Samantha Grant, MD – PGY-1 Family Medicine Resident
I Walked into the Exam Room…
I walked into the exam room to see my patient who presented with the complaint of difficulty sleeping. After asking some questions, I discovered that her mood was persistently low, she barely had the energy to manage her tasks at work and home, found herself crying a lot, and admitted that at times she had thoughts of taking her own life. This is a classic presentation of depression. I spoke with her and gave her the diagnosis of major depressive disorder. She agreed to a trial of antidepressant medication and to begin counseling. After getting the help she needed, I could see her smiling once again at her one-month check-up. She was feeling much better and was determined to keep up with her treatment.
Can You Relate to This Patient?
Have you been feeling lonely, down, or lost motivation? You may also find yourself avoiding other people or feeling stuck in a low mood. Though the hallmark symptoms of depression are emotional, you might have physical symptoms too, like nausea, weight changes, body aches, or sleep issues. Clinical depression could be the result of your genetics and/or how you are viewing/processing your life’s circumstances. Depression can be so bad that sometimes individuals think there is no hope, no reason to go on living and that the best solution is to end it all. Depression is very serious if it gets to this point. Do not give up. Help is available. Things can get better with the right help, as they did for my clinic patient.
Is it Anxiety and Depression?
Aside from feelings of depression, have you been feeling uneasy or worried? Anxiety and depression may co-exist. You could be experiencing feelings of anxiety, which can manifest as palpitations, fast breathing, headaches, or trouble sleeping. Sometimes anxiety can be crippling and it may not be easy to get rid of the feelings of impending doom. Like depression, anxiety can be managed with medication, counseling, and relaxation activities, especially if it becomes persistent with phobias or panic attacks.
It’s Been a Tough Year
There may be triggers in your life that are causing anxiety or depression. At the start of 2021, we have encountered many challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, political strife, racial injustice, and the list goes on. When navigating all of these feelings, it may seem like there is no way out. You may be comforted to know you are not alone. Worldwide, we are in a mental health crisis that has been on the rise over the past couple of decades. However, there are many ways that you can help yourself aside from medication and counseling.
Not every coping strategy works for everyone, but you should look at your daily activities and see what is possible to control. One aspect is your diet. The food you eat is connected with your energy level, focus, and mood. Some foods that could help are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, chicken, and seafood. The recent holiday season may have surrounded you with comforting and irresistible foods, like chocolates or cookies. These foods may increase anxiety and actually have negative effects on one’s moods.
Our level of physical activity also has a great impact on our mood. Individuals tend to decrease their physical activity during the winter months and this can lead to depression and anxiety. Don’t let the early sunset and cold weather of winter keep you from doing physical activity. Pick something that you enjoy. It could be dancing to your favorite song, lifting weights, or yoga, just to name a few.
Another way to help you to cope is by practicing mindfulness, which means that you focus on your breathing and being aware of how you are feeling. Clearing your mind of your worries can allow you to concentrate on thoughts of gratitude to feel calm. Think in “fours.” Slowly take a deep breath in, hold your breath and slowly exhale, while counting to four in each segment. This breathing technique can lead up to doing meditation exercises, where you think upon good and helpful thoughts. Regular meditation has been clinically shown to help maintain calm during times of anxiety.
Other options that may help are taking time to stay connected with family/friends, doing activities you enjoy, and getting enough sleep. If you feel severe depression/anxiety that will not go away, there is good help available. Reach out to your primary care physician to seek medical evaluation. More seriously, if you are having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free and confidential help. Available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or chat online: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
I hope that this article was helpful. Things may be tough right now. You may be feeling worried or stressed, but you can get better. Make 2021 a great year by starting it off by focusing on your mental health.
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