Self-help strategies play an important role in maintaining mental health. Among the most useful are:
exercise — aerobic workouts such as walking or jogging can greatly improve your mood if you are mildly depressed or anxious. Even non-aerobic exercise, such as weight-lifting, can boost your spirits, improve sleep and appetite, reduce irritability and anger and produce feelings of mastery and accomplishment. Be sure to check with your health care professional before you start any new exercise program.
if you’re suffering from a condition that causes unrelievable pain symptoms, discuss depression with your health care professional; pain can be a trigger for depression.
tune into your problems — analyze recent events to identify possible sources of stress, either alone or with a close friend or loved one, to help you regain a better perspective. However, if you find yourself ruminating-that is, focusing too much on a problem-then try one of the other techniques listed here because ruminating can make a depressed mood worse.
self-talk — if your inner voice is constantly critical, you should try to make note of unrealistically negative or critical remarks and focus more on the things you like about yourself.
journaling — write about problems and concerns in a journal to ease anxiety and help work through painful feelings. To get started, reflect upon each day or week, and identify the most meaningful parts or moments. If you experience an intense emotion-positive or negative-write down the circumstances and the effects of the experience. Analyze any encounter that makes you feel bad.
self-help or support groups — talk with people with similar problems through hospital- or community health-sponsored support groups. Such groups, especially those associated with a specific problem such as depression or alcoholism, also help in preventing recurrences and relapses.
The holidays are a stressful time of year for many people. The “holiday blues” are a common response to the additional responsibilities the holiday season can impose. Additionally, feelings of loss may be felt more acutely during the holidays as people remember deceased loved ones. Part of the holiday blues stem from bereavement memories.
Symptoms of the holiday blues can include: feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or angry; crying spells; withdrawal; or self-medicating with food or alcohol. While these symptoms can be similar to those experienced by someone who is clinically depressed, they are temporary. Depression is not. If holiday blues become incapacitating and/or persist for two or more weeks, professional help is advised. Some simple interventions can help you prepare for the holiday hustle, minimize stress and keep the holidays healthy:
Talk about the person you’re missing
plan ahead and prioritize activities
be realistic about what can be accomplished in the upcoming weeks
alter a tradition that is particularly uncomfortable or overwhelming
be honest about feelings
focus on something positive and not a memory of a negative experience
take time off for yourself
recognize that alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine increase stress; limit use of these substances
exercise, eat nutritiously and get enough sleep to prevent exhaustion
try to find companionship if you don’t have a support network during the holidays
New Treatments on the Horizon
New medications for depression under development hold the promise of decreasing unwanted side effects, enhancing efficacy and providing targeted symptom relief. For example, monoamine neurotransmitter medications are currently under development and are designed to correct an imbalance of monoamines (chemicals used by brain cells to communicate); research suggests that monoamines play a major role in depression. Other medications target novel neurotransmitters such as substance P, another brain chemical that may have a role in depression.
Hormonal therapies under investigation include drugs that target the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the hormonal system that regulates the body’s response to stress. Drugs include dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and Lupron.
A phototherapy technique called Dawn simulation therapy is currently in phase III clinical trials for the treatment of winter depression. This treatment utilizes a device that is attached to a bedside lamp and gradually increases light exposure while the patient is sleeping to simulate summer dawn during the winter.
A medication called Reboxetine (brand name Vestra or Edronax) that has already made an appearance in Europe, is currently under study in the U.S. Reboxetine is a unique approach to depression treatment in that it targets the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.
Researchers are investigating the use of an epilepsy treatment called Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) for the treatment of resistant mood disorders. The device used for this therapy (approved for epilepsy treatment only), consists of a pulse generator and a nerve stimulator electrode that is usually programmed to send 30-second electrical impulses every five minutes to the left vagus nerve, via connecting leads. The generator is surgically placed in a pocket formed under the skin, below the left collarbone. Results of a VNS pilot study showed that 40 percent of the treated patients displayed at least a 50 percent or greater improvement in their condition, and the condition of several patients improved so substantially that they were able to return to work or other normal activities.
New lower-dose hormone therapy treatments also are in development. A low-dose version of the combination estrogen-progesterone hormone therapy sold as Prempro is expected to be available in the summer of 2003. These products will carry the same FDA ‘black box’ warning as other estrogen products currently on the market do.
Researchers are carrying out trials using electrical magnets as a treatment for depression – targeting those people who fail to get better with conventional drug therapy. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) uses pulses of magnetic energy on a very small area of the brain where triggers for depression are thought to be centered.
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Keywords: depression, support groups, holiday blues, symptoms, medications, epilepsy treatment, hormone therapy
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