By Michele Brennen on Psych Central
"The holidays are here and it’s the happiest time of the year! Except the holiday season is also known for higher rates of depression and suicide. This seems like conflicting information during this time of year, but it’s pretty accurate. However, there is hope to getting through the holiday season. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Remind yourself that commercialization of the season is just a marketing technique. You do not need to succumb to these advertising tactics.
2. Set a budget for Holiday spending and stick to it. If you feel guilty about not spending as lavishly as your friends, just explain you’re trying to focus on the meaning of the season and won’t get caught up in the shopping rush.
3. Focus on the positive aspects of your life, and don’t compare yourself to others or try to recreate images seen in the media.
4. Remember that it is the season for giving, so give your time to a local charity. Giving back to your community is rewarding and fulfilling.
5. Be realistic. You don’t have to attend every party, or commit to everything. You are one individual and can do the work of one individual. Besides if you are stressed out, tired and run down you’re not going to be helpful or joyful anyway.
6. Limit your intake of alcohol during the holidays. This helps advert feelings of depression.
7. Remember that if your depression worsens, reach out for help through the suicide hotline (800) 273-8255."
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By Barry Rouche
Former Cork hurler, Conor Cusack spoke last night of his struggle with depression and how he contemplated taking his own life.
He urged people suffering mental health problems not to suffer in silence but to reach out to others and seek help.
Mr Cusack said that his struggles with mental health started when he was 15 and he began suffering panic attacks which led to him to withdrawing from his family and friends, prompting him to give up school in his Leaving Cert year much to the dismay of his parents.
He told how he would wake at night in a ball of sweat and spend hours weeping with tears as the panic attacks became more intense and frequent until depression overtook him to the point that he spent five months in his bedroom, refusing to go out.
Mr Cusack, brother of former Cork goalkeeper, Donal óg Cusack, chronicled in his blog how he experienced a breakdown in his late teens and described how he came close to taking his own life but how the support of family and a therapist helped him on a journey of recovery.
“I decided one night death outweighed my desire for living. I decided I was going to kill myself . . . For some reason my mother never went to Mass (that evening) and it was ultimately a decision of hers that saved my life,” said Mr Cusack
He went on RTÉ’s Prime Time and told how meeting a therapist helped him to find his inner strength he never knew he had. We sat opposite each other in a converted cottage at the side of his house with a fire lighting in the corner. He looked at me with his warm eyes and said ‘I hear you haven’t been too well. How are you feeling ?’. . . I looked at him for about a minute or so and I began to cry.
“When the tears stopped, I talked and he listened intently. Driving home with my mother that night, I cried again, but it wasn’t tears of sadness, it was tears of joy. I knew that evening I was going to get better. There was finally a chink of light in the darkness.” Mr Cusack said that seeking help with his mental health problems required real bravery.
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By Kristin Jones
"Mark Maseros used to be a repeat customer at the ER — when he wasn’t in jail for drugs or theft.
Now 54, Maseros spent three decades living homeless in Denver. Hooked on heroin that he took to self-medicate what he now recognizes as an anxiety disorder, he was taken to the emergency room after overdosing. Or he walked in with panic attacks.
“It was always good to go to the emergency room, because you’d get things to deal with your uncomfortableness,” says Maseros. “If I said the magic words that I wanted to kill myself, they’d set me up in a bed.”
Over the years, Maseros said he was diagnosed “bipolar, tripolar” and any number of other psychiatric disorders.
But he never got the sustained care he needed until four years ago, when the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless found housing for him, and he joined group therapy to help get the better of his anxiety.
“I’m happy now,” says Maseros, who does rounds through downtown Denver on his bike, looking for others who are suffering as he once did. Maseros tries to point people to the services that are available in the city. He knows that without help some of them will end up dead.
The president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, John Parvensky, says there are many more like Maseros who want help but can’t get it.
He estimates that around 40 percent of the adult homeless in the state suffer from serious mental illness — diagnoses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression that keep people from working and living in housing.
“We saw the biggest spike in homelessness in the 1980s,” says Parvensky, “and it really correlated to both the deinstitutionalization as the state closed down the mental health facilities, and the funding that was promised to provide community-based services … never materialized.”
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Alternative treatments for depression
In addition to seeking professional medical guidance, some find it helpful to look at alternative treatments for depression. Here are a couple of the more popular solutions:
St John's wort (hypericum), is an extract of a weedy plant (Hypericum perforatum) that has been used for so-called 'nervous disorders' for a couple of thousand years. Studies comparing St John's wort with either conventional antidepressants or a placebo (dummy pill) have had mixed results. The quality of the research has also varied. Some studies suggest that if St John's wort is taken at a sufficiently high dose, it can be as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants for mild, and possibly moderate, depression. However, it is unlikely to benefit people with more severe or melancholic depression. St John's wort interacts with many medicines and you should not take it as well as conventional antidepressants because of the risk of side effects.
Exercise is not an obvious solution to depression but it can help lift someone's mood. Research by the Black Dog Institute has found those suffering clinical depression reported exercise provides more relief than any other alternative therapies or techniques (not including drug and psychotherapies). The study found yoga/meditation, relaxation and massage can also help with the symptoms of depression.
Relaxation therapy (structured exercises for relaxing both the body and the mind) is often suggested in conjunction with CBT. Few well-designed trials have been done, but there have been a few promising results. The same goes for acupuncture, massage therapy and yoga.
Folate (folic acid) is a B-vitamin needed for red blood cell formation, new cell division, and protein metabolism. People who do not respond well to antidepressants are more likely to have low folate levels than others, and though it may not improve depression on its own, folate has been suggested as a supplement in these cases. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables, liver, legumes, and seeds.
Omega-3 (fish oil) is a polyunsaturated fat commonly found in fish and some plants. There is growing evidence to support a link between major depression and low levels of omega-3 in the diet. However, further studies are needed to look at whether or not omega-3 supplements may help prevent or treat depression.
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Could laughter help with depression?
By: Judith Woodward
"Depression is one of the most common medical conditions. It can affect anyone at any time. This year, the Army is joining organizations and communities across the nation to raise awareness about the dangers of depression. The Army's theme, "The Courage to Seek Help," emphasizes that depression is one of the most treatable behavioral health conditions. Getting an early diagnosis and treatment may help reduce the intensity and duration of depression symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in 10 Americans report depression. This means that every year more than 31 million Americans say they suffer from depression. It can affect men, women, the elderly and even children.
It may be hard to believe, but one of the most effective ways to help yourself or someone you love with depression is with laughter. Laughter is such a powerful, inexpensive and dependable tool that is always available. Did you know that laughter can ease stress, pain and sadness? There are many other ways laughter is good for your health:
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Could depression change your brain?
"A recent Australian study found that depression may hinder neuroplasticity. Researchers measured electrical changes in the brain of 23 depressed and 23 healthy people after a brief magnetic stimulation. They found the expected change and reaction in the brains of healthy people, but not in the depressed."
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Is your therapist helping?
By: Allan Schwartz
"In all types of psychotherapy, there are clear signs that things are improving if the therapy is working. Examples of making progress in therapy is that, 1. There is a feeling that one's life is more manageable and that it feels like one is more in control of life, 2. There is a clear feeling of increased self confidence and that one is moving forward in life, 3. Not only does the patient see behavioral changes but so do friends and relatives and, finally, 4. There is a much better understanding of one's self and ones behaviors. In addition to these signs it is worth asking one's self, "Am I getting my money's worth from the sessions? Of course, these are very subjective questions to ask or to rely on. Still, it's important to think this way as a guide to answer the question, "Should I continue with this therapist or not?"
"In addition to these watching for these signs of progress, there are certain questions that each patient should think about in relation to the mental health practitioner they are seeing. For example, 1. Does my therapist listen to me and to the concerns I bring up in therapy? 2. Does my therapist talk more about himself than about me? It's amazing how often I hear the complaint from readers that their therapist spends vast parts of the session talking about his life. 3. There seems to be no structure or focus to the sessions. Sessions meander from one topic to another and have little to do with why one came to therapy."
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"Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression amidst allegations that he was threatened, harassed and menaced by teammates, chieflyRichie Incognito, RadarOnline.com has exclusively learned.
Martin, 24, is not expected to report back to the team anytime soon, as he works with specialists in LosAngeles and awaits clearance to return.
We’re now learning exactly what he’s being treated for.
“It’s depression and PTSD… which is directly related to the bullying he endured by Richie and other teammates,” a source close to the situation told Radar."
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How to help youth with depression
By Cathy Fitzpatrick-Platt
Depression affects approximately 2 percent of children nationwide and 6 percent of teenagers at any given time, according to Dr. Shashank V. Joshi, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine.
"Twenty to 25 percent will have experienced depression of some sort by the time they graduate from high school," Joshi said, describing this depression as feeling in a sad mood for more than a few days. Most bounce back and continue with normal activities and friendships.
But for some, the depression lingers. And many teens will suffer in silence, as, according to Joshi, they often don't talk about their own depression, what he calls a "brain-based medical condition."
The cause of this painful disorder? According to the Stanford University Depression Research Clinic website, the exact cause of depression is still unknown, but biological, psychological and environmental factors can be contributors. It is thought that an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, can contribute to some people's depression. Antidepressants target biological causes associated with an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
"The neurotransmitter story is not the whole story. ... There are areas of the brain that can change with talk therapy," Joshi said. Treatments for mild to moderate depression include cognitive behavioral, or talk, therapy, he said, while moderate to severe depression is treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
What do you do? Pay attention, Joshi recommends. If a teen is in a sad mood for a week or more, shows a loss of interest or withdrawal from friends, and is no longer doing what she likes to do, ask questions. Talk to the teen's primary care provider or school counselor. Read about depression. Go to the Heard Alliance website (where there are questionnaires, under resources, and educational information on depression, mood disorders, anxiety, and more), and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website.
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There are many safe nondrug remedies for anxiety, from mind-body techniques to supplements to calming teas. Some start working right away, while others may help lessen anxiety over time.
If you have a jittery moment, a cuppa chamomile tea might help calm you down. Some compounds in chamomile (Matricaria recutita) bind to the same brain receptors as drugs like Valium.
You can also take it as a supplement, typically standardized to contain 1.2 percent apigenin (an active ingredient), along with dried chamomile flowers. In one study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, in Philadelphia, patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) who took chamomile supplements for eight weeks had a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms compared to patients taking placebo.
L-theanine (or green tea)
They say Japanese Buddhist monks could meditate for hours, both alert and relaxed. One reason may have been an amino acid in their green tea called L-theanine, says Mark Blumenthal, of the American Botanical Council.
Research shows that L-theanine helps curb a rising heart rate and blood pressure, and a few small human studies have found that it reduces anxiety. In one study, anxiety-prone subjects were calmer and more focused during a test if they took 200 milligrams of L-theanine beforehand.
You can get that much L-theanine from green tea, but you'll have to drink many cups—as few as five, as many as 20.
Yes, it's in beer, but you won't get the tranquilizing benefits of the bitter herb hops (Humulus lupulus) from a brew. The sedative compound in hops is a volatile oil, so you get it in extracts and tinctures—and as aromatherapy in hops pillows.
"It's very bitter, so you don't see it in tea much, unless combined with chamomile or mint," says Blumenthal. Hops is often used as a sedative, to promote sleep, often with another herb, valerian. Note: Don't take sedative herbs if you are taking a prescription tranquilizer or sedative, and let your doctor know any supplements you are taking.
Some herbal supplements reduce anxiety without making you sleepy (such as L-theanine), while others are sedatives. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is squarely in the second category. It is a sleep aid, for insomnia. It contains sedative compounds; the German government has approved it as a treatment for sleep problems.
Valerian smells kind of nasty, so most people take it as a capsule or tincture, rather than a tea. If you want to try it, take it in the evening—not before you go to work! Valerian is often combined with other sedative herbs such as hops, chamomile, and lemon balm.
Named after the Greek word for "honey bee," lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), has been used at least since the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, and help with sleep. In one study of healthy volunteers, those who took standardized lemon balm extracts (600 mg) were more calm and alert than those who took a placebo.
While it's generally safe, be aware that some studies have found that taking too much can actually make you more anxious. So follow directions and start with the smallest dose. Lemon balm is sold as a tea, capsule, and tincture. It's often combined with other calming herbs such as hops, chamomile, and valerian.
Exercise is safe, good for the brain, and a powerful antidote to depression and anxiety, both immediately and in the long term. "If you exercise on a regular basis, you'll have more self-esteem and feel healthier," says Dr. Drew Ramsey, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University.
"One of the major causes of anxiety is worrying about illness and health, and that dissipates when you are fit."
The 21-minute cure
Twenty-one minutes: That's about how long it takes for exercise to reliably reduce anxiety, studies show, give or take a minute. "If you're really anxious and you hop on a treadmill, you will feel more calm after the workout," Ramsey says.
"I generally ask my patients to spend 20 to 30 minutes in an activity that gets their heart rate up, whether it's a treadmill or elliptical or stair stepping—anything you like. If you rowed in college, get back to rowing. If you don't exercise, start taking brisk walks."
In spite of the name, this herb won't help you in love. It's a sedative; the German government has approved it for nervous restlessness. Some studies find that it can reduce symptoms of anxiety as effectively as prescription drugs. It's often used for insomnia.
Like other sedatives, it can cause sleepiness and drowsiness, so don't take it—or valerian, hops, kava, lemon balm, or other sedative herbs—when you are also taking a prescription sedative.
Be careful about using more than one sedative herb at a time, and don't take passionflower for longer than one month at a time.
The intoxicating (but safe) aroma of lavender (Lavandula hybrida) may be an "emotional" anti-inflammatory. In one study, Greek dental patients were less anxious if the waiting room was scented with lavender oil. In a Florida study, students who inhaled lavender oil scent before an exam has less anxiety—although some students said it made their minds "fuzzy" during the test.
In one German study, a specially formulated lavender pill (not available in the U.S.) was shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as effectively as lorazepam (brand name: Ativan), an anti-anxiety medication in the same class as Valium.
Hold your breath!
Ok, let it out now. We're not recommending that you turn blue, but yoga breathing has been shown to be effective in lowering stress and anxiety. In his bestselling 2011 book Spontaneous Happiness, Dr. Andrew Weil introduced a classic yoga breathing technique he calls the 4-7-8 breath.
One reason it works is that you can't breathe deeply and be anxious at the same time. To do the 4-7-8 breath, exhale completely through your mouth, then inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Now let it out slowly through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat at least twice a day.
Eat something, quick
"Almost universally, people get more anxious and irritable when they are hungry," says Ramsey, coauthor of The Happiness Diet. "When you get an anxiety attack, it may mean your blood sugar is dropping. The best thing to do is to have a quick sustaining snack, like a handful of walnuts, or a piece of dark chocolate, along with a glass of water or a nice cup of hot tea."
In the long term, diet is key to reducing anxiety, says Ramsey. His advice: Eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet with carefully selected meat and seafood, plenty of leafy greens (such as kale) to get folate, and a wide variety of phytonutrients to help reduce anxiety.
Stop starving yourself, advises Ramsey. "Many people with anxiety disorders skip breakfast. I recommend that people eat things like eggs, which are a satiating and filling protein, and are nature's top source of choline. Low levels of choline are associated with increased anxiety."
You know fish oils are good for the heart, and perhaps they protect against depression. Add anxiety to the list. In one study, students who took 2.5 milligrams a day of mixed omega-3 fatty acids for 12 weeks had less anxiety before an exam than students taking placebo.
Experts generally recommend that you get your omega-3s from food whenever possible. Oily, cold-water fishes like salmon are the best sources of the fatty acids; a six-ounce piece of grilled wild salmon contains about 3.75 grams.
Other good choices: anchovies, sardines, and mussels.
When you're attacked by anxiety, it's easy to get into a mind set known as "catastrophic thinking" or "catastrophizing." Your mind goes to the bad terrible really horrible just unbearable things and what if they really do happen? "You think, ‘This could really ruin my life,'" says Ramsey.
Instead, take a few deep breaths, walk around the block, and consider the real probability that this problem will really spin out into catastrophe. How likely is it that you'll lose your job, never talk to your sister again, go bankrupt?
Chances are a catastrophic outcome is a lot less likely than you think when you're consumed with anxiety. "Very few events really change the trajectory of your life," says Ramsey.
Ever wonder why you feel so relaxed after a spell in the sauna or a steam room? Heating up your body reduces muscle tension and anxiety, research finds. Sensations of warmth may alter neural circuits that control mood, including those that affect the neurotransmitter serotonin. Warming up may be one of the ways that exercise—not to mention curling up by a fire with a cozy cup of tea—boosts mood.
As one group of researchers put it, "Whether lying on the beach in the midday sun on a Caribbean island, grabbing a few minutes in the sauna or spa after work, or sitting in a hot bath or Jacuzzi in the evening, we often associate feeling warm with a sense of relaxation and well-being."
Take a 'forest bath'
The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, literally "forest bath." You and I know it as a walk in the woods. Japanese researchers measured body changes in people who walked for about 20 minutes in a beautiful forest, with the woodsy smells and the sounds of a running stream.
The forest bathers had lower stress hormone levels after their walk than they did after a comparable walk in an urban area.
Learn mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation, originally a Buddhist practice but now a mainstream therapy, is particularly effective in treating anxiety, says Teresa M. Edenfield, a clinical psychologist in the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Durham, N.C., who often uses it to treat anxiety patients. "The act of practicing mindful awareness allows one to experience the true essence of each moment as it really occurs, rather than what is expected or feared," she says.
How to begin? You can start by simply "paying attention to the present moment, intentionally, with curiosity, and with an effort to attend non-judgmentally," Edenfield says.
Breath and question
To stay mindful, ask yourself simple questions while practicing breathing exercises, Edenfield suggests. "Sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and focus on how your breath feels coming in and out of your body. Now ask yourself silent questions while focusing on the breath."
What is the temperature of the air as it enters your nose? How does your breath feel different as it leaves your body? How does the air feel as it fills your lungs?
Give yourself credit
Are you having anxious thoughts? Congratulations. You're aware of your emotional state, and that awareness is the first step in reducing anxiety, says Edenfield.
"Remember to give yourself credit for being aware that you are having anxious thoughts, and probably body changes. This is truly a skill of mindfulness that must be learned, and is essential in making the next steps of intervening through strategies such as positive self-talk, cognitive reframing, or the use of mindfulness or relaxation strategies."
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