Tag Archives: depression

Give Depression the Bird

depression photo

Help break the stigma surrounding depression by taking this anonymous survey: CLICK HERE

For results of the survey: CLICK HERE

Give Depression the Bird

Let’s get one thing straight. Depression is real. It is not something to be trivialized, snapped out of, or sucked up. In fact, trying to do this often makes it worse. I know, because I’ve been there. I would have loved to have been able to give myself a shake and a rueful smile and reset my mind. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just instantly be happy? Like those heat packs you snap, shake and they heat up? Super cool. And totally ridiculous.

Depression appears in many ways, shapes and forms, and no two people get it exactly the same. Not only does this make it hard to treat, it makes it hard for people to understand. It can’t be put in a box like other illnesses and diseases. There are symptoms, but responses to those symptoms vary. It isn’t a disease, so medication doesn’t work as well as we wished it would, although it does work well for a lot of people.

Not only is depression very real, but it is incredibly misunderstood, and surrounded by an almost palpable stigma. People who have depression are labelled. Crazy, lazy, not trying hard enough, weak. It doesn’t matter if the people wielding these words are trying to help or not, they are all labels, and they are stopping people reaching out for the help they need.

The very way we think about, and react to depression needs to change. And it needs to change fast!

When you think of depression what picture springs to mind? I see a girl curled into a foetal position in a darkened room, sobbing. And this picture is what I thought people with depression did all the time. I was so incredibly wrong.

Last year my husband gave me an ultimatum. Be happier or go and talk to someone. And by someone he meant one of those freaky head shrinking people…

I know that sounds harsh, but he was trying to make me see what he did. You see, up until that point I was convinced I was fine. Tired, but fine. I wasn’t crazy. And I couldn’t have depression! Everything I knew about depression said you had to be constantly sad, crying on the sofa, or suicidal, and I was none of those things. Oh I cried a lot, but more often I was irritable and cranky. (Did you know that was a sign of depression? Me neither)! So the couple of times ‘depression’ crossed my mind I quickly dismissed it.

Was I tired? Absolutely! Sad? Frequently. Did I feel like I wasn’t achieving much even when to others I was doing incredibly well? Only every day. But I wasn’t depressed! Heck no. Depression was for weak people. For people who had suffered massive loss or pain in their lives. For people with a rough childhood, or adulthood. I hadn’t had any of that. I grew up in a loving family. I have an amazing husband and a healthy, happy (albeit very stubborn) child, and I have had a relatively pain free life. And yet the more I looked at it, the more I realised the truth.

I was depressed. And I had been for quite a long time.

During a discussion (on why I couldn’t possibly have depression), my husband told me I seemed to be sad from the minute I woke up, till the minute I went to bed. It took me a while to process that. I couldn’t imagine what living with that must have been like. And that was the moment. Right there. That was the moment I decided I was going to be happy. Whatever it took.

I started researching depression, and working out what made me tick. I found ways to head my bouts of sadness off at the pass, to make sure I focused on my responses to different situations, and how I could react to them differently, and I used any hacks I could to make sure each day I was choosing happiness over sadness.

Scientists have proven that just like paths in a forest, the pathways of the mind can be worn in, the more traffic they get. And when sadness has been your companion for a long time, then those paths of sadness are the well-worn ones. They are straight and wide, and you are comfortable there in an odd way, because it’s familiar. The happiness pathways by contrast, are like little deer tracks. Narrow, precarious, and easy to fall off.

The biggest key to battling depression is to make sure the path that’s getting the most traffic, is happiness. Ever heard the expression ‘fake it till you make it’? Well, that’s how I started. When I woke up, and whenever I thought about it during the day, I smiled. It wasn’t a true smile. I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t want to smile, but smile I did.

Some days I even pushed my mouth upwards with my fingers, all the while wanting to cry. I must have looked as crazy as I felt. But you know what? It got easier. I got better at it. And I started feeling happier.

Your body is a pretty amazing thing. Did you know that every time you smile your brain releases feel good neurotransmitters – dopamine, endorphins and serotonin? Endorphins act as a natural pain reliever, serotonin release brought on by your smile serves as an anti-depressant, and smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress.

Smiling literally makes us happier.

Smiling is one of the most well-known, and easiest to implement, of many ‘happiness hacks’ out there. My books ‘Finding Happy’, ‘Choosing Happy’, and ‘Keeping Happy’, due out mid-2017, will focus on discovering many other hacks, and implementing them in your life. Some are great for people with clinical depression, others are better for people who struggle with sadness, but all the books will be available for free on kindle when they are first published.

I was lucky. Thanks to my amazing husband I was forced to face my sadness before it became the crushing force that so many people have in their lives. I still had the energy (most days), to work on myself, and to focus on choosing better ways. Many people don’t. And this is where medication helps. Because when you can’t move off your bed, can’t shake the feeling of despair and overwhelming sadness, and you think about death far more often than you should, choosing to be happy is just not an option.

Medication provides your mind with enough space to see those fraudulent thoughts for what they are- thoughts not facts, and to look at options to help you heal. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not without its side effects, but it does provide relief from the worst symptoms of depression.

Medication is not the only thing you can try either. There are the talking therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which is a type of psychology that helps people change unhelpful or unhealthy habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. It is practical and involves self-help strategies. And research suggests that if you do 13 or more sessions it can work just as well as medication for some people. You can even do CBT at home.

Even things like routines and goal setting, eating healthily with lots of omega 3 fatty acids, getting enough sleep, walking in nature, and challenging negative thoughts can help with depression. Exercise (yes the dreaded E word), can even have similar effects on the brain as anti-depressants.

There are so many options out there for anyone suffering from depression or sadness, that sometimes I think just diagnosing depression is the hard part. It certainly took me long enough (5 years I suspect..) and even then it was only my husband intervening that really pushed me to see it- and fight it.

These are some of the main symptoms of depression. How many did you know? Some people get a few, some get them all. Everyone is different. But they are certainly not as cut and dried as I used to think.

• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
• Fatigue and decreased energy
• Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
• Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
• Irritability, restlessness
• Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
• Overeating or appetite loss
• Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
• Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, or self-harm
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions

Beyond Blue says ‘you may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, you’ve felt sad, down or miserable most of the time, or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities, and have also experienced several of the signs and symptoms listed (on their page).

Depression symptoms can also be caused by conditions such as thyroid disease, vitamin D deficiency, and other medical problems. Make sure your doctor does full blood tests to rule these and many other things, out first.

Recognising I had depression was a turning point in my life. I’m smiling as I write this, and I can see the myriad ways in which I’ve changed over the past year. I choose to laugh when my daughter does something silly instead of scold. I’ve learnt ways to make myself happy on a daily basis-before the sadness and apathy take hold, and I’ve learnt how to block that annoying voice in my head that wishes me anything but the peace and happiness I so desire.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days where I have to remind myself to smile. Where I chant my mantra like an actual crazy person to stop my mind turning over conversations that haven’t happened, and futures that will never be. I still have to think about my reactions, swallow my retorts, and examine my thoughts, to see if I can choose a happier path, but it is getting easier and I am getting better at it all the time.

Because I refuse to live my life in sadness. I refuse to let something as intangible as depression steal my laughter, my dreams and my love of life, and turn them into endless days of melancholy.

I choose to be happy!

And I desperately want you to choose happiness too.

I know life sucks sometimes. There are usually patches where it sucks a lot! But when you’ve had depression or even been ‘down’ for an extended period of time, I think we forget how to focus on, and choose those things that make us happy. We forget to try. Because being happy doesn’t necessarily come naturally, and as spontaneously as people make out. You have to strive for it, search for it, and grab it with both hands when you find it.

But you don’t have to do it alone. If 350 million people worldwide (almost 5% of the worlds population), suffer from depression, how many of those around you do you think may also be silently struggling?

Please, if you, or someone you know is struggling with depression, reach out and talk to someone. There is help out there. And for every person who says #ihavedepression another person will find the strength to seek help. And slowly but surely depression will become just another cold to be cured.

And that’s why I’m writing this post. Even though I’m scared of what people will think. Even though it’s taken me a month to hit publish. Even though I don’t want to be labelled. More than anything, I want to give people the courage to choose happiness for themselves. Someone did it for me, and I hope you can do it for someone you know.

I would love to hear your thoughts on depression (whether you have it or not), as part of research for my upcoming books. Please complete the anonymous survey, and then share it on your Facebook or Twitter page, to help raise awareness, give depression the bird, and #endstigma for good.

If you don’t feel you can talk to friends or family, there are some wonderful organisations who can help – even if you want to remain anonymous. The sites below will give you information on depression, hotlines to ring to speak to people who know what you’re going through, therapist directories, and self-help activities you can do at home.

Hold onto hope. You are not alone, and you can beat this!

This is a guest post written by Heidi Farrelly. You can find out more about her here: Heidi Farrelly

Is my thinking normal?

 

person thinking photo

Is my thinking normal?

This is a question we all ask ourselves at times. I know I have had moments where I have questioned my sanity and wondered if I have completely lost the plot. This is usually as a result of some overwhelming emotional experience. I find when emotions are involved, my thoughts tend to be far less rational.

If you would like to test out your thoughts, try the Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale:

This questionnaire lists different attitudes or beliefs which people sometimes hold. Read each statement carefully and decide how much you agree or disagree with the statement. For each of the attitudes, indicate to the left of the item the number that best describes how you think. Be sure to choose only one answer for each attitude. Because people are different, there is no right answer or wrong answer to these statements.

To decide whether a given attitude is typical of your way of looking at things, simply keep in mind what you are like most of the time.

1 = Totally agree 2 = Agree very much 3 = Agree slightly 4 = Neutral 5 = Disagree slightly 6 = Disagree very much 7 = Totally disagree _____

1. It is difficult to be happy unless one is good looking, intelligent, rich, and creative. _____

2. Happiness is more a matter of my attitude towards myself than the way other people feel about me. _____

3. People will probably think less of me if I make a mistake. _____

4. If I do not do well all the time, people will not respect me. _____

5. Taking even a small risk is foolish because the loss is likely to be a disaster. _____

6. It is possible to gain another person’s respect without being especially talented at anything. _____

7. I cannot be happy unless most people I know admire me. _____

8. If a person asks for help, it is a sign of weakness. _____

9. If I do not do as well as other people, it means I am a weak person. _____

10. If I fail at my work, then I am a failure as a person. _____

11. If you cannot do something well, there is little point in doing it at all. _____

12. Making mistakes is fine because I can learn from them. _____

13. If someone disagrees with me, it probably indicates he does not like me. _____

14. If I fail partly, it is as bad as being a complete failure. _____

15. If other people know what you are really like, they will think less of you. _____

16. I am nothing if a person I love doesn’t love me. _____

17. One can get pleasure from an activity regardless of the end result _____

18. People should have a chance to succeed before doing anything. Revised date (4 October 2006) 56 _____

19. My value as a person depends greatly on what others think of me. _____

20. If I don’t set the highest standards for myself, I am likely to end up a second-rate person. _____

21. If I am to be a worthwhile person, I must be the best in at least one way. _____

22. People who have good ideas are better than those who do not. _____

23. I should be upset if I make a mistake. _____

24. My own opinions of myself are more important than others’ opinions of me. _____

25. To be a good, moral, worthwhile person I must help everyone who needs it. _____

26. If I ask a question, it makes me look stupid. _____

27. It is awful to be put down by people important to you. _____

28. If you don’t have other people to lean on, you are going to be sad. _____

29. I can reach important goals without pushing myself. _____

30. It is possible for a person to be scolded and not get upset. _____

31. I cannot trust other people because they might be cruel to me. _____

32. If others dislike you, you cannot be happy. _____

33. It is best to give up your own interests in order to please other people. _____

34. My happiness depends more on other people than it does on me. _____

35. I do not need the approval of other people in order to be happy. _____

36. If a person avoids problems, the problems tend to go away. _____

37. I can be happy even if I miss out on many of the good things in life. _____

38. What other people think about me is very important. _____

39. Being alone leads to unhappiness. _____

40. I can find happiness without being loved by another person._______

Dysfunctional Attitude Scale (DAS)    Author: Arlene Weissman

The DAS is a 40-item questionnaire that is designed to identify and measure cognitive distortions (irrational thinking), particularly distortions that may relate to or cause depression.

The items contained on the DAS are based on Beck’s cognitive therapy model and present 7 major value systems: Approval, Love, Achievement, Perfectionism, Entitlement, Omnipotence, and Autonomy.

Scoring: Any items that are missing, assign a zero. To obtain the overall score, simply add the score on all items (ranging from 1 to 7). When no items are omitted, scores on the DAS range from 40 to 280. Lower scores represent more adaptive beliefs and fewer cognitive distortions.

The higher your score, the more likely it is that your thinking is working against you and creating anxiety and depression. Be more aware of your thoughts and get into the habit of challenging their validity. Not every thought we think is true or is valid.

Mandy X

 

 

 

Dealing with intrusive thoughts

 

intrusive thoughts

Dealing with intrusive thoughts

We all have ‘noise’ going on in our minds. Odd thoughts pop into our minds that surprise us but usually we never act on them. Many of my clients don’t realise that intrusive thoughts happen to all of us. The trick is to realise that thoughts will always keep coming. Learning to filter your thoughts and not pay each thought equal attention is the key to a more contented life. When we focus on the negative thoughts, it can often lead to anxiety and/or depression.

Optimists are very good at buffering themselves from their negative thinking, they are just somehow good at placing less importance on negative self critical thoughts and spend more mental energy on the positive hopeful thoughts.

Imagine that you are a bus driver and you need to drive your bus from A to Destination B. On your bus you have a few intrusive difficult passengers who keep yelling, “What if we get lost?”; “You can’t drive a bus, you’re pathetic!”; “What if we get a flat tyre?”; “What if we have an accident?” or “You’ll never be able to do it”.

What would happen if you listened to these passengers? It would certainly make the task a lot harder and would probably distract you or lead you to avoiding driving the bus altogether.

Our intrusive thoughts are like these passengers on the bus – they can be ignored. If we pay attention to them they distract us and affect our confidence and our behaviour. Learning to focus our attention only on thoughts that are helpful is a skill that takes practise but we are all capable of doing it.

At times, we have to distract ourselves completely in order to stop the thoughts. One clever technique is to practise mindfulness which means being fully present in the moment. To help bring you back to the present moment rather than engaging with mad thoughts in our minds – try this technique:

  1. Look for 5 things you can see around you
  2. Listen our for 4 things you can hear
  3. Three things you can touch
  4. Two things you can smell
  5. One thing you can taste

It’s possible that not all the above will be possible depending on where you are, but engaging as many of your senses as you can leaves your brain with less space for mindless thoughts.

Thoughts are not facts – they are just part of how your brain works. Learn to ignore the thoughts that are unhelpful. Look for evidence of your thinking to ensure you are not assuming or mind reading (imagining you know what other’s are thinking), overgeneralising, catastrophising (thinking about the worse possible scenario) or personalising (eg. assuming someone isn’t talking to you because of something you have done – it could be that they slept badly or have a worry completely unrelated to you that has made them seem unfriendly). All of the above examples are not evidence based yet cause us stress.

Learn to be discerning with your thoughts – many of them are just complete nonsense!

Mandy X

 

How to manage negative thoughts

negative thinking photoPhoto by martinak15

 

How to manage negative thoughts

We have somewhere between 40 000 and 60 000 thoughts every day so it pays to be selective about the thoughts you decide to focus on.  In general, I have found that most of my clients tend to worry more when they have spare time. Rumination is the tendency to over think things without finding a solution. It is wasted energy and only serves as mental torture.

The best way to deal with negative thoughts is to remind yourself that thoughts are NOT facts. They are merely a representation of reality and are formed according to your existing ‘filters’ and experiences. This means they can often be distorted and unhelpful – creating anxiety and distress unnecessarily. Have you ever worried about something only to find out that you had made assumptions and all your worry was for nothing? Remember that there is ALWAYS another way to look at an event. Watch what you tell yourself and how you interpret things.

Thoughts affect emotions which in turn affect how we behave. THINK – FEEL – BEHAVE. This is the bottom line of cognitive behavioural therapy. Watch your thinking, challenge your negative thinking and immediately improve your quality of life.

We can all ‘catastrophise’ initially and think the worst. For example, I have had days when I have eaten junk all day and then had the thought “I am never going to be healthy, I may as well just give up”. This thought led me to feeling pretty low and annoyed at myself. I could also choose to think “I may have been undisciplined today but tomorrow I can start again”. The same event and two different thoughts which will in turn lead to two different emotions….the first negative thought will lead to negative emotions whereas the second thought will lead me to feeling more hopeful and optimistic. Watch what you feed yourself – I call it my ‘mental diet’ and I constantly work at talking to myself in an empowering way.

Ask yourself what you might tell a friend to help you think up another way to look at something.

Remind yourself that “this too shall pass”. One good thing about life is that there will always be change and although change isn’t always welcome, at times it can really be a good thing.

Accept that negative and intrusive thoughts are part of life. They will keep coming but you can train yourself to let the thoughts pass without really giving them attention. Distract yourself if necessary…another thought will soon be coming along.

Learn to choose the thoughts that work for you and empower you. You can choose your thoughts and beliefs.

Don’t compare yourself to others as you never truly know what is going on, Instead focus on yourself, your strengths and your goals.

If you find it really hard not to worry, schedule yourself some ‘worry time’, say half an hour in the evening and then don’t allow yourself to worry until then. Make sure that when worry time comes around, you do your best to be resolution focused rather than allowing your scary thoughts to ‘bully’ and scare you. Fear paralyses us and often there is no need for the fear in the first place.

Think of these three options: Change, accept or let go.

Decide on a plan of action and do it. Try not to allow thought to just keep running through your mind over and over. The more you worry, the more you lose time to be content and at peace.

Keeping negative thinking in check takes practise and the job will never be perfect but I work at it every day and I have definitely improved my happiness levels and ability to cope over time…a work in progress and you can do it too.

Mandy X

 

Depression in teenagers

 

depressed teen

Depression in teenagers

Depression in teenagers is a growing problem. Teenagers face increasing pressure to achieve, perform and cope with a variety of stressors. There is academic pressure to achieve against an extremely competitive backdrop. Teenagers are also going through huge developmental and hormonal changes that can lead to insecurity, low self esteem and extreme self consciousness. Social anxiety in teenagers is on the rise and bullying can now follow teenagers into the previously relied-upon sanctity of the home. Nowhere seems safe anymore.

Symptoms of depression in teenagers

Lack of enthusiasm and/or motivation

Social withdrawal

Decreased pleasure in activities or hobbies they used to enjoy

Changes in appetite (eating more or less)

Changes in sleep patterns

Irritability or anger

Restlessness

Poor school performance

Is it depression or ‘usual’ growing pains?

Teenagers all go through tricky phases, such is life for all of us but when symptoms persist for a few months, it may be time to delve deeper.

What to do:

Don’t ignore the problem. Gently talk to your teenager and try to find out how they are feeling. It’s is also important to establish whether they have ever thought about suicide.Try not to lecture or judge, rather listen and encourage – be supportive even when at times this can be hard. As parents, we all have expectations of our children and when they fail to manifest, we can become irritated at their perceived lack of drive.

Encourage socialisation. Withdrawal and hiding away only adds to depression. Being involved in activities and getting out of the house, even for a brief walk can have a positive effect on mood and behaviour.

Seek professional help if your teenager seems unable to help themselves get out of their funk. CBT can be useful and this can also be supplemented with antidepressants after a careful assessment by a doctor.

There is always hope and with the right input, all teenagers have the capacity to improve.

Mandy X

Helpline:  The Samaritans:  CALL  116 123 (UK)

http://www.samaritans.org/

I want to die

 

suicid

I want to die

Thankfully I don’t hear the words “I want to die” often but they are very worrying words when they are uttered. Those that think people who commit suicide are selfish don’t truly understand the torment and anguish of those who feel so hopeless that suicide seems to be the only way out.

When someone is suicidal, they aren’t thinking clearly. Emotions are extremely powerful and can reduce a logical rational person to a complete wreck. Emotions tend to win the argument every time. Ever reacted to something strongly, only to feel embarrassed a while later once you have calmed down? That’s your emotions taking control. Ever been in love and made a fool of yourself trying to win back an old flame? Yep – emotions yet again.

Suicidal people are so overwhelmed by negative emotions that are so unbearable that all they can think about is getting rid of the pain. There is no room for logical sane thinking in this process.

When someone says they want to die, take it seriously, even if it is a cry for attention, either way the victim is crying out for help.

Mandy X

 

Managing Type A behaviour

 

calm person

Woman with eyes closed sitting in meadow.

Managing Type A behaviour

10 steps to manage type A behaviour:

Modern society has changed over the last two decades. The pace has increased and so has stress-related illnesses such as coronary heart disease and strokes. We all have different temperaments but for some, life is a constant rush and this can seem normal when in fact it isn’t. The style of behaviour often has its roots in the early childhood whether need to achieve and be successful is instilled from an early age. Type a behaviour is associated with heart disease, allergies stomach ulcers and an exaggerated response of the sympathetic nervous system to stress (fight or flight response) and poor levels of mental health (anxiety and depression). Type A behaviour also seems to be linked with high levels of success in career and financial terms.

1) Slow down

Become more aware of how time focused your lifestyle is and make an effort to slow down. Deliberately eat slower and tried to do one thing at a time. The more present in the moment rather than living your life in your head, worrying about the future. It really is a case of taking the time to “smell the roses”.

2) Take breaks

Built stress free ‘breathing spaces’ into your daily and weekly routine. Use these spaces to focus on relaxation. This could be a five minute period where you carry out a muscle relaxation exercise or breathing exercise (slow deep breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth). You could also use this time to take a walk in the park or read a newspaper. And regular holidays and if possible get away to a different environment.

3) Commit yourself to hobbies

As part of an effort to broaden yourself and reduce obsessional time focused behaviour, it is A good idea to develop activities and hobbies such as sailing, gardening, sewing or walking. Try to engage in uncompetitive trivial activities just. This helps the brain to be more balanced and open to new things.

4) Express feelings

Try to adopt a more positive approach to expressing yourself and how you feel. Take time to think others and show appreciation and get into the habit of identifying the emotions you feel on a daily basis. Our emotions are messages that we need to listen to. Emotions are like our internal compass letting us know whether we are on the right path. Expressing emotions to others helps us to feel connected and brings true contentment, more so than achievement or possessions.

5) Practise listening

Search out somebody who talks slowly and deliberately. Have a slow conversation. Try to hold back from making yourself the centre of attention. Ask yourself ‘do I really have anything important to say?’

6) Forget time

Give yourself breaks where you remove your watch try to lose your sense of time. Break the habit of always being punctual, deliberately miss a few deadlines alternate from meeting five minutes late. This may seem odd advice but working against your usual patterns of behaviour is a good way to mentally reverse ingrained habits. The less time focused and more ‘experience focused’.

7) Manage your hostility

Identify the triggers-keep a diary. It is essential to challenge your rigid thinking. Be especially careful of the words “must, should and ought”. Loosen up those thoughts, use ‘it would be nice if’ instead of ‘should’. Occasionally to say to yourself “it doesn’t matter”. Get into the habits of challenging the thinking that puts you under pressure.

8) Learn to relax

Learn a relaxation technique and try to practice once a day -whether this is some form of meditation or yoga or just practising being in the moment, learning to quieten our minds is a valuable skill.

9) Have a chat

Make a point of chatting or engaging in conversation that has no specific purpose. Slow down and try to be less task orientated. Learn to idle the time away. Try to laugh or make somebody.

10) Understand the reasons

Take time out to assess the cause of your type a behaviour. Did your parents approval depend on how successful or achieving you were as a child? Ask yourself, “what am I trying to prove?” Does your idealism and striving improve or diminish the quality of your life?

Research indicates that, with the right intervention, people can manage their type A behaviour effectively thereby reducing the risks of physical and mental health without impairing their performance.

Mandy X