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The symptoms of depression vary from person to person, but if you feel “down” for more than two weeks, and these feelings are interfering with your daily life, you may be moderately to severely depressed and need to seek help. Treating depression is especially important because it affects you, your family, and your work. Some people with depression have the mistaken belief that how they are feeling will never change. Depression is quite treatable. Change will not come overnight — but with the right help, you can keep depression from overshadowing your life.
The National Institute of Mental Health does recommend that people who experience five or more of these symptoms seek professional help:
- Persistent sad, anxious mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex.
- Decreased energy, fatigue.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions.
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
- Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain.
- Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
Several distinct psychological diagnoses are related to depression. Most people have heard of the more serious conditions, like major depression and bipolar disorder (“manic-depression”). More common, however, are a group of mood disorders that cause similar but perhaps less severe symptoms.
- Talk to a psychologist about your symptoms and concerns.
- Get out of the house and be more active. Take a walk, exercise, and go to the library or a movie, even if you have to do this alone. Consider visiting the following locations and activities: 33 Uplifting Activities To Do in Pennsylvania-Bucks, Montgomery Counties and Philadelphia Area.
- There are loads of activities listed online. Check the calendar of events for where you are located. This can put you in touch with other people who could become friends.
- Spend time with people you like. Call an old friend you have not spoken to in a while.
- Helping someone else is remarkably effective. Volunteer at your local hospital; visit an elderly person; baby-sit for a busy overworked mother; help at a church or synagogue.
- Begin a journal and write down what is upsetting you. Externalizing your problems helps. By using a different part of your brain, you will be making more use of your mental resources.
- Buy a book of positive daily affirmations and read some each day. Make up some of your own. Examples: “I am a worthwhile person, Today, I am finding new ways to enjoy the holidays.”
- Give yourself permission to let go of your unhappiness despite how imperfect things are right now.
- Remember that you are not the only one who feels alone and left out. Seek out kindred souls at a support group, e.g., one for single parents.
- Make a list of all that is right in your life now. Literally, count your blessings. You will not be able to do this and feel self-pity at the same time.
- Avoid excessive drinking which may make you feel more depressed.
- To avoid feeling overly stressed do not try to do more than your share alone. Ask others for help.
- The blues can be overcome by doing much of what you may not feel like doing in a downcast mood.
- Consider writing in a journal to express pain, anger, fear, or other emotions.
- Do not become isolated. Try to participate in normal activities and get together with family or friends regularly.
- Take care of yourself by eating a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep.
- Learn relaxation and stress management. Try such stress reduction techniques as meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
- Structure your time. Plan your day and activities. Try to stay organized. You may find it helpful to make a list of daily tasks.
- Do not make important decisions when you’re in the depths of depression, since you may not be thinking clearly.
- Seasonal affective disorder, stress reactions, and low mood are some examples. Many patients are surprised to hear that anxiety and panic are closely related to depression. It turns out that the underlying biological changes and the initial treatment of most of these depression-related diagnoses are quite similar.
- Sadness. Simply feeling down, sad, or “blue” is a big clue. Crying frequently or easily is another symptom. I sometimes have clients who initially state that they are not sad, but what they are really saying is that they have no reason to feel sad — that they are indeed feeling down but not because of any specific cause. Depressed people typically just feel sad, without knowing why. And the other side of the coin is particularly important as well: You don’t have to feel sad to have depression.
- Other mood changes. Anxiety, panic, guilt, hopelessness, and a low sense of self-worth are all common symptoms of depression.
- Fatigue or low energy. This may be closely related to sleep disturbance, but some depressed patients feel groggy or tired even after a full night’s sleep and often feel the need to take one or more naps during the day. A milder version of this is simply feeling dragged out and having less energy than usual.
- Poor motivation. Lack of interest and/or participation in social activities is commonly seen in depressed patients. Others will have good intentions of getting things accomplished but find it hard or impossible to get started or to complete some or all tasks.
- “Brain fog.” Depression can slow mental functioning. Common symptoms include forgetfulness, clouded thinking, poor concentration, difficulty performing simple calculations, and trouble making decisions.
- Psychomotor retardation (or its opposite, activation). People with depression often speak and move more slowly and are slower than usual to respond to conversation or other stimuli. They also may have a flat affect, meaning their facial and emotional expressions are markedly reduced and they speak in a monotonous voice. On the other hand, some depressed patients become agitated and have trouble sitting still or relaxing.
- Thoughts about death. Obviously, thinking about suicide — and especially having a plan to commit suicide — is a warning sign of serious depression. A less severe but more common (and still worrisome) related symptom is having a passive death wish. Patients with passive death wish have no plan or intent to harm themselves; they just feel that things would be better if they were dead or had never been born.
- Somatization. Depression tends to make everything worse, and can even cause physical pain, dizziness, and a variety of other abnormalities in just about any part of the body. Somatization is when a person unconsciously expresses psychologic distress in the form of real and significant physical symptoms — so when a patient has symptoms that remain totally unexplained even after a thorough medical evaluation, a diagnosis of depression is worth considering.
- The simple explanation of somatization is that depression involves poorly understood changes in brain chemistry, and those changes sometimes result in exaggerating the degree of pain, or even in creating a sensation of bodily dysfunction when in fact nothing is medically wrong with that body part.
For more support read my published article Dealing With Holiday Blues.
I’d like to help. Call or e-mail me today for a no-obligation phone consultation to see if my services are right for you.