety points.

Time frame: largely focused on the present moment (minutes to hours)

Types of obsession: meta-anxiety (panicking about panicking). The Panicker may think it’s helping you by constantly reminding you of possible panic attacks, but it’s really just making your life a living hell. It likes to perk up when you’re riding on public transportation, trying to enjoy a meal out with some colleagues, or waiting for an exam to be distributed. Whenever there’s waiting involved, you can be sure to meet The Panicker.

Example: “Uh oh,” it whispers out of the blue, “did you feel that? Your heart rate is going up. And now your breathing is becoming labored. Could this be a panic attack coming on? Let’s focus all of your thoughts on the unpleasant sensations you’re feeling! See!? I told you – you’re panicking! Ah!”

 

3. The Social PhobeAlways lurking in the back of your mind, The Social Phobe is your constant source of insecurity. Even if you don’t have social phobia, you’ve probably still met  this one.

Time frame: generally focused on the present (minutes to hours), can also be found digging up the past, sometimes even looks ahead months or years

Types of obsessions: anything social. Constantly evaluating whether or not your friends secretly hate you, telling you that you’ll never find love, and convincing you that you’re incapable of speaking to people. The Social Phobe is the one that won’t let you forget about that time you said something stupid to your boss or that party where you threw up in front of your love interest. It also likes to tell you that you’re stupid, you’re unattractive, and you’re boring.

Example: “Are you sure you want to go to that party tonight?” it asks. “Remember last weekend when you made a fool of yourself at Amy’s party? Or that time when you spilled your drink on that guy that was hitting on you? I bet you’ve forgotten about all those times that you had to talk to that really annoying guy at res parties because no one else found you interesting. Please don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how boring you are? And really, do you think you can pull off that outfit? No wonder no one likes you.”

obsessive thoughts

The Sadist: He’s watching you.

4. The SadistThe most evil of the obsessive thinkers, The Sadist picks out your most uncomfortable thoughts, and blasts them in your head on eternal repeat.

Time frame: you’re never safe

Types of obsessions: whatever makes you the most uncomfortable. The Sadist digs up your deepest, darkest secrets and never lets you forget about them. It may borrow material from the other three, but it takes obsessions to a whole new level. This is the reason why you can’t stop thinking about that one time in first grade when you wet yourself at recess and everyone laughed at you. It’s also why you get jealous of your ex, you keep having that same awful sexual fantasy, and you can’t quite get that Taylor Swift song out of your head (like, ever).

Example: “Oh, you’re just settling into a new relationship are you?” it squawks. “Well, in that case, I’m going to play a 30-minute montage of the worst moments from your last two relationships on repeat for the next month. Enjoy.”

Next time you find yourself in a spiral of obsessive thoughts, say hi to one of these four lovelies. Or maybe you have an obsessive thinker of your own? Either way, next post I will explore some ways that we can quiet these obsessive thinkers and have a little bit of mental peace once in awhile.

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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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Hey everyone. I just wanted to let you know that I will be out of the country until next Tuesday. Off to The Bahamas to celebrate my birthday! The plane ride is going to be a bit of challenge I expect, but I have a good feeling about this trip. Relaxation is never a bad thing, especially for us anxiety sufferers!

Have a great week everyone. If you need to reach me, you can contact me and I will probably be able to respond.

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anticipatory anxietyNext week is my 21st birthday. My parents have graciously decided to take me to The Bahamas, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. There’s nothing like relaxing on a tropical island with a fruity drink in hand and a buffet of delicious food nearby. My mouth is literally watering just thinking about it.

But alas, what is my life if not filled with irrational fears and worries? Currently, I am stressing over the flight. I haven’t been on a plane since my panic disorder started last year, so I’m apprehensive. Will I be able to board the plane and make it to The Bahamas unscathed? Or will it be a panic-fueled disaster?

Anticipatory anxiety, the constant discomfort us anxiety sufferers feel between panic attacks, is a curse like no other. It floats around us like an ominous cloud, constantly reminding us that a panic attack could strike at any moment. “Beware of the plane ride,” it whispers in our ears, “You know you can’t escape from the plane right? If you panic, you’re stuck.” For me, the anticipation of new or uncertain events is always the worst part. Those cursed “what if” statements keep popping up in my head, slowly nudging me into a state of frenzy.

The duration and intensity of anticipatory anxiety can vary quite substantially. For a visit to the doctor’s office, I may be anxious for only an hour leading up to it and remain capable of carrying on with my day. For a presentation that has a lot riding on it, I may fret for weeks, lose sleep, and as it gets closer to the presentation time, I may even struggle with everyday tasks like having a conversation.

So how do we beat this anticipatory worry? I’m not completely convinced that we can ever fully get rid of it (everyone worries a little bit), but we can certainly tame it and retain control over our lives. Here are some strategies you might find useful:

  • Mental distractions. When you feel your worries setting in, try to keep your mind occupied. Strike up a conversation with a close friend, do some crossword puzzles, or dive into your work. If you can keep mentally busy, you may be able to postpone the worries. This isn’t a permanent solution, but it can give you some relief. 
  • Physical distractions. Go out and exercise. Go for run, take the dog for a brisk walk, go swimming. Try to exert yourself, as this will keep you mentally occupied as well. It’s a win-win situation, because exercise is good for your overall health.
  • Meditation and relaxation. Relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation have been scientifically explored as strategies for coping with excessive worrying, and the results have been very positive. Just doing some basic deep breathing exercises can help you stay grounded and deflect those troubling worrisome thoughts.
  • Intellectual attacks. This is the ultimate way to overcome your worries: hit them where they hurt. Use the much more evolutionarily advanced parts of your brain to combat those primitive structures giving you this life of anxiety. So what if you have a panic attack on the plane? You know from a lifetime of anxiety that a panic attack will not kill you, it usually goes away in about 30 minutes or so, and people around you are less aware than you expect. Worries are often irrational and illogical. If you can learn to challenge them with your superior logic, one day they may just go away permanently.

Hopefully you will find some comfort in these coping strategies. I find that distractions work well with the smaller worries, while I reserve the intellectual reasoning and meditation for some of the more lengthy worries. Distraction is a technique that can be applied to almost any form of anxiety, but alas, it never really works in the long run. At some point you need to directly target the underlying problem rather than just avoiding the symptoms.

Do you have other strategies for overcoming anticipatory anxiety? If you do, feel free to leave a comment. Have a great day!

 

photo by: lrargerich
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32-p1Hello, my awesome readers. I apologize for my sparse posting lately, but I have been adjusting to some life changes, so I thought I would send off  a quick personal update.

As I’ve written about before, I was forced to take a semester off my undergraduate degree in order to focus on my mental health. It’s been about 4 months since I came home from school to start my path to recovery. I’m feeling much better! It seems like forever ago that I was unable to leave the house and I was terrified of my own reflection. And yet, it seems like just yesterday at the same time.

I wouldn’t say that I’m 100% recovered, but I have certainly made some noticeable progress. I’m now able to sit in the car without panic, I can go grocery shopping, I’m going running outside now with no anxiety, and I’m even back to socializing. I feel like a completely different person – one who isn’t living in constant fear. I finally have control back over my life.

And yet, in the midst of recovery, it is often easy to discount the struggles that brought me here. It’s often easy to feel like I’ve “cured” my mental illness, and I can go back to being “just a regular person.” This is a pattern that has plagued my life since I was first thrust into the world of depression a decade ago. When we begin to feel better, it’s easy to throw aside our illnesses and pretend like we can go back to living the way we used to live.

This is a trap that I am trying my best not to fall back into. If my previous way of living was so ideal, then how did I end up like this in the first place? This is a question that I have to keep asking myself. Ignoring my mental illness has never benefited me in the past, so I need to stop pretending like it will work in the future.

The panic attacks may have left me for the time being, but my social anxiety is as present as ever. I’ve become so accustomed to the social phobia that I barely even notice it’s there; I think that’s where I’ve gone wrong in the past. I have discounted how difficult it is to be terrified of answering phones and making small talk because I’m so used to those awful feelings. It’s normal for me to feel my heart racing and my hands quivering every time someone says “hi” to me on the street. So, I never question it.

But maybe it’s time for me to reach to the bottom of my mind and finally overcome this for good. I will probably always live with anxiety, but I don’t always have to live in fear of it. It’s time for me to embrace my illness instead of fighting with it and ignoring it. I am a social phobe. Answering the phone terrifies me. Making small talk causes me physical pain. Presentations don’t just make me nervous, they give me nightmares and they eat away at my psyche.

As I write these words, I let out a sigh of relief. I feel very optimistic about my mental health, for the first time in years.

I hope you don’t mind the self-indulgent post for today. Sometimes, I just need to let some thoughts out so there’s a little more room up in my head.

I hope that you are all doing well. As always, if you ever want to drop me line, leave a comment or contact me.

 

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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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puppies

I almost included a picture of a lotus pod (a potential trigger), but I thought that was cruel. Here are some cute puppies instead.

Earlier today, I was microwaving a leftover piece of salmon. When the salmon came out of the microwave, my entire body convulsed in a wave of fear and disgust. Little air pockets had formed on the edges of the salmon, giving the appearance of miniature tumors growing out of the piece of fish. Even now as I write this post, I am shuddering at the mental image.

Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? I have similar reactions to a host of other things – potato eyes, groups of large pimples, animals that have really noticeable pores. For a long time, I thought it was just a very peculiar personality quirk. But it appears that there may be something more to this intense aversion than I’d thought. My extreme reaction to these oddities indicates that I may be suffering from trypophobia, an intense fear of clusters of holes, bumps and other shapes.

I can trace back my own trypophobia to this awful children’s nature show I was watching one day at the age of 8 or so. In this particular episode, they were highlighting a species of frog (or some other amphibian) that lays eggs in the skin of its mate. The baby frogs pop out of pores in the parent’s back when they mature. EW. EW. EW. Ever since then, the idea of things growing on other things or holes in skin really, really, really creeps me out. Did I mention EW?

Here are some other things that may elicit a visceral response if you have trypophobia: wasp nests, ant holes, bubbles in dough, crumpets, lotus seed pods, bug tunnels, Aero bars, pockmarks, and Swiss cheese. You can check out this article in Popular Science for pictures of potential triggers. Be warned: I started crying after a minute of watching the video at the end. It’s not for the faint of heart.

At first I thought this was a big joke – it sounds too bizarre to be a real affliction. But specific phobias are actually quite prevalent, estimated to occur in about 5.3% of  U.S. adults at some point in their lives. More common specific phobias include arachnophobia (fear of spiders), acrophobia (fear of heights), and of course, agoraphobia. But beyond the common specific phobias lies a list of hundreds (maybe thousands) of uncommon phobias ranging from fears of clowns to fears of particular numbers.

While trypophobia is not officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it has a definite online presence. The condition has a dedicated Facebook page with over 7000 members and an active online forum. Maybe some day the American Psychiatric Association will recognize trypophobia as a psychiatric illness. For now, we will have to rely on online communities for support.

An affliction like trypophobia brings up an interesting issue in modern psychiatry – when does a behavior transcend the line of normalcy and become pathological? In other words, when is a phobia considered an illness and when is it just a personality quirk?

The DSM of the American Psychiatric Association stipulates that a condition must interfere with day-to-day life before being considered a psychiatric illness. In my case, trypophobia does not really interfere with the inner workings of my life. Clusters of holes and other shapes don’t actually prevent me from doing anything. I may experience extreme discomfort when I see these images, but at the end of the day, it’s not really something that I think about very often.

But that’s just my experience. For many people, trypophobia could become an incredible burden. We all experience the world in very different and unique ways; the experience of mental illness is no different.

Do you suffer from trypophobia? I’d be interested to hear your reactions to some of the triggering images. I know I can’t look at a lotus pod seed for more than a couple seconds without having an intense visceral reaction.

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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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