It is with great pleasure I welcome my Guest Blogger for the week, Rita A. Schulte, MA, LPC. Rita, a licensed professional counsellor from Northern Virginia, guides us through the various signs to look for when we feel as though we are having an ‘off ‘day. Here she shows us how can we tell if we’re just experiencing a bad case of low spirits, or if we’re clinically depressed? A most interesting subject which affects many more people than most of us realise!
Keri came into my office because she had noticed some changes in her mood. When I asked her what was going on she told me she’d been crying a lot lately, couldn’t sleep well, wasn’t eating much, and she couldn’t concentrate. I asked her if she could identify any recent triggers to what she had been experiencing. She said that she noticed feeling anxious right before Easter. Her mood had gotten progressively worse after the holiday was over.
I asked Keri about her family history. She explained that she had a difficult relationship with her mother, who had always been critical and cold. I asked if she spent the Easter holiday with her family, she said yes.
Lots of people get the blues during or after a holiday. The holidays are supposed to be a time of connecting, sharing with family and friends, and having fun. But for people like Keri, they can trigger anxiety, loneliness, and depression, especially if family relationships aren’t what we had hoped for or expected.
For most of the year, we can choose to avoid thinking about the disappointments family and the holidays engender, but what happens if those feelings don’t go away? What if we find ourselves down in the dumps long after the holiday is over? How can we tell if we’re just experiencing a bad case of the blues, or if we’re clinically depressed?
While most of us have experienced “down” days for no apparent reason, clinical depression is something altogether different. Making our way through it can feel very much like wandering through a desert wilderness—alone. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on inside, and get help if necessary.
Noticing the Signs
Keri was wise to come in for help. There were lots of things rumbling underneath the conscious surface in her life. Most of them were connected to her beliefs about herself, and her mom. Keri had never made the connection, but as we talked that day in my office, a crystallizing moment occurred for her. Keri realized that she had never stopped to take inventory of her heart and how all the years of burying her emotional pain over her distant relationship with her mom had affected her. When she would go home, old familiar patterns of relating would be triggered and she would experience being even more depressed in the days and weeks to come.
But why had these symptoms gotten so much worse for Keri at her Easter visit; because she discovered her mother had cancer. Keri admitted that anytime she went home for a visit, she felt anxious and stressed, but this time, after learning of her mother’s illness, it brought all her “stuff” to the surface.
The first thing I did with Keri was to help her to notice what had been going on for her physically, emotionally and spiritually. Her presenting symptoms indicated she had moved from experiencing “the blues” to clinical depression.
How does clinical depression differ from the weekly blues, and what can we do about it? First, we need to understand the symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association outlines the criteria for major depressive disorder in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) by the following:
- Persistent blue sad mood for most of the day
- Diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the day
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Increase or decrease in appetite
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Diminished ability to think, concentrate, or be decisive
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation with or without a specific plan. A suicide attempt or plan for committing suicide
Keri and I began to work on identifying the losses in her life; especially those connected with her mother. In time, she got better and her relationship with her mother greatly improved.
As for the occasional bout with the blues, here are some tips I gave to help her:
- Manage what life stressors you can and learn to let go of the rest. Stress compounds anxiety and feelings of depression
- Don’t overcommit –learn to say no
- Practice good self-care skills by identifying what you need and doing it
- Practice deep breathing and muscle relaxation when tense
- Plan things to look forward to
- Don’t allow past hurts and offenses to weigh you down
- Allow yourself to grieve if you’re sad. When you bury your feelings, you only bury them alive
- Surrender your rights to have things be the way you want them to, and be willing to face challenges
Clinical depression is treatable. If you or someone you love is experiencing 5 or more of the depressive symptoms listed, consistently, for a two-week period or longer, professional help may be necessary. You don’t just get over it.
So take the time today to notice what’s going on for you in body, soul and spirit. Don’t wait till the blues becomes something more than you can handle. Remember it’s your heart— keep it alive by checking the emotional pulse.
Rita A. Schulte, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counsellor in the Northern Virginia/DC area. She is the host of Heartline Podcast and Consider This. Her shows can be heard on 90.9FM in Lynchburg, Va. and 90.5 FM in NC, and on BlogTalk Radio. Her devotional spot, Consider This, will be airing on Community Radio Network. Rita writes for numerous publications and blogs. Her articles have appeared in magazines like Counseling Today and Thriving Family Magazine. Her book, Sifted As Wheat: Finding Hope and Healing Through the Losses of Life is currently with Hartline Literary Agency awaiting publication.
Facebook: Rita A. Schulte
Blog: Life Talk Today