Are You Worried, Anxious or Depressed?

We live in a fast paced world, seldom taking the time to catch our breath. Add to the general stress of life, a significant event such as losing a loved one, getting fired from a job, going through a divorce, or another difficult situation, and you have a recipe for emotional overload.

Emotional overload keeps us in a continual state of stress and stress can wreak havoc on our system. While it is normal to feel sad, lonely, and/or scared at times, it’s important to pay attention to our feelings and take action when necessary. In more severe cases of depression, medical attention may be warranted.

According to experts, anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health concerns in our society and they often are experienced as a complex set of emotional and functional challenges.

People suffering from anxiety or depression can have very different experiences. Some may have mild symptoms that do not have too much of an impact of their daily life, while others may experience debilitating anxiety attacks or severe depression. And, symptoms may come and go. Just when you think you’re feeling better, wham … you get hit like a truck and knocked down all over again.

I have dealt with and anxiety and depression two times in my adult life. The first was after the birth of my second child, and the second was after my mother and sister died and I got divorced (all occurring within six months).

The first event, an anxiety attack, appeared to come out of nowhere. I was eating a pretzel one night and thought I got a piece stuck in my throat. Unable to clear it, I began to panic and feel like I was choking. From that day on, I developed a fear of swallowing (globus hystericus they call it) and for the next three months was unable to eat. I lived on Ensure and lost 40 pounds. I went from medical doctor to doctor, all wanting to put me on valium for anxiety. As the mother of a newborn and a three-year-old, I refused the medication and set out to heal myself. I learned about the fear-anxiety-fear cycle and decided that I would stop feeding my fear (no pun intended). When I tried to eat and got scared, I said to myself, “ok fear, come and get me”. Then I relaxed into the fear, rather than fight it. Over time, the panic began to subside and I was able to eat more and more. Soon, the fear disappeared and I returned to myself. Instead of feeding the fear, I fed myself.

A few years later, after getting divorced and losing my mother and sister, I experienced overwhelming sadness and was, without question, depressed. I cried every day, sometimes all day. Again, I didn’t seek help because I believed the grief was natural and I didn’t want to be medicated. I knew I was dealing with complex grief and I didn’t want to put a band aid on the situation. I recognized that my feelings were normal due to my life situation and didn’t beat myself up. I chose to work through them and give myself time, rather than mask them. I decided on a more natural approach to healing – I began to journal, meditate, exercise and make healthier lifestyle choices.

Looking back, I should have sought treatment from a mental health professional both times, but I went a different route. With that said, that’s what worked for me, it was a personal choice. If your symptoms are severe and not getting better, it is a good idea to seek professional help.

How does one handle general anxiety?

We all worry too much about every day things. But what constitutes “too much”? Experts say “too much” means having persistent anxious thoughts on most days of the week and the anxiety interferes with daily life. When it interferes with daily life, seek medical care. But, if it is something within your control, you can try making some life changes.

Exercise. Exercise is a natural mood booster because it produces feel-good chemicals in your body. These chemicals are like those in anti-depressants.

Meditate or try yoga to help you relax and reduce stress.

Write or journal. Writing is a wonderful way to express and release your feelings.

Stop feeding your fears. Break the fear-adrenaline-fear cycle.

Change your thoughts. Your thoughts cause the brain to create chemicals. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones and help your brain produce serotonin, dopamine, and other feel-goods.

Eat healthy. Eliminate sugar and processed foods and eat a more plant-based, nutritious diet.

Get a good night’s rest. Experts recommend seven to eight hours per night. Unplug a few hours before going to bed. I love a cup of chamomile tea at night.

Engage with others. Developing a support team is vital to healing. People that have managed anxiety or depression say that help from loved ones played an integral part in their recovery. Listen to family and friends when they tell you something is off. They may see it before you do. Don’t be embarrassed and ask for and/or accept help.

And remember, give yourself time to get better. You can’t pour from an empty cup so be sure to refill yours!

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