“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is
when you fall down an open manhole cover and die.”
TO YOUR BODY, STRESS IS SYNONYMOUS WITH CHANGE. Anything that causes a change in your life causes stress. It doesn’t matter if it is “good” change, or “bad” change, they are both stress. When you find your dream house and get ready to move, that is stress. If you break your leg, that is stress. Good or bad, if it is a CHANGE in your life, it is stress as far as your body is concerned.
Even IMAGINED CHANGE is stress. (We call it “worrying”.) If you fear that you will not have enough money to pay your mortgage or rent that is stress. If you worry that you may get fired, that is stress. If you think that you may receive a promotion at work that is also stress (even though this would be a good change). Whether the event is good or bad, imagining changes in your life is stressful. Anything that causes CHANGE IN YOUR DAILY ROUTINE is stressful. Anything that causes CHANGE IN YOUR BODY HEALTH is stressful. IMAGINED CHANGES are just as stressful as real changes.
The following Stress Cycle illustration (read from the top clockwise) will help you to better understand how stress works:
The cost of OVERSTRESS to North American society is immense. Some reports suggest the cost to be $80 Billion per year, at least! Our society loses through lost productivity, medical care, job accidents, and traffic fatalities. Certainly, we live in a society whose hallmark is rapid change. Our broader definition of stress tells us that this rapid change means high stress levels. Most of the human experience has not prepared us to handle the demands of life in the 21st Century.
HOW VULNERABLE ARE YOU TO STRESS??
For your own information the following is a simple self-administered stress test that will help you to gain some understanding of how vulnerable you are to STRESS.
In order to self-score this questionnaire, rate each question from 1 to 5 points, as follows:
Always = 1 or 2 points
Sometimes = 3 or 4 points
Never = 5 points
- I eat at least one hot, balanced meal per day
- I get 7 to 8 hours of sleep at least 4 nights per week
- I give and receive affection regularly
- I have at least one relative within 50 miles, on whom I can rely
- I exercise to the point of perspiration at least twice weekly
- I limit myself to less than 1/2 pack of cigarettes per day
- I take fewer than 5 alcoholic drinks per week
- I have the appropriate weight for my height
- I have an income adequate to meet my needs
- I get strength from my religious beliefs
- I regularly attend club or social activities
- I have a network of friends and acquaintances
- I have one or more friends to confide in about personal matters
- I am in good health (including eyesight, hearing, teeth)
- I am able to speak openly about my feelings when angry / worried
- I regularly discuss domestic problems (chores, money, etc.) with family
- I do something fun at least once per week
- I am able to organize my time effectively
- I drink fewer than 3 cups of coffee (caffeine) per day
- I take some quiet time for myself during the day
To get your score add up the points and subtract 20.
A score below 10 indicates excellent resistance to stress. Scoring over 30 indicates some vulnerability. Scoring over 50 indicates serious vulnerability. Pay attention to items scored over 3, as these are excellent starting points for modification.
OVERSTRESS A score of 250 points or greater, may indicate overstress.
TOTAL SCORE = _________
10 PRACTICAL COPING STRATEGIES
- Don’t worry about things that are out of your control (e.g., the weather.)
- Brace yourself for events you know will be stressful. Recognizing that stress is coming will increase your threshold and will give you time to take a different perspective on the situation.
- Work to resolve conflicts with other people. Once you resolve conflicts with friends and coworkers you’ll be able to communicate better, work more efficiently, and feel less anxious when you need their help.
- Ask for help from friends, family, and coworkers. Often these people want to help, are required to help, or are just being lazy by not offering help. Don’t be a pushover and get suckered into doing everything yourself. Even if your son complains, chances are he doesn’t really mind unloading those groceries for you.
- Set goals and make them realistic.
- Make time to do things that you enjoy, get away from your daily stresses. Social events, group sports, and hobbies are just a few ideas.
- Don’t spread yourself too thin. Say NO if you don’t have the time or energy to do something. Taking on another task when you’re already maxed-out will not only cause you distress, but will also cause the quality of your work and play to suffer.
- View change as positive, not as a threat. As humans, we are designed to be highly adaptable, able to adjust to all kinds of environments. Change is a healthy aspect of life from an evolutionary as well as a psychological perspective. Embrace change and look to discover new opportunities for personal growth and fulfillment.
- Find out what works for you. Many self-help books and workshops have been written and created by reputable professionals. Take a look at some of these to learn specific strategies that will work for you.
- Get professional help if you have to. A few sessions with a professional counselor may help you if your situation persists. Persistent problems in dealing with stress may indicate a deeper problem.
Start by choosing a muscle and holding it tight for a few seconds. Many people find it helps to start with the muscles of the feet working up to the facial muscles. Relax the muscle after a few seconds. Do this with all of your muscles if they’re all healthy.
If you’re pregnant DO NOT contract any abdominal muscles.
If your neck and shoulders are healthy, try rolling your head in a gentle circle. Reach toward the ceiling and bend side to side slowly. Roll your shoulders. All of these things can help you relax.
Meditation can effectively help reduce psychological stress. This technique is not as mystical as it’s cracked up to be. The key is to not stop yourself from thinking about things while trying not to focus on any one thing for too long. Let your thoughts flow down a peaceful river of dreams…how cerebral.
Deep, Relaxed Breathing
This technique goes well with meditation and is easily accomplished via 5 simple steps:
- Lie down on a flat surface.
- Place one hand on your stomach, just above your navel and the other on your chest.
- Breathe in through your nose slowly and try to make your stomach rise a little.
- Hold your breath for a second.
- Breathe out through your nose slowly and let your stomach go back down.
Other Ways To Deal With Stress (coping mechanisms)
- Exercise. Vigorous physical exercise is a natural outlet for your body when it is in fight or flight state. After exercising your body returns to its normal equilibrium and you feel relaxed and refreshed.
- Progressive Relaxation. A means of recognizing tension in particular muscles or muscle groups and concentrating on relaxing one-by-one.
- Imagination / Positive Thinking / Visualization. You are what you think you are.
- Thought Stopping. Involves concentration on unwanted thoughts and, after a short time, suddenly stopping and shifting thoughts to something we find pleasant.
- Assertiveness Training. Teaches one to stand up for their legitimate rights, without pushing others around or being pushed around.
- Nutrition. Stress increases a need for all nutrients.
- Three Steps of Time Management: 1) setting priorities 2) scheduling time based upon the reality of time available 3) decision making.
If you review everything to this point you will see that all of the techniques, programs, and processes for dealing with stress seem to lead us to ways of relaxing, mostly for the purpose of being able to get a deep and restful sleep. Resting and undisturbed sleep are the keys to gaining the strength to fight off stress (and all illness). That is why most medications are designed to induce conditions that will allow for undisturbed sleep. Unfortunately, the side effects of medications usually cause much harm when taken for long periods of time.
STRESS, ANXIETY & ANGER
From road rage to domestic violence to high-strung behavior at work, stress and anxiety have big effects on our lives. A certain amount is positive to keep the adrenaline and determination pumping through our veins and the immune system tuned. But as work, time, and personal life pressures mount, stress and anxiety become growing concerns.
Modern living has become synonymous with stressful living. No longer do humans aimlessly roam the countryside, killing and eating the odd wooly mammoth. Today, if fluctuations in the Stock Market don’t stress you out, there’s always the mortgage and that phone call from your kid’s school to worry about.
Fight the Grinch!
For example, when the season of snowflakes and mistletoe comes upon many of us don’t share St. Nick’s jolly sentiments when it comes to the Christmas. Psychological strain, as well as financial and time crunches, highlight the reasons for our discontent. Modern life makes stress a fact of life. Learn to cope as you share your thoughts and experiences.
Every year it is reported that gift shopping, time constraints, and elevated expenses topped the list of holiday woes for North Americans. But there are other culprits for the holiday blues as well. Many spending the holidays alone for the first time can easily become depressed during the holidays. Similarly, watching holiday joy blossom in others can make it especially difficult for those already suffering from loneliness, depression, or feelings of isolation. If you are in this kind of situation don’t hold your emotions back but instead acknowledge them because they are normal and understandable. The sooner you let them out the sooner you’ll be able to clear your head, seek out solutions, and move on with your life.
In addition to personal turmoil, the holidays are primetime for family conflicts. One of the main reasons for this is that often it’s the only time of year where the entire family makes a concerted effort to come together. And sometimes, despite the best intentions, the reasons for such sparse encounters between family members become painfully obvious during these annual reunions.
Differences between extended family members are not so common as those involving immediate family. For instance the simple question of where to spend the holidays can be a sore point for many families. Mom thinks the family should trek North to see grandma and grandpa. But dad’s parents are in the sunny South, and after a couple months of bitter cold where the family lives, the decision is a virtual no-brainer for dad. Dad’s assumptions combined with mom’s strong feelings for her parents makes for an explosive, and potentially destructive, situation.
High expectations for the holidays are normal but are your expectations reasonable? Do you expect that your old uncle’s belt-loosening at the table will be any less irritating? Or will your sister’s ill-mannered children grabbing food off of your plate offend you any less this year? Things go wrong during the holidays; so before you tell that uncle to solve the energy crisis with his fat stores, recognize that Martha Stewart memories exist only in dreams and glossy paged magazines. Another way to make things go ASAP (as smooth as possible) during the holidays is to set aside differences with other family members. If politics and religion get everyone all hot and bothered just don’t talk about them… set ground rules if you have to.
Part of being realistic during the holidays is being ready to accept that not everyone you want to hook up with will be able to. This is not your fault so don’t take it personally! The holidays are a busy time of family obligations, overtime hours, mad shopping, and more. Be flexible and understanding when it comes to meeting with friends and family… but don’t bend yourself out of shape. Recognize that you have limitations like everyone else.
Keeping the Grinch at bay can also involve getting help when you need it. If you haven’t any family or dependable friends nearby, why not take advantage of whatever social support is available to you? Visit your local church or community center where people go out of their way to extend hospitality and love to others during the holidays.
Next to family and friends, finances are a close second when deciding how we ‘spend’ the holidays. Alleviate some of this stress by budgeting carefully before you brave the malls or jump online. Online shopping, when done carefully, can save you the hassles of holiday crowds. If you think Christmas is getting too commercial, why not try adopting a five-or-ten-dollar gift policy? That means you only accept and give 5 or 10 dollar presents. This will make the holidays more about the people and less about the stuff, and is a cool protest against the shopping gods to boot.
A final tip for handling the holidays is to recognize that how you feel can be strongly influenced with your physical state. And sometimes it’s a good idea to think twice before you decide on a second helping of cheesecake or yet another cocktail. Pace yourself over the holidays because if you don’t you may not be able to keep your Christmas cheer for as long as you’d like. If you’re too tired to go out, stay in. And if you “just can’t eat another bite,” don’t feel pressured to stuff yourself. Regular exercise is, of course, always a good idea, but if the holidays are just too busy for you, why not start a routine in the New Year? Give yourself a gym pass for a Christmas present as motivation.
So have a blast during your holiday seasons but don’t overdo it. Christmas, like the other seasons, will soon be over and you can remember your holiday in one of two ways. The first is to make some great memories for you to recall throughout the year. The alternative makes for a less appealing reminder and comes in the form of about 15 extra pounds on the waistline and a credit card bill that just won’t quit reminding you of your over-indulgences. Let the sugarplums dance more in your head and less in your tummy!
Identifying Stressors and Listening to Your Body
Body Stressors are those things that elicit stress in you. Learning to identify these is the first step to overcoming the harmful effects of stress and taking control of your life. Anything that makes you angry, sad, frightened, surprised, excited or happy can cause you stress. When you are stressed your body undergoes a number of changes. The symptoms of stress, like stressors, are varied and depend on the individual. Here are some common ones:
- High blood pressure
- Chest pain
- Back pain
- Constipation or Diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Stiff neck
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain/loss
- Low self-esteem
- Over or under eating
- Increased smoking
- Increased drinking
- Careless driving
- Problems with relationships.
* Identifying your symptoms and connecting them with stressors gives you a starting point from where you can begin to manage your stress.
Preventing Stress By Living A Balanced Life
You’d Better Eat Your Vegetables…
Living a balanced life includes eating well, exercising regularly, sleeping enough, and not abusing drugs and alcohol… no small feat. Eating well means learning about nutrition so
you’re aware of what’s healthy and what’s not. Also, you may end up spending more time and money on food that doesn’t taste quite as good as you try and cook (and buy) healthier meals.
Exercising regularly will help you raise your metabolism and achieve greater physical fitness. This will leave you with more energy to seize the day with and will give you some time to spend on yourself.
Deal With Your Problems…
They’re not going anywhere by themselves! Whether they’re related to work, relationships, anger, communication, anxiety, family members or friends, dealing with your problems promptly just makes good sense. This way they won’t accumulate to the point that they overwhelm you. This doesn’t mean that you should dwell on your problems. Nothing will make you feel worse than wallowing in your own self-pity. Once you identify a plan of action, let it ride and do something fun.
That Glass is Half Full!
Having a positive attitude is good advice for anyone. Once positive thinking becomes a
habit for you, you’ll find yourself identifying solutions instead of worrying yourself sick.
Being positive will help your social life, and your family and friends will appreciate it as well.
Fits of Stress? Then Stress “Fit”!
One young professional woman had a losing streak as of late would rival that of nearly anyone. She once enjoyed a high time of glory. Not long ago she was gloating about how she was slam-dunking it at her job, scoring points with her new mate, and championing a toned, conditioned, fit and sculptured body.
But then things started to go downhill for her. The “new millennium” hoopla over the fear of worldwide computer disasters came and went, but her own personal system seemed to crash. Her job was “downsized” due to budget cuts. The love-of-her-life turned out to be unstable and her great and healthy body gradually oozed into pudgy softness. Her world suddenly, and inextricably, had changed… for the worse.
Her friends listened to her complain incessantly about how everything had avalanched on her. “I am SO stressed and worried. I don’t know how I’m going to turn my whole life around,” she’d often say, in between mouthfuls of junk food, while she lived her life with her new “best friends” Oprah, Ellen, Drs. Phil and Oz – and anyone else she could turn to with no effort.
Studies indicate that this type of predicament is all too common. The proportion of people who report “feeling highly stressed” has more than doubled over the past decade. Changing organizational and societal structures, increasing demands on our time, and constant reminders to build the perfect career, marriage, and life have all escalated to a frenzied “where’s-the-panic-button” epidemic. But before you push it, remember that some stress is good.
Stress is simply the body’s non-specific emotional response to any demand made on it. By definition, then, it does not come packed with tension and anxiety, or exhaustion and illness. As the body responds to various forms of stress, whether good or bad, certain changes occur. The increased heart rate and secretions of hormones that stimulate your body are typical of this “fight or flight” response. You need and activate this response in order to accomplish all sorts of tasks, from meeting a deadline to completing those agonizing last minutes of a grueling run. Stress does increase your productivity but has its limits.
Too much of it, or an intense period of negative events, can wear down your body’s ability to cope with stress. Over time, it can lead to chronic pain, anxiety, fatigue, addiction, and headaches. Moreover, stress has been linked to heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis, and suicide. In fact, the US Centres for Disease Control reports that more than half of the deaths under the age of 65 results from stressful lifestyles.
The challenge, then, lies in optimizing the amount of stress we need in our lives. It is also crucial to be able to recognize and deal with those times when we feel tense, overworked or burdened.
We all get into ruts where frustrations and anxiety build up as a result of changes or unpleasant events. That is inevitable. It will happen to you. But before throwing in the towel and burying your head in the sand like a ruffled ostrich, know that there’s a plus side. What isn’t inevitable is how you can control the way you cope with such turns in your life. You are capable of seizing your life’s steering wheel, u-turning it, and heading towards a focused and satisfying path to well-being.
Start small and reap the rejuvenating rewards. Instead of finding solace with the junk food and the boob tube, discover some outlets. (No not shopping ones, although to many it can be a comfort.) Physical outlets. And not just the sweat till you’ve replenished the Sahara types of activities. Great ones include tai chi, yoga, and weight training in addition to more demanding sports such as running, tennis, and basketball. The key is finding those that are to your liking and fit your schedule and lifestyle. There’s really no point in signing up for an early riser aqua fit class if your concept of a head start on the day is getting up early enough to beat the breakfast menu changeover at McDonald’s.
But regardless of the activity you choose, upping the physical fitness ante makes you less vulnerable to stress responses. The heart and circulation are able to work harder for longer stretches. The muscles, ligaments, bones, and joints become stronger and more flexible. And the mind is often better able to cope with stress and stay on an even, happier keel. What’s more, you’re more likely to feel energized and better about your appearance. It’s also a great way to meet other people, and bond with those you already know.
Physical fitness is just one of many ways to exercise your stress demons. Try a few, try many. Not all methods work for all people. Some people try running but get bored of the monotony. Some end up joining a gym and loving the variety of up-tempo step and kick-box classes. Along with a healthy diet and setting realistic goals, we can move out of the deep downtrodden ditch of stress. Adopt some coping strategies of your own and stressful times can, like the Y2K scare, be actually more hype than horror. And you’ll soon be thinking about how good you’re feeling and looking.
Plan to Avoid Stress
A little planning can go a long way in reducing stress, which is largely self-imposed by poor time management habits.
Take finances, for example. Work out your portfolio of assets, forecast your long-term financial needs, and estimate what you should be putting aside on a regular basis. Stress can be significantly reduced by following simple advice such as not giving in to impulses, and buying only what you really need. Impulses may be satisfying for the short-term, but lead to headaches in the long run.
Some habits are stressful in and of themselves. If you are a chronic “Yes person”, get in the habit of saying “No”, especially when you know deep down inside that you are taking on more than you can handle.
Or even thinking of situations as stressful can be doubly stressful! If, for example, you are conditioned to freak out about the morning commute, worrying about the possibility of an accident or getting stuck in a traffic jam, you are going to be stressed out about the drive, even if you give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.
So how can you avoid these stress-inducing habits? Plan! Organize your life. Know what your true obligations are. Say “no” to the tasks and situations which are avoidable and which won’t turn your life upside down if you don’t attend to them.
Prioritize the most important tasks. Make a game plan of what you seek to accomplish for the day. Check them off as you complete them. Reward yourself for meeting your goals.
If you can, delegate your tasks. Do you have to be the one to fix the toilet, scrub the floor, pick up the kids from school, and buy the groceries?
Think about situations where stress can be avoided. For example, if girlfriend calls saying she will be an hour late, is that a reason to get stressed out? If your waiter forgets to bring you that glass of water you requested, should you go bonkers? Little things can add up, so avoid piling on to the point of reaching stress overload. After all, will it matter five years or five months down the road? How about five minutes even?
Of course, some stress is good, as it spurs commitment, determination, and desire. But taking tiny steps to avoid the equally tiny bumps can go a long way to smoothing out your life path.
It’s normal to feel some anxiety. We all worry about certain events, places, and objects. However, these sensations differ from the symptoms and definition of anxiety disorders. This group of disorders can subject people to intense and prolonged feelings of fright, panic, and discomfort for no apparent reason. Left untreated, anxiety disorders can negatively affect your relationships and career, and can reduce your sense of control over your life.
The Types of Anxiety Disorders
All anxiety disorders affect thoughts, behavior, emotions, and physical health. It’s common for a person to suffer from more than one disorder at the same time, or to also experience depression, eating disorders, and drugs and alcohol abuse along with the anxiety disorder. Anxious? You’re not the only one. Find others to learn and share with. Here’s a description of each of the major anxiety disorders:
Panic disorder is accompanied by panic attacks and typically begins in a person’s late teen years or early 20s. Agoraphobia is often coupled with panic disorder, and is the fear of being in places or situations perceived as difficult to escape from, or would be hard to receive help, should a panic attack occur. When a person has panic disorder with agoraphobia, they try extremely hard to avoid public situations. In some cases, people fear being alone, and in other cases, they refuse to be in public, sometimes staying at home for long periods.
A person with panic disorder regularly has panic attacks, which are marked by sudden feelings of terror and arise without warning. Feelings experienced during these attacks may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Choking or smothering sensations
- Dizziness or unsteadiness
- Tingling in extremities
- Hot and cold flashes
- Trembling and shaking
- Fear of dying, going crazy, or behaving uncontrollably during an attack
Phobias are classified as either social phobias or specific phobias. Social phobias, simply put, are fears about social situations. People with this type of phobia are exceptionally worried about doing something wrong in front of other people and are self-conscious and afraid that they’re being watched or observed. These feelings are paralyzing and irrational, but could be so extreme that they refuse to place themselves in situations where this social fear may arise.
Specific phobias also consist of involuntary, irrational fears, and common examples are fears of flying, heights, planes, elevators, and animals. These objects can induce such high levels of anxiety that their lives are significantly affected.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
This type of anxiety is characterized by ongoing, repeated nervousness and worry about routine life activities and events. Physical symptoms include nausea, trembling, fatigue, muscle tension, and headaches. The source of the tension has no particular focus, and the person anticipates a worst case scenario.
A person who constantly washes their hands, checks to make sure the stove is turned off, or counts out an amount over and over again may have this disorder. OCD is characterized by persistent unwanted thoughts and rituals to deal with these thoughts. The person is concerned, doubtful, and disturbed.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Sometimes an event can be so terrifying that it can cause flashbacks – in which the person relives the experience – nightmares, depression, anger, and/or irritability, which are all symptoms of this disorder. Events that can trigger PTSD are ones in which serious harm occurred or was threatened, such as rape, child abuse, war or a natural disaster.
It’s understandable that you don’t forget significant events over your lifetime, especially episodes that posed a threat to your wellbeing, those around you, or even your very life.
Rachel can still recollect with startling clarity the time she was trapped in a vehicle, upside down, and not knowing whether she was going to survive or not.
Tom remembers as if it was yesterday the tragic day three years ago when his girlfriend passed away from cancer.
Yet, sometimes the experience can have such an impact, and be so unexpected, that some people simply aren’t prepared to cope with the aftermath of such a shock to their system. Instead of moving on, the grief and other residual feelings remain, and manifest themselves in an anxiety disorder known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A variety of events, including rapes or muggings, accidents, military action, natural disasters, and witnessing a death, can trigger PTSD. These events, known as “stressors,” can affect both children and adults, alone and in a group.
When PTSD is experienced, in relation to when the event occurred and when a PTSD symptoms occur, also varies. Usually, symptoms begin within 3 months of the stressor.
However, at the same time, it may be years down the road before PTSD occurs. And for some, recovery may happen within 6 months, but for others, the process is much more gradual.
PTSD is often accompanied by other anxiety disorders, substance abuse, or physical illness. These accompanying maladies may serve to mask the existence of PTSD.
PTSD, though, can be diagnosed and treated, and is characterized by three categories of symptoms. The first – and main – symptom is re-experiencing the event. Typically, this involves vivid flashbacks, or recurrent nightmares in which the experience is re-lived. Anniversaries, or similar situations, can be especially aggravating.
The second category involves avoidance and emotional numbing. A person may begin to withdraw from activities and stay away from situations where they can potentially be reminded of the traumatic event. Avoiding friends and family, as well as a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, are also part of this category. In addition, a person may be numb to feeling emotions, in a particular intimacy, or may feel tremendous guilt or enter a dissociative state, where they believe they are re-living the event.
The final category consists of increased alertness and changes in sleeping habits. It may be difficult for a person with PTSD to concentrate, complete tasks, or fall asleep.
PTSD, like other anxiety disorder treatment, is usually treated with a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy, which includes group counseling therapy and exposure therapy. Exposure therapy involves the re-experiencing of the event under controlled (desensitizing) circumstances in order to address the actual stressor.
While traumatic events are unforgettable, they should not negatively affect and interfere with our daily activities and routines. Understanding post-traumatic stress disorder, its symptoms, and realizing that treatment is available, is an integral first step in placing the events where they belong – in our memories as something that happened, not as a definition of ourselves.
DEPRESSION & GRIEVING
Who hasn’t experienced a time when the only thing in the world that will make things better is some time alone and a good cry? These feelings usually go away after a short period, but in some cases, the self-blame, worthlessness, and emptiness linger for several weeks at a time, and sometimes even longer. Depression can become a serious illness.
People speak all the time about being depressed. They’ve had a bad day at work, fought with their significant other, or their beloved goldfish passed away. Most of the times, these episodes of sadness are temporary and short-lived. But for others, the feeling of “being down” lingers, and it requires quite some time and effort to bring themselves back up. Let’s face it, people can’t be happy all the time. Sadness is a natural response to life’s problems and misfortunes. Who hasn’t experienced a time when the only thing in the world that will make things better is some time alone and a good cry? Fortunately, these feelings usually go away after a short period, but in some cases, the self-blame, feelings of worthlessness and emptiness linger for several weeks at a time, and sometimes even longer.
Depression can become a serious illness. Learn more about depression and what causes it. If you believe that you might be depressed, discover signs to watch out for and the treatment methods available. If you suspect that someone is depressed, find out what you can do to help. It’s not a simple matter of feeling blue. It’s a very personal concern that needs your compassion and awareness.
It’s estimated that 15% to 20% of the population will experience a major depressive episode at some point in their lives, but fortunately, depression is the most treatable mental illness. It is considered a mental illness when it is out of proportion to the event that caused it, lasts long after the event is over, has no apparent cause, or seriously interferes with routine activities.
No one knows what exactly causes depression. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a state of mind that is out of control. More likely it’s a combination of several factors. The most common belief is that it is a chemical imbalance in one or more neurotransmitters, which are responsible for transmitting information across your brain pathways. Another factor that often comes into play is a specific, distressing life event such as a death in the family or a job layoff. Psychological factors, like a negative or pessimistic view of life, may also make people more susceptible. As well, a person with a family history of the condition is more prone to experiencing depression. And once a person has had depression, he or she is more likely to be depressed again.
The good news is that depression is rarely permanent, and with professional treatment, it can end a lot sooner. Knowing the warning signs to watch out for is the first step in conquering the illness.
Depression is very treatable, and there are many methods available that can help to bring about changes for the better. Remember too, that time helps to alleviate the feelings of sadness brought about by depression. But if after a few weeks of self-help, you still feel depressed, you should consult professional help. Here are some suggestions to help yourself:
- Make life more manageable by breaking down larger projects into smaller tasks.
- Take them on one at a time.
- Write out a list of goals for each day, and check them off as they’re completed.
- Be proud when you have made an accomplishment, and don’t berate yourself for not getting as much done as you would have liked to.
- Find some outlets. Physical exercise is great, as well as time spent with family and friends.
- Set aside time for yourself each day, for the things that you like to do.
- Put off making important life decisions.
- If you are on prescribed medications, remember to take them regularly, and report any side effects to your doctor.
- Avoid alcohol, which is a depressant.
Following these guidelines can greatly help in overcoming depression. Other times, though, these methods alone may not be enough or the depression may last for a prolonged period, and your doctor may recommend treatment instead of time and self-help methods in these cases. The two main types of treatment are medications and psychotherapies. These methods, along with the support of family, friends, and self-help groups can also help people who are suffering from depression to lead full and active lives. Medications, or drug treatment, are used by physicians to correct the chemical imbalance in the brain that is responsible for bringing about the depression. Contrary to popular belief, these drugs are not tranquilizers, uppers, or downers. Neither are they addictive. Results are usually apparent after a few weeks. There are a variety of drugs available, and your doctor can determine which is most appropriate for your situation.
Short-term solution-focused psychotherapies, or talk therapies, are effective in treating depression. For people with long-term lifestyle or psychological attitudinal problems that may contribute to recurring episodes of depression, longer term psychotherapy may be necessary. These attitudes may also not be severe enough to lead to official clinical depression, but can still lead to negative feelings for the person.
Psychotherapy is also useful for long-term programs once the depression is over, and a perspective in lifestyle needs to be worked at on an ongoing basis to elicit positive change.
Depression: How You Can Help
The support of family and friends is immeasurable in assisting to help those people with depression. Some people who are depressed usually keep to themselves, while others fear being alone. Regardless of the way in which they wish to carry on, you can help by being patient and reassuring.
Meet others with insights on and experience with depression. Share your views. Post them in a Depression Support Group.
It’s our typical response to a loss in our lives – be it a loved one, a way of life, or our health. We grieve not for the loss itself, but for what that loss means to us. Here’s where you can examine the kinds of changes personal loss can bring.
The support of family and friends is immeasurable in assisting to help those people with depression. Some people who are depressed usually keep to themselves, while others fear being alone. Regardless of the way in which they wish to carry on, you can help by being patient and reassuring. Sometimes it’s frustrating and difficult to understand why a depressed person is feeling so down and can’t snap out of it. With your understanding you can do your best to assist him or her. Above all else, people with depression need you to be a supportive, steadying influence.
What kind of grief is normal?
The short answer is that there is no one ‘normal’ reaction to the suicide of a loved one. Everyone deals with loss differently. That means that everything you are feeling right now is natural, even if you feel angry, or confused, or even relieved. In order to successfully deal with your grief you must work through your feelings, not deny them.
Stages to look out for:
Though there may be no one way to grieve, there are stages that most people go through as they mourn.
Initially, you may experience shock. You may feel numb, as though you are just going through the motions of your life. You may not want to talk about the death with others and may remove yourself emotionally from loved ones. You may feel disorganized as if your life has just been turned upside down. You may feel lonely and depressed and you may cry unexpectedly. Maybe your appetite has decreased, and you can’t seem to sleep. It may be helpful if you talk to someone about how you are feeling at this point. Once you have started talking about your feelings, you may begin to reorganize your life. There may be moments when you don’t think about the loss at all. You are more able to cope with daily tasks, and encouragement from loved ones only makes you stronger.
As you work through the painful emotions that are the grieving process, you are learning to live with your loss, lessening the chance that you will be consumed by it. And remember, we all grieve in different ways and we heal at different rates. You can’t rush it.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t jump to conclusions.
- Look for changes during treatment. You will often notice an initial improvement in the depressed person’s condition which he or she may first be unaware of.
- Be a good listener. You don’t always have to have the answers. Be available, and let them talk without interrupting.
- Avoid criticism as it could lead to further feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
- Avoid over pampering or babying them.
- Maintain an even temper. You need to be patient because they’re often irritable and short with their temper.
- Do not feel guilty or responsible for their condition. They need your support, but if you believe you’re to blame, you won’t be in the best position to assist them.
- Share the responsibility. Depression is an incredible weight to carry on your own. Find other friends, family, doctors, and organizations that can lend a hand.
- Carry on with your own life. Do not put it on hold while trying to take care of a depressed person.
- Take care of your own health. If you don’t practice proper eating, sleeping, and exercise habits, your personal wellness could suffer, and so could your abilities to help them.
- Keep everything in balance as much as possible. They need stability but do not give up your own life trying to do so. They need support but do not take their lives over for them. It involves walking a fine line, but the help you’ll give them will be immeasurable.
MENTAL and PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS of STRESS
The Stress Response can be Good and Bad for You
The stress response is your body’s emotional reaction to a situation you find stressful. Surprisingly, the body reacts similarly to good and bad events. Stress responses are necessary for us to cope with situations that excite or disturb us; they can be very useful.
Your body’s first response is to release adrenaline. This hormone increases your heart and breathing rates and gives you a jolt of energy to take on an immediate challenge. Your mind will also become preoccupied with the stressful situation in this first stage.
This stage is great if your problem requires immediate action. In fact, many people do their best work under pressure. If your problem can’t be dealt with right away and your burst of adrenaline doesn’t help you identify a solution, this response is just exciting you for nothing. Sounds like dating in high school, doesn’t it?
Assuming your situation persists, your body will begin to consume stored energy resources. At this point you will likely feel driven, pressured, preoccupied, and possibly tired. Often, this is when individuals engage in maladaptive coping responses; increased drinking, smoking, and unhealthy eating are common, as is anti-social behavior and reduced exercise. This is destructive behaviour as all of these things actually reduce peoples’ social and biological abilities to cope with stress.
At this point in the stress cycle, the mere thought of the stressful situation elicits anxiety, feelings of helplessness and/or hopelessness. Irritability, anger, memory loss and depressed immune functioning may make you more susceptible to illnesses at this point.
After a long period of continuous stress, your body’s need for energy outstrips available
resources, and chronic stress results; this is bad. Sleeplessness, errors in judgment, excessive anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and personality changes often occur at this point. As well, a serious illness may result as a consequence of depressed immune system functioning and prolonged excitatory responses. This is your body’s way of forcing you to relax, even if it means that you do so in the hospital.
Humans have a wide range of emotions, and anger is a perfectly acceptable and common one. We all feel the need to address our frustrations, and to take quick action to alleviate our anger. But when do you know that anger is beyond your control and that you might have an anger management issue on your hands? Find out the warning signs, and what you can do about it. Also, if you’re a parent, learn how to discern between clumsy and aggressive behavior in your child, and how you can deal with your child’s temper tantrums.
We get mad. “Why when I get my hands on him…!” “You little son of a…!” “I’m so PO’d!” “You are such a…!”
A lot of things tick us off, irk, grate, bother, and have us wanting to either “make that idiot pay” or break something (perhaps a wall, that stress-relieving squeeze toy, or that “idiot” himself). Most of the time, these feelings subside and pass. Sometimes, though, the urge to strike, scream, or start revenging consumes us and drives us to greater aggressive behavior. Too much of this, or carrying out actions that could harm yourself, other people, or objects, and you might have an anger management problem that needs to be addressed.
Left alone, an anger management issue can grow into a more serious problem causing tremendous pain. By keeping your anger in check, you can help yourself become a more productive, relaxed, and healthier person.
Many people find that they get angrier with their partner than any other person. This doesn’t happen because of a cruel twist of fate that has you paired with the one person that makes you the angriest, but rather because intimate relationships have so much more invested in them than virtually any other kind of relationship. When a marriage breaks up the repercussions are felt in virtually every aspect of both partners’ lives, from finances to personal happiness.
Anger is a normal emotion and should not be suppressed. Emotions have a way of being released even when they’re bottled up. An explosion of anger because you’ve been bottling it up is the last thing you want. Because anger within an intimate relationship is inevitable, learning to express and use this emotion is very important. The constructive use of anger requires some self-control. When you exert self-control and remember that you will likely resolve and overcome the conflict, this can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Use that advanced neocortex to resist the chimp-like urge to scream and throw things at your partner and communicate your feelings instead. Admit your angry feelings and use them as a doorway to communication rather than as an excuse to put the other person down.
Your angry feelings toward your partner can be a warning sign of something deeper that may be troubling you. Search your feelings to discover if your anger is a manifestation of hurt, fear, frustration, or feelings of inadequacy. Discovering and exploring these deeper feelings together with your partner can go a long way toward building intimacy.
Controlling Your Anger
Sure, everyone gets mad at some time or another. But what if all you could think about was 100 ways to get even with that “rat who snagged that promotion” you coveted? That could be a signal that anger is affecting your life more than you think. Learn about other warning signs and ways to help deal with your anger and rage.
Matt broke up with Martha. She was extremely hurt and couldn’t get over it. She was a self-professed “obsessive” who thought day and night about ways to settle the score with him. “I’m going to show up at work and sabotage an important presentation. That will show him.” Other times she’d plot to pop the tires of his car or post compromising pictures of him on the Internet for the entire world to see. Through all this intense anger, she would seethe, “I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.”
Veronica dumped Archie courtesy of an e-greeting card, complete with a singing sun and dancing sheep. At first, he was upset with Veronica for reducing their 3-year relationship to an electronic brush-off, but he took a step back, and realized that it was an action typical of her careless and insensitive personality. When he reflected upon the situation, Archie knew that Veronica was doing him a favor; any more forgotten birthdays or remarks about how she “would die if he wore that shirt again in public” with her, and probably he would have sent himself his own sympathy card.
Let’s face it: everyone gets angry. Even real-life “saints-in-training” get irked by some events that trigger an upsetting or aggressive response. Most of us, like Archie, will get over it; time will pass, the world goes on, and tomorrow will be another day. But for others, such as Martha, anger can build up over time. While it’s understandable that she feels betrayed and pained by Matts’ actions, the anger that she felt over the breakup has the potential of reaching a dangerous and serious point.
Like any emotion, anger is normal. It helps the individual in dealing with a tense or troubling situation by offering an outlet of release. By the same token, however, too much of it bottled inside at the same time or blowing too much steam all at once, can turn anger from a healthy life management tool into an ugly problem that hurts you and those around you. If you’re more like a Martha than an Archie, read on to learn how to let the hot air out of that angry little kettle of yours. If you’re more like an Archie than a Martha, you too should read on, because you might also one day reach a breaking point. And if you’re more like a “saint”, well then, you should also read this because you most likely have someone nearby who can drive you bonkers.
While anger is normal, there are some symptoms that you should watch out for that may indicate that it is a life-interfering problem:
- You may have to address your anger if you can’t get it off your mind. Like Samantha, your rage consumes you and spills over into other things. Maybe you can’t concentrate on getting that proposal in on the deadline because all you can think about is how the Sam in your life was such a self-centered inconsiderate jerk. Or all you talk about to your best friend is how much you hate him, and all that complaining is ruining your Wednesday “girls nights” with her.
- Anger could be serious if it was caused by something that happened quite a while ago and you can’t let go of it. Did I tell you that Matt dumped Martha about six months ago, and she’s still feeling as mad as ever?
- If anger’s causing you to plot and carry out vengeful plans that hurt others, you could be looking at a problem. Martha was obsessed with getting even. She wanted nothing more than to hurt Matt like he had hurt her. This isn’t a mature way of handling things and borders on the extreme. If she carried out her plans and became violent towards Matt or others, then her anger is leading her too far over the emotional cliff.
Too much or inappropriate anger can lead to serious detrimental effects. In terms of physical health, it can result in ulcers and heart disease. And with emotional well-being, it could affect your relationships with those around you, your career, and other important institutions in your life. But there are some strategies you can employ to help identify and resolve your anger during the actual moment, and some long-term guidelines that can assist you in approaching life in a calmer and more positive direction:
- When anger happens, admit that you are angry, and release it – to an extent. Think moderation, and don’t keep it bottled inside.
- Avoid overreaction by taking a step back.
- Remove yourself from the situation and ask yourself if someone else in your place would be reacting in the same manner.
- Look at the situation, too; is it really that bad that it’s worth getting all worked up about?
- Try to think about something else when you feel that rush of anger. Hum a favorite song or recall a happy moment instead of giving a tailgating driver the one-fingered salute via your rear view mirror.
- Identify the source of your anger, and try to deal with him or her directly in a peaceful and productive manner.
- Listen carefully to what others have to say, and wait until they’re finished before you speak. It’s amazing how words get misconstrued just by jumping in too soon. Allowing the few extra moments for the other person to finish also gives you time to absorb what is being said and formulate an appropriate response.
- There are a number of actions you can take to help channel your anger from an unpredictable and volatile problem into a controlled response framed by a new, more relaxed attitude. For instance, avoid blaming yourself, even if you feel that it is your mistake and your mistake alone.
- Make the best of a bad situation and learn from the experience instead.
- Check out how other people have handled the same problem, especially if it’s a situation beyond your control, such as a job layoff. What coping mechanisms did they use?
- Help release your anger and any residual tension by discovering outlets. Physical activities are a great way to blow off steam in a positive way and give you time to calm down and assess your situation.
- Find other outlets, such as tai chi, yoga, keeping a journal, relaxation therapy, meditation and deep-breathing exercises.
- Get in touch with your funny bone and learn to laugh at yourself. Not everything has to be three-piece-suited serious. Laugh and loosen that necktie a bit.
- In terms of the people around you, learn to trust their abilities. Having faith in others takes a lot of tension and potential anger out of the equation.
- Also find those who you feel comfortable enough to confide in. They can provide support, a sympathetic ear, and a different perspective on your situation.
And if you need more information, a wealth of resources, from books to community organizations to mental health associations, can provide more insight into anger and anger management techniques.
Anger doesn’t have to stay inside. Nor does it have to translate into hurtful and vengeful actions. Learning to deal with anger as it happens and adopting some long-term strategies can go a long way in helping you manage the next time you feel your blood boiling. No matter if you’re a Samantha, a Johnny, or even a “saint”, everyone feels angry at some time or another. By following these suggestions, you can take control of anger before it controls you.
Release some of your anger or help someone with an anger management problem by talking it out in a support group where you can be safe with your thoughts and words.
A Corrosive Culture
The people of the United States and Canada often react in very similar ways. William Vega, health researcher at Rutgers University, reported that the U.S. is proving to be psychologically corrosive to outsiders who are dropped into it. Recent immigrants from Mexico, when they first arrived, were much healthier than the Americans they settled among, with half the incidence of psychological disorder/ dysfunction.
But, the longer they stay, the sicker they get. During the first 13 years they have an 18% chance of developing a psychological disorder. Beyond 13 years of residence, the risk increases to 32% – the same as the general population.
People of Mexican heritage who are born in America have a 49% susceptibility to psychological disorders, and the men are 5 times as likely (as recent male immigrants) to experience a “major depressive episode”. Drug misuse among Mexican women born in America was 7 times as high as that of recent female immigrants.
Other ethnic groups that were studied apparently replicate Vega’s findings. It seems that socialization into our culture and society increases susceptibility to psychological disorders.
An interesting finding in the Vega research shows that the recently arrived Mexican immigrants studied were better adjusted psychologically, even though they fall far below the American average in education and income.
Further research shows that income and education lose their meaning in a world of rising mental expectations and reduced lifestyle satisfaction. We have become a consumerist, media-saturated, society that has lost the collective family and community life in the face of American (and Canadian) individualism.
Merely moving to North America tends to put people at risk for psychological afflictions. Yet, this “corrosive culture” is a big problem which draws almost no attention at all. And the problem seems to be worsening, at least according to recent findings reported in the mainstream and internet press. It seems that more North Americans are getting depressed at a younger age – and the severity and frequency of depression is rising.
Each generation born in the 20th century has suffered more depression than the previous generation. Since World War 2, the overall rate of depression has more than doubled. Between 1970 and 2010, depression in women more than doubled. Psychiatric drug use has skyrocketed. North American schoolkids take 4 times as many psychiatric medications as all of the rest of the world combined!
Biochemical imbalances aside, if your brain is indeed out-of-balance, the source of the trouble may very well reside in your cultural environment.
The Battle of the Mind
The World Health Organization has previously reported that the incidence of schizophrenia has increased 45% in developing nations since 1985 – hitting women hardest, generally having 2 times the rate of depression as men. Specific examples show that the rate for Chilean women is 5 times higher than their men, while Chinese women had 9 times the rate of neurosis and depressive neurosis as their men, and 75% more schizophrenia.
Typically, people born since 1950 are at a much higher risk for depression than those born earlier – apparently due to the “hurry up” world that developed since the 50’s.
Even though developing nations such as India and Egypt have seen dramatic improvements in medicine and infrastructure, their populations have seen rising incidences of depression. It seems that the very changes that brought improved physical health and infrastructure have also lead to significant disruptions in cultural practices, social routines, and traditional roles in work and family – gains in one aspect of life leading to losses in another aspect.
The world view is that rising wealth does not improve mental health – and globalization seems to lead to mental degradation. Apparently, mass addiction is being globalized along with the Internet and Social Media!
So, if the North American mental environment is so toxic, why aren’t we all sick? Apparently the answer is the same as to why we are not all suffering from colds or the ‘flu; we all differ biologically and developmentally in our vulnerabilities, and the impact of toxic culture tends to get overlooked. Mental disorders are considered the problem of the individual, even though deteriorating, mental health appears to be greatly influenced by ecology and culture.
The WHO predicts that depression will become one of the most common disorders in the world by 2020, second only to heart disease; it has already reached the number one spot for women!
“There are only two times I feel stress — day and night.”