Managing Stress, Depression and Anxiety

In this fast-paced, competitive world it seems there are far too few moments to stop and smell the roses. Happiness and peace for many people seem to be a luxury of the past. A 70-year-old grandmother, expected to be enjoying the comforts of life, is instead mostly melancholy. A brilliant high school student develops migraine headaches at the prospect of additional assignments designed to prepare her for the rigors of college life. A normally calm city commuter verbally and physically abuses a fellow traveler when their cars collide on the street. Residents of crowded cities, expanding towns, and once-isolated farmlands long for relief as they try not to succumb to the pressure.

These scenarios are not uncommon occurrences. It may seem as though the circumstances of life are pushing even you to the brink of your sanity. Loneliness, stress, pressure, and guilt are only a few of the factors that can destroy our mental health.

Mind Control

Professors of psychology will often teach that the mind has three parts: id, ego, and superego. The id includes our drives or desires present at birth. The ego is concerned with self-image and our perception of reality. Developing later in our lives is the superego, which deals with moral behavior. Simply put, these areas of the mind are defined by our needs, abilities, and conscience, respectively. Therefore, the degree to which these components function in harmony or in conflict with each other determines well-being or emotional discomfort.

It can be said that the mind is the part of our being that determines how we use our God-given potential for dealing with the human condition. In the Bible the apostle Paul stated, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”. If we compare power with drives or instincts, love with our perceptions of reality, and a sound mind with the conscience, we may conclude that the fear, which God did not give humans originally, resulted from our later disregard of the laws of our basic mental makeup.

Down and Out

Friends can often be heard sharing with each other that they were down in the dumps or blue. This form of depression manifests itself in many ways. Some people experiment with drugs, act out sexually, or participate repeatedly in unusual antisocial pranks. Other people harbor thoughts of going to sleep and never waking up, or they may even make specific suicidal or homicidal attempts. Depression actually has several forms: dysthymia (formerly called depressive neurosis); bipolar, or manic depression; major depression; melancholia; and seasonal affective disorder.

Among religious psychotherapists it is believed that the refusal to forgive others plays a major part in depression. While stress, genetics, and biological imbalances of hormones, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and cortisol, have also been implicated, experts still do not know whether the imbalance causes the illness or the disease causes the imbalance. Fortunately, between 80 and 90 percent of all depressed people respond to treatment. There is hope.

Antidepressant medication is frequently recommended. And when combined with psychotherapy or talk therapy, it produces better results than either does separately. Before treatment is begun, however, a thorough medical evaluation is needed. Diseases of the thyroid gland, brain tumors, and medications are notorious for producing symptoms of depression. A librarian was pressured by her husband to come out of semiretirement so he could start a private business. She became despondent, complained of headaches, and was noticeably forgetful. The evaluation revealed a brain tumor, and she recovered after it was removed.

Not in Your Mind

Although anxiety is common, it is not easy to describe. A partial list of symptoms includes tremors, twitching, sweating, palpitations, chest tightness, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, and hyperventilation. Other experiences, such as hot and cold flashes, diarrhea, low sex drive, fear of going crazy, and feeling unreal, are often too embarrassing to admit. So it is not surprising to discover that many people self-medicate rather than seek professional help. Others suffer quietly.

At present this condition includes generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorders. In the past PTSD has gone undetected among victims of rape and war veterans. These silent sufferers have been extremely slow to share their flashbacks with anyone. They choose to hide the vivid memories of the assaults or the recurring scenes of mangled bodies on the battlefront from everyone.

Theories about the causes of anxiety include physical and environmental triggers, unconscious conflicts arising from situations during childhood and infancy, learned behavior, and biochemical imbalances. As with other emotional conditions, a thorough medical evaluation is necessary prior to starting treatment.

A severely agitated homemaker was referred for psychiatric care because she had become suspicious, homicidal, and lax about her previously fastidious housekeeping. When an abnormality of her thyroid gland was corrected, the unusual behavior disappeared.

The treatment of anxiety disorders includes medication and psychotherapy. Since most anti-anxiety drugs tend to be addictive, extreme care must be exercised in their use. Fortunately, behavior therapy and other nonchemical methods have significantly increased the recovery rate and reduced complications.

Hold On

The struggles to survive in a hostile, unfair, and rapidly changing world threaten all of us irrespective of age, race, color, or creed. Stress, depression, and anxiety assault our peace of mind. But it is encouraging to discover that there is hope. The very symptoms of discomfort may be triggers to remind us to slow down. When temptations assail you, when care, perplexity, and darkness seem to surround your soul, look to the place where you last saw the light.

Health | Mind | Society | Self-Help

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