Depression and Anxiety: Diseases or Symptoms?

depression and anxiety symptoms

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Depression and anxiety. Are they diseases in and of themselves as they are popularly regarded, or are they disorders? What if they, in and of themselves, are merely emotional symptoms (indicators) of deeper, underlying issues? It’s worth noting that most people with some degree of depression also suffer from an anxiety disorder.

First, no one who deals with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness should ever be made to feel that what he or she is experiencing is “all in [your] head.” Mental illness and its effects are all too (painfully) real for those experiencing them, and professional treatment can become a very real need.

But it matters how you frame mental illness. It can mean the difference between someone’s mindlessly and passively undergoing treatment and merely following a clinician’s “marching orders,” and that same individual’s taking a proactive and conscientious approach to acknowledging mental illness for what it is and confronting it effectively.

Now…

It will likely not come as a surprise to you, but diseases, by definition, are evidence of some abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure or function of the human body, not due to any external injury. Diseases may, however, be caused by other external factors such as pathogens or internal dysfunction. Empirical data can be gathered and analyzed (via a testing or imaging method of some sort), and the problem can be reliably identified. Sure, your brain is also an organ, but a very complex one, about which there still remain mysteries and unknowns. There is no definitively reliable “depression test” or “anxiety test” from which a clear diagnosis can be reviewed and addressed directly.

In the case of mental illness, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms can be described to a clinician, who then draws upon his or her knowledge, experience, and expertise in order to help the individual identify, manage, process, work through, and minimize said symptoms. Medication and psychotherapy are common components of a treatment program.

That’s not to say that mental health professionals are just guessing, but rather to recognize that clinical approaches to address mental illness are far from being a perfect science.

Here’s the thing…

It is one of life’s unavoidable givens that sometimes everyone gets sad, gets nervous, becomes troubled or anxious, etc. Many of us may even grapple with varying degrees of psychosis from time to time.

Becoming clinically depressed or suffering from chronic anxiety are more severe, and potentially debilitating, versions of normal, everyday emotional responses to life’s routine bumps and bruises. But it becomes confusing when the emotions associated with depression and anxiety cloud the true underlying problems at play. In other words, the emotions (emotional responses) are not the same thing as the actual problem.

Depression symptoms and anxiety symptoms are signals that you are not processing something effectively, or that some need of yours isn’t being met. It is critical to your healthy sense of self that you feel loved and important by the most important people in your life. And it is important for your overall well-being that you have respect and compassion for yourself.

Imagine feeling unfulfilled in your relationships with friends or family, or perhaps you may be temporarily at odds with someone important in your life. You may feel unfulfilled or lacking in your intimate relationships/involvements. You may feel like your life has little purpose or meaning, or that you don’t matter, or that you have nothing to contribute and add value to society. Perhaps you feel guilt or shame for something you have done, or may continue to do. This may lead to feelings of worthlessness, and/or hopelessness, to dismal self-esteem, and even to substance abuse/dependence. And hence, feelings of depression and anxiety.

But the feelings themselves aren’t the problem, though they can feel as excruciating as physical pain. Your unfulfilled needs are the problem.

Note that feelings of depression and anxiety can lead to your further isolation and avoidance from others, and from effectively addressing the causes of your painful feelings – which can lead to more depressive and anxious feelings, reinforcing the already existing source of your crippling feelings.

Here is why this differentiation matters…

This may seem self-evident, but consider this: imagine how different an approach you would take to addressing your mental illness if you thought of it in terms of “I deal with a mental illness/disorder” as compared to “I am mentally ill.” This valuable shift in perspective can be enlightening and is a coping mechanism/skill known as “reframing.” Reframing can help you feel better more quickly, more in control of your situation, and can lessen the duration of you feeling hurt or confused.

So the trick is…

There are no “silver bullets” or magical methods to help you cope with depression and anxiety. But know that the better coping and management skills you can learn with the help of your mental health clinician, psychotherapy, and possibly medication, the more clearly you’ll be able to recognize underlying problems that are resulting in depressive/anxious emotions, and the better you’ll be able to nip them in the bud.

This may seem overly simplistic, but remember, through appropriate treatment, you can learn to recognize depression and anxiety for what they truly are: symptoms of problems rather than problems in and of themselves. It can make all the difference in your recovery.

Do you deal with depression and/or anxiety? You are not alone and we want you to know that you can pursue a happy, productive life even if you deal with mental health challenges. Mental illness is treatable and manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

Brace Yourself – Autumn is Coming (And What You Can Do About It)

Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (also known as seasonal depression) affects an estimated 10 million individuals in the United States every year, and another 10 to 20 percent show mild signs of SAD. The typical age of onset is somewhere between the ages of 18 and 30, and the disorder affects women four times more frequently than men. Some symptoms are severe enough to affect an individual’s quality of life, with more than five percent of those with SAD result in hospitalization. Regardless, SAD can make the normal changing of seasons extremely unpleasant and wreak havoc on an individual’s mental health.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) typically makes one think of the colder, wintry months of the year. You are most likely familiar with common slumps in mood due to fewer daylight hours and cold weather, but the truth is, SAD can affect different people at different transitional times of the year. Even autumn, a season we connect with pleasant things like beautiful colors, refreshingly crisp weather, etc. is no exception.

In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Less commonly, people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild, but then become more severe as the season progresses.

SAD, not Crazy                 

SAD is a type of recurring depression related to changes in seasons, and mood volatility sparked by shifts in the weather can really put you through the ringer. It is a major culprit when it comes to robbing someone of motivation and joie de vivre, and it typically begins and ends for an individual at about the same time every year.

The important thing is that you acknowledge it for what it is. Don’t write it off, and don’t let people tell you that it’s merely a “passing case of the blues” that you just have to push yourself through on your own. There are some key things you can do to manage this mental illness-related issue. Let’s discuss.

The Lowdown on SAD Symptoms

What does SAD look like?  If you suspect you suffer from seasonal affectation, you’re probably familiar with the most common symptoms. Here is a more inclusive (though not exhaustive) list:

  • Notably low energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and/or guilt
  • Feelings of sluggishness and/or spiked agitation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depressed mood throughout most of the day, just about every day
  • Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Sleep problems (particularly oversleeping in the autumn/winter)
  • Significant fluctuations in appetite and/or weight (often coupled with cravings for high-carbohydrate foods)
  • Frequent suicidal thoughts and/or fixation on death

Note that for individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder, spring/summer SAD can invoke manic episodes, or sometimes a less intense form of mania known as hypomania. Autumn/winter-onset SAD can mean long stretches of depressive episodes.

Also…

Specific cause(s) of SAD continue to remain a mystery. Some experts point to an excess of melatonin (a sleep-regulating hormone) in the body, and fewer daylight hours during winter are known to boost the production of melatonin.  More melatonin means less energy and more lethargic states. Reduced levels of sunlight can also disrupt the body’s internal clock, leading to heightened depression.

Another suspect in the prolonging of depressed moods is difficulty in regulating levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter directly related to regulating an individual’s mood. A significant lack of natural vitamin D, believed to play a role in serotonin activity, has also been labeled to be a cause of depressive symptoms.

Diagnosis

Ultimately, SAD is not managed as a stand-alone disorder, but rather as a specific type of depression with a recurring seasonal pattern. For a reliable SAD diagnosis, an individual must show symptoms of major depression that coincide with specific seasons, for two consecutive years, at least. This seasonal depression should also be shown to be dominant over other types of depression.

Do You Need Medical Attention?

Days of “down” moods and feeling blue are normal, especially during the winter. If your depressed mood lasts for days at a time and you can’t seem to get enjoyment out of your regular activities and hobbies, you should definitely seek clinical help. It becomes even more critical that you get help if your appetite and sleep patterns are disrupted; turning to alcohol for comfort and relaxation instead of addressing the disorder can lead to feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.

Some Things You Can do to Help Yourself

  1. Just Breathe

An easy method to help keep yourself grounded is to practice mindful breathing. At your desk or while you’re driving, inhale slowly and deeply for a count of five, hold your breath for five, and then slowly exhale for another five counts. Yoga and mindfulness meditation can certainly keep you in practice with steady breathing, as you want to avoid shallow breathing which can make you hyperventilate.  And that will only kick your body into heightened alert “fight or flight” mode.

  1. Get Your Vitamin D and Magnesium

Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to anxiety and depression. After the Summer Solstice on June 21 in the northern hemisphere, daily doses of sunshine (natural Vitamin D) slowly begin to decline. There are Vitamin D receptors located all throughout your body (e.g., brain, heart, muscles, immune system, etc.), and when there is a shortage of it, your body will start to panic. Your body needs plenty of Vitamin D all throughout your system to function properly. You can also invest in a Seasonal Affective Disorder lamp, which simulates sunlight indoors.

Magnesium is a mineral with a definite calming effect, and which helps the central nervous system. Calming your nervous system is a great way to reduce inclinations to anxiety and panic. Dark, leafy greens like spinach, chard, and kale are great ways to get your magnesium every day, as is dark chocolate (though careful not to get used to too much sugar!).

  1. Simplify

This one can be difficult to remember, especially for A-type personalities. Do not overextend yourself in regard to extracurricular activities! Pushing yourself harder while feeling a lack of energy will only exhaust your body, make you prone to illness, and drive your mood downward more.

When you recognize your SAD kicking in, eliminate every unnecessary activity, responsibility, or stressor that you can. Focus your energy on doing the things you must like work and/or school, and let go of the rest.

  1. Challenge Yourself (in Non-stressful Ways)

Setting goals and achieving them can be good for you mentally and psychologically. A brain that is used is a happy brain. Just make sure that those goals decrease your stress levels, rather than increase them.

Rather than getting involved in so many things and overcommitting yourself to too many activities, pick a goal such as working out for 30 minutes a day for the next month, practicing a musical instrument, or making time to read a good book every week. Learning how to cook some new meals for yourself can also be a boost, as you more mindfully get the nutrients you need. Cooking can be challenging and satisfying, just not mentally exhausting.

  1. Treating Allergies

Autumn and spring are very allergy-prone seasons for a significant number of people, and grappling with allergies on a regular basis can contribute to anxiety and depression. Being aware of this dynamic can go a long way to putting your mind at ease, because you’ll keep yourself from thinking that something is “wrong” with you.

Allergies can attack your immune system, and rightly so, as research has shown that the same biological processes involved in fighting off an infection are the same as for someone dealing with mania or depression. It has also been shown that volatile allergy symptoms during times of low and high pollen coincide with spikes in reports of anxiety and depression (did you know there is a spike in suicides during spring every year?).

Are you concerned about severe mood swings that come and go with the seasons? You’re not alone! If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

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What’s the Story with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Part III

adult adhd symptoms and treatment

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Adult ADHD. If you’ve been reading along with this article series, you know by now that it’s a thing. This is the third in a series of articles on recognizing Adult ADHD, and more on how to most effectively address it.

Our previous two articles in this series (Part I and Part II) addressed the origins of ADHD going from childhood to adulthood, common symptoms and classifications thereof (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness), as well as known/suspected causes, and types of the disorder (ADHD/Inattentive Type, ADHD/Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, and Combined ADHD Type). In this series final article, we will cover practical ways to recognize, seek treatment, and follow up with your Adult ADHD treatment plan.

About 4% to 5% of adults in the United States have gone from childhood to adulthood with the disorder, but relatively few of them ever get diagnosed and/or treated for it. Below is a more detailed look at what Adult ADHD really looks like.

Review of Adult ADHD Symptoms

Adults with ADHD may have difficulty with one or more of the following, and not yet be aware of their condition:

 

  • Concentrating
  • Remembering/retaining information
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Organizing tasks
  • Following directions

This list of potential challenges that accompany ADHD for an individual is not exhaustive, but it’s easy to see how such challenges would create problems in more than one area of someone’s life: home, work/school, relationships, etc. As mentioned before, ADHD is treatable and manageable, and those with the disorder can adapt appropriately and lead successful, satisfying lives.

ADHD-related Complications

As touched upon in Part II of this series, other consistent, ongoing problems that may manifest themselves for an adult with ADHD include:

  • Severe boredom/disillusionment with life
  • Low self-esteem/difficulty with social acceptance
  • Repeated tardiness/forgetfulness
  • Procrastination
  • Impatience/anger management problems
  • Lack of ambition/motivation
  • Underachievement/underperformance
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Impulsiveness/behavioral problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Difficulty staying at any job for long

Some individuals with ADHD may be able to concentrate on something that really interests them, or get enthused/motivated about some project or other. Others with ADHD may have trouble concentrating/focusing frequently. Some seek out stimulation, while others avoid it. Some are introverted and withdrawn, while others are very social. Symptoms may be significant or slight, they may occur often or infrequently—every case is unique.

Additional problems

Individuals with ADHD can also be prone to:

  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Get in more auto accidents/get more speeding/traffic tickets
  • Have difficulty managing time/finances
  • Have more marital/relationship problems
  • Higher rates of breakups/separations/divorces
  • Multiple failed marriages

Adult ADHD Diagnosis

If you suspect that you might possibly have ADHD as an adult, you should seek out a professional opinion by a trusted referral. Ideally, the mental health professional you consult will have experience with ADHD diagnoses and treatment.

Your mental health professional might consider:

 

  • Sending you to get a physical examination, to eliminate the possibility that another condition other than ADHD is causing your symptoms (e.g., a learning disability, mood disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.)
  • Performing and analyzing thorough blood work
  • Getting as much information as possible regarding your alcohol and drug use
  • Performing or referring you for psychological tests
  • An in-depth interview about your medical/family history to gather as much data as possible (ADHD does seem to have a driving genetic component)

 

The jury might still be out regarding at what precise age ADHD can reliably be diagnosed at first, but mental health professionals and experts will all agree that no one has ever been known to suddenly develop the disorder as an adult. Your clinician will likely “dig deep” regarding what you remember about your social adjustment, academic performance, how well you got along (or didn’t) with friends and siblings, as well as other behavioral patterns you had as a child. He or she may even consult with your parents to be thorough.

Adult ADHD Treatment

If your clinician does indicate that you have ADHD, the opportunity will present itself for him or her to develop a customized treatment plan – such a plan may include therapy and medication, as well as getting you educated on the subject, getting you up to speed with management tactics, and helping you enroll your family for moral support.

By following this treatment plan, you will be able to find creative ways to navigate your daily life more effectively, and moving forward in this manner, in and of itself, should give you a huge boost in confidence right away.  It will be of great benefit to you to take your mental health professional’s advice to heart, and to follow his or her directives (i.e., consistency in taking medication as prescribed, practicing tools and techniques, etc.). Any side effects or setbacks you notice should be reported to your clinician right away.

Adult ADHD Medication

  • Stimulants – stimulant medications (e.g., Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin, Focalin, Dexedrine, etc.) are commonly used to treat ADHD in adults with a good success rate. Though stimulants can be successful in treatment, they can also be addictive, they can be difficult to remember to take daily for someone with ADHD, and they can lead to other unhealthy habits, such as drinking an alcoholic beverage in the evening to “unwind.”
  • Non-Stimulants –Your clinician might possibly prescribe a non-stimulant (e.g., Kapvay, Strattera, Intuniv).for you to take on its own, or in conjunction with a stimulant.

Therapy and Other Behavioral Treatments

Your clinician and you might consider some combination of the following:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a “psycho-social” approach directed at improving mental health. CBT helps condition the individual to develop an awareness of and to challenge counterproductive attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs about oneself. Throughout the process, the individual learns to develop and integrate healthier coping strategies and problem solving skills. It is a powerful self-esteem booster.
  • Stress Management Training/Relaxation Techniques. Learning how to manage stress and relax in healthy ways can help lower anxiety, stress, and other physiological problems (e.g., high blood pressure, problems sleeping, obesity).  
  • Life/Career coaching and mentoring. If you feel uncomfortable setting and achieving goals, maybe you need to consult with someone who can help you challenge yourself more. A coach/mentor can help you learn to set and reach goals, as well as to improve productivity, organizational skills, and performance in critical areas of your life, including in the development of meaningful and healthy relationships with others.
  • Educating your support group. For your family and friends to better be able to support you throughout your treatment and on, it will help to get them up to speed on what ADHD is, and on how they can help and support you better.

Additional Practices

Take note and see if you can’t start implementing some of the following to get yourself going right away:

  • Get organized. Start with daily to-do lists (you don’t need to kill yourself, just be consistent), and get in the habit of getting them knocked out every day. Start using a planner, or a scheduling app on your phone; take notes to help you remember important tasks and events. Set reminders.
  • Eliminate distractions. Loud music, television, noisy environments. Learn how to focus better on where you are and on what you’re doing by minimizing distractions in your environment.
  • Deep, meditative breathing. Individuals with ADHD often have relationship problems with others because they are impatient in conversation, ineffective listeners, they can often do counterproductive things impulsively without considering consequences, etc. Teach yourself impulse control and to “slow down” through the practice of awareness breathing meditation. As you get more practiced at this, you will see your impulsive tendencies gradually melt away.
  • Burn off excess energy. Start exercising or take up a hobby to help you get in the habit of directing your energy toward filling your time with more productive pursuits and choices.
  • Learn to ask for help when you need it. No one can possibly know how to do everything, and we all need help from time to time. You shouldn’t ever be afraid or ashamed of asking your clinician or someone in your support group for help. Maybe you need help minimizing invasive/irrational thoughts, or need some ideas to help you fill your time with more creative and productive habits. Just ask.

Are you concerned about living with ADHD as an adult? Not to worry. It is treatable and manageable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.