by stresswinner on March 6, 2010

“Our strength grows out of our weakness.” (Emerson)
If life is dominated by worry, anxiety,  sadness and exhaustion, and if pleasure, fun, laughter and hope are just a memory, the problem is much more than just ‘stress’.  Causes of really severe symptoms include: major depression,  panic attacks, various phobias, obsessions, compulsions, post-traumatic stress – or a combination of such ‘mood disorders’.
These conditions cause significant disability and unhappiness for both sufferers and families, but the good news is that there is very effective treatment. After accurate diagnosis, which may require assessment by a psychiatrist or psychologist, management should include:
*  Medication.  Because the symptoms have a physical basis, antidepressant, anti-anxiety and mood stabilizing drugs are the mainstay of initial treatment and are sometimes needed indefinitely.
*  Therapy – and personal development make us stronger and more equal to the stresses of life and may reduce the need for medications. Cognitive-behavioural therapy is very effective. It challenges negative, inaccurate thoughts such as “I’m worthless”,  Everything is against me” and changes them to more accurate ones: “I have many abilities” and  “Some things are against me”. Distorted thinking creates a nasty cycle of sadness, negativity and hopelessness whereas describing situations accurately enables us to take positive action.  Therapy helps you learn to relax, to worry effectively, to find solutions to problems and learn skills such as relaxation and effective communication. If you’ve been abused or hurt badly, simply telling your story to a skilled therapist can produce dramatic results.  Buried, unexpressed emotions such as anger or guilt may create much anxiety and depression,  and low self-esteem makes it hard to feel competent and strong.
* Attitudes. To  reduce excessive anxiety and depression, select mental attitudes such as : Optimism – looking for the positive aspects of  situations; Flexibility – the willingness to change; Altruism – because doing good deeds improves mood and health; Humour – laughter is the best antidepressant, so find the funny side of all situations and regularly smile and laugh – even if you don’t feel like it! Forgiveness of those who have hurt you lightens your load.
* Taking action.  A life filled with meaning and purposeful activity  leaves less room for crippling depression or anxiety.   Becoming more spiritual – finding support from some kind of ‘higher power’ reduces anxiety and improves confidence.  Nurture an intimate relationship – people in love are usually happy! Mood disorders may reduce sexual desire, but simply kissing  and cuddling is therapy in itself.
Exercise lightens depression, reduces anger and anxiety and improves self esteem.  Run about and tidy the house or get outside, in touch with nature – and feel your mood improve.  A hot bath with aromatic oils and soothing music relaxes, but playing an instrument (no matter how badly!) or joining a choir is even better!
*  Other Therapies with evidence of effectiveness include: some herbal medicines, acupuncture, meditation and hypnosis, Tai Chi and martial arts, aromatherapy, light therapy, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation and newer electronic nerve stimulation technologies.  Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) remains the best treatment for overwhelming depression.
Mood disorders are very real, very serious chronic medical problems. Learn all you can about your condition, never  judge yourself as weak or  ‘inferior’ for having it  – and never give up hope!  Deep depression or crippling anxiety can make life unbearable – but in working to overcome them we open the door to eventual inner peace and lasting happiness.

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