Parents, we are living in a stress-filled world. The pressures of parenting, rearing healthy children, home and work obligations are enough to make even the most centered person go off the rails for a time. If left unchecked, the long term effects of stress on the body can often manifest in mental and emotional dysfunction.
Over 30 million Americans are diagnosed with some sort of depressive disorder, and there are millions more that are undiagnosed and attempting to live functional lives. Watching our children struggle with these additional stressors leaves many of us frustrated and wondering how to help. How do we practice self care to ward off the damaging effects of stress while being available to help family members that are trying to cope as well?
What is Depression?
CDD, or Clinical Depressive Disorder, is classified as a mental dysfunction that is characterized by feelings of intense sadness, grief, loss, and lack of interest in life. Symptoms may range from mild and temporary to severe and ongoing, and they can affect work situations, relationships, and even your health. In fact, certain health conditions have been shown to be negatively impacted by ongoing, untreated mental duress, including:
Symptoms of Depression
Some typical symptoms of depression include:
- Changes in mood or violent mood swings, irritability, anger, restlessness, or loss or interest in things that used to be enjoyable.
- Changes in emotional well being—overwhelming sadness and feelings of grief and loss that don’t seem to find resolution.
- Changes in behavior—people with depression tend to engage in at-risk behaviors that they may not have attempted before, or they may exhibit self-destructive patterns such as overeating, drinking, smoking, or trying drugs.
- Changes in cognitive ability such as loss of focus, inability to concentrate or remember, and difficulty finding words to communicate.
- Changes in sleep patterns—sleeping too much, too little, ongoing sensations of deep fatigue that don’t improve with additional rest.
- Changes in physical well being—fatigue, aches and pains, headaches, muscle pain, and digestive problems.
Causes of Depression
There can be many possible causes for depression, some of which include:
- Family history—depression is often present in families who have one or more people suffering from symptoms
- Early childhood trauma—an inability to process emotions and release stressful memories from the body can manifest as depression
- Brain activity—people who have a frontal lobe that is less active than expected tend to manifest symptoms
- Medical conditions—certain diseases and illnesses may make you more prone to the development of depressive disorder
- Drug or alcohol use—substance abuse inhibits healthy brain function, which can contribute to depression
Depression vs Anxiety – What is the Difference?
Most medical experts agree that depression and anxiety can run concurrently, although it is important to recognize the symptoms of each to determine what treatments will be most effective. While they have similar effects on the body, they respond to treatment in different ways. Knowing the difference between these conditions will provide a clearer picture into diagnosis and treatment.
What is Anxiety?
CAD, or Clinical Anxiety Disorder, is the inability of the body to effectively process and move through stressful situations. It is normal to feel anxious from time to time, but as with depression, if the symptoms and experiences go unchecked, it can manifest as a chronic mental condition that is difficult to deal with.
Anxiety can manifest in different ways, depending on the cause and the length of time symptoms have been experienced. Some of these specific disorders include:
(PTSD) Post-traumatic stress disorder – The body’s response to stress as a result of a traumatic event.
Panic disorder – The experience of ongoing panic attacks when the heart rate, respiratory rate, and other stressful symptoms are elevated. Someone with this disorder may live in fear of the next panic attack.
Phobias – Fear around a specific experience or event.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – The need to control one’s surroundings because they feel that they can’t control their emotional response to life experiences.
Separation Disorder – Fear of being separated from others or from loved ones
Hypochondria – Obsessive fears and thoughts about illness and the need to preserve health.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Symptoms of anxiety are not limited to, but may include the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid or labored breathing
- Trouble concentrating
- Nervous twitching or tics
An acute anxiety attack is the sudden onset of severe symptoms, including:
- Faintness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Dry mouth
- Profuse sweating
- Chills or hot flashes
- Physical and mental distress
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
A person suffering from an acute attack may hyperventilate and eventually pass out due to lack of oxygen; in these situations, seek medical attention to ensure that they can be stabilized and treated properly. Knowing the signs of an attack as they begin will be a critical part of diffusing the situation before you need to seek medical attention.
Causes of Anxiety
Simply living in this world and not being taught how to properly deal with the effects of stress can contribute to the development of anxiety. Other factors that may play a role in its development include hypertension, family history of similar disorders, and certain health conditions and medications that are taken. Other research points to certain brain chemistry composition that makes one predisposed to its development. Scientists are now conducting research into correcting brain imbalances and how this impacts mental disorders.
Am I Experiencing Anxiety?
While there isn’t a single test to determine if one is suffering from anxiety, a combination of factors assessed, and a diagnosis is made according to symptoms experienced as well as the length of time that one has been experiencing discomfort. In some cases, a doctor may conduct a thorough physical examination, blood and urine analysis to rule out the possibility of underlying health conditions that could be contributing to the stressful response.
Once a diagnosis has been determined, you are able to work with your doctor to develop and implement some lifestyle changes that will alleviate symptoms and allow you to regain your zest for life once more.
While there is no determined cure for clinical depression, symptoms can be reduced and made manageable using a combination of therapies. Some of your options for treatment include:
Medications – Your doctor may prescribe medications like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and even antipsychotic medications to reduce the mental mind chatter that often contributes to symptoms. Each type of medication has its own unique benefits and risk factors; make sure you talk to your doctor about those benefits and possible side effects to determine which one is right for you.
Psychotherapy – Often, seeing a therapist and having the opportunity to talk through some of your struggles is seen as an incredibly effective tool for managing depression. Your family may also benefit from parent/child or group sessions to help support those who are dealing with symptoms.
Light therapy – Regular exposure to doses of white light has shown to activate areas of the brain that often lie dormant in those with depression. Mood is improved, aches and pains are reduce, and patients report a general feeling of well-being with regular treatment.
Alternative therapies – Treatments like acupuncture or meditation have shown to be remarkably beneficial in dealing with depression symptoms. Herbal supplements such as St. John’s Wort and fish oil are also proven to boost mood and improve brain function.
Exercise – Exercise is a natural mood booster–hormones called endorphins are stimulated and released in the brain, which helps to stimulate feelings of happiness and well-being. Aim for 30 minutes daily for best results.
A number of effective treatments have also been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety. Often, these therapies when used in combination with certain lifestyle changes, can reduce or even eliminate symptoms of anxiety, allowing one to return to life with a sense of safety and peace once more. Treatments for anxiety include:
Medication – Many of the medications used to treat anxiety are also used for those with depressive symptoms; talk to your doctor and be sure to relay your specific symptoms and triggers, as this will help him determine the best treatment for you.
Adequate sleep – Quite often, sleep patterns are disturbed in those with anxiety. Getting enough sleep will promote proper brain function and hormonal balance, helping you to feel better with every quality night’s sleep.
Changing up the diet – Certain foods are known to stimulate symptoms in those with anxiety; identifying your food triggers and removing things from your diet such as processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and tobacco will improve your health and optimize brain function. A Health Coach can help with reviewing your current diet and exploring healthier alternatives.
Staying active – Quite often, a build up of nervous energy in the body can contribute to anxiety symptoms; working out and releasing some of this stress and tension will allow you to experience greater relaxation and peace. Many fitness options may be available locally for you including personal training.
Practicing mindfulness – The physiological response to stress and the thought process are inextricably linked as anxiety develops. Practicing techniques like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques will work to correct brain chemistry, quiet obsessive thought, and balance the body once more as brain activity calms itself.
How to Help Children and Teens with Depression or Anxiety?
Children may not be aware that they are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially if they have grown up in a family where these tendencies for manifestation are prevalent. If you suspect that your child or teen has symptoms of either, here’s what you can do to help:
- Consider medication to help calm ongoing symptoms. While it may not be your first choice for alleviating symptoms, this is often a first step to opening the door for ongoing communication and talk therapy that can provide your child with strategies for ongoing success and a chance to design a healthy life.
- Enroll your child in therapy. Whether it’s one on one, parent/child, or group therapy with the whole family involved, give yourself the gift of being able to process through difficult emotions and sensations with support and assistance, and know that every session together is a step toward a healthier, happier life for all involved.
Teens may be a bit more reluctant to divulge their struggles and share what is happening with their internal dialogue. You can look for symptoms to manifest like headache, stomach ache, isolationist behaviors, and avoidance that indicate one or more of these conditions is prevalent. Tread lightly, indicate your interest in supporting them, and help them realize that there is something that can be done to alleviate the stressful symptoms and conditions that have caused life to be less than exciting.
If you yourself are experience symptoms of depression or anxiety, it’s time to take care of yourself so that you can take the helm of proactive health for your family members as well. Self care is not only essential, it is necessary for you to demonstrate these behaviors as you set your children up with habits for good health that will last a lifetime. Take these steps to take control of your life once more:
- Begin to pay attention to your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors about life that may be contributing to your symptoms
- Talk to your doctor about being evaluated for symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Make lifestyle changes that promote better health and an alleviation of symptoms
- Talk to friends and family members about your experience and rally support for a return to vibrant health
You Deserve a Quality Life!
Depression and anxiety can rob you of the pleasures of life, and they can rob you of your health and vitality. You owe it to yourself and your family members to know what signs and symptoms to look for so you can proactively take charge of your health once more. Do what you can to evaluate, diagnose, and then treat all members of your family so that you can experience vibrant health and quality of life once more!