Depression and Fantasy Football? The Realities

I love football.  I am a huge fan who religiously watches both college and professional games weekly.  Even if I am not invested in one of the current teams, I’m more than happy to watch the Sunday night game with a good group of people.  However, I personally have never been a huge fan of fantasy football.  My outlook is that fantasy football clouds one’s dedication to their home team.  I fully realize that I am in the minority in this belief.  Fantasy football is a way for a number of people to get involved in social groups, stay involved with friends or family who live in different states or cities, and even become more educated about the game and its players.   Although there are a lot of positive connotations associated with fantasy football, there are also some negatives that can increase a person’s addiction to a particular style of gambling, obsessive thinking, and depression.  

The addictive side to fantasy football is a pretty obvious one.  As people’s personal leagues have become more and more high stakes, websites have developed where you can join a league of complete strangers for the opportunity to increase your odds of winning.  If you don’t consider yourself to have a full-blown addiction to gambling via fantasy football, you might want to think about how obsessive your thinking patterns have become every Sunday.  Is the amount of mental and emotional energy that can be invested into your various teams and players becoming exhausting?  Is it difficult to watch and enjoy your home team’s game without checking the score updates of other games at the same time?  Do you spend commercial breaks researching other player’s statistics instead of interacting with others?  Asking yourself if you are honestly putting more into your teams than you are getting out of the experience is a good rule of thumb to determine how obsessive your reaction to fantasy football might be. 

Again, I acknowledge that a lot of people can enjoy football and fantasy football without going to the extremes of chronic gambling and obsessive thinking.  But what about just plain old depression?  How much does it affect you when your team loses, when you weren’t able to predict the benching of a certain player, or when your win is so close, but remains out-of-reach after a late Monday night play?  Treatment for the correlation between depression and fantasy football focuses on locus of control and its influence on self-esteem.  In fantasy football, and all gambling, there can be a feeling of hopelessness and/or powerlessness because you never fully know how a player will perform.  If there is a (high) financial stake involved, the reality of depression following each loss could be more accurate.  A main component that could negatively affect self-esteem, besides the obvious loss, could be the ‘trash talk’ that ensues when these types of social interactions develop.  Chronic teasing over the course of September to January can become painful, making the stress of a good performance week after week overwhelming and essential.  

The point of this blog is to get across that there is nothing necessarily wrong with fantasy football, just like any other vice, in moderation.  However, it is quickly becoming a focus of stress and mental health concern as it’s popularity picks up over seasons.  It is important to stay checked-in and aware with yourself to determine how much your fantasy football leagues are negatively affecting you and then act and so you can return to enjoying the game for what it was intended.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

What to Do With Loneliness?

There is nothing wrong with valuing your alone time.  Many of us, including myself, recharge when we spend time alone.  We can enjoy whatever it is we want to do or even just enjoy the silence.  However, there is a balance between enjoying your alone time and becoming consumed in it.  Loneliness is a common and standard emotion.  There is nothing wrong with feeling it from time to time.  It can even be something to embrace; you can grow by learning to become more comfortable with it.  But just like with everything else in life, there is a balance between how much you should engage in your alone time before it becomes a level of loneliness that requires an active change.  This blog will help you learn to determine which side of that line you are currently falling on and what to do about it if you have started to become a little too accustomed to your loneliness. 

How do you know if you are lonely?  Like I said above, some of us can really value our time to ourselves, but when is even too much of ourselves a bad thing?  You might be more lonely than you think if you are consistently binge-watching TV in a short period of time.  With the age of Netflix, this is very easily done and we’ve all been there.  Recent research actually suggests that people who feel lonely, including a mild form of depression, are more likely to binge watch.  If you start to notice the hours slipping away, you might want to consider a more active alternative.  You might also be more lonely if you start to become more self-conscious and notice yourself starting to choke in social situations.  The challenge here is to not give into your own negative self-talk and remind yourself of your skills, values, and attributes.  Resisting this urge to believe in your own negative self-talk will naturally improve feelings of loneliness.

If that alone time that you used to crave and enjoy starts to feel less rejuvenating and more limiting, you are probably lonely.  Loneliness will allow this time to feel more difficult, having negative influences on sleep and increasing feelings of anxiety and/or depression.  When you are lonely, you will also be more likely to depend on social media and television to fill the space instead of being more creative and productive.  Lastly, a tendency to engage more in social media in general instead of engaging with people you care about in an active way could indicate that you are lonely.  Instead of observing other people’s lives, reach out and interact with people in yours, whether this is in-person, a phone call, or even a text conversation.  It’s better to be engaged with others than simply observing.

So then the question becomes, ‘what can I do to feel better in the moment?’  Definitely get off social media, and as suggested above, and reach out to someone!  Even if you can’t get a hold of them, send a text or craft an email.  Keeping in active contact with people who are important to you in your life is essential.  Maybe start volunteering or journaling.  Offering your services to others or even doing yourself a service by looking at your own thoughts in an objective way can feel very fulfilling.  Look into a meet up group.  The website meetup.com can help you to find people in your area that share your interests, giving you an opportunity to add to your friend group!  Physical activity always helps.  It doesn’t have to be a full-on workout, but an outdoor walk or a yoga video at home will work wonders. 

Moral of the story is that loneliness can be managed and it can be managed well.  The biggest thing is to be honest with yourself when you are experiencing it.  If you aren’t being real with yourself, there is a good chance that you won’t be able to change anything.  You deserve to have time alone with yourself, we just need to make sure that it’s quality alone time that encourages you to feel good and recharge!

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Getting Motivated, Yet Again

We’ve all been there.  We feel good about something in our lives or about the place we’re in.  We keep it up for a period of time, but eventually, all good things come to an end, right?  Life gets in the way, seasons change, life transition happens, vacations and holidays throw wrenches into even our best efforts at anything and everything.   Whether it’s eating healthy, exercising regularly, maintaining a new skill or hobby, having a positive outlook, or even just feeling good about our mental health, the trend of the universe is that there will always be ebbs and flows.  We can run into some significant problems when the ebb has overpowered the flow and we just can’t seem to find the motivation to get back into our grove.

This was obviously a very personal struggle for me as you may have noticed that there has not been a blog post since January of 2016… and for all you loyal readers, I deeply apologize.  Life definitely got in the way for me.  Significant life transitions, two changing seasons, and one long vacation all pushed me into a bad habit of not keeping up with my obligations!  Getting my motivation back was a challenge in some ways, but also an opportunity to practice pushing myself.  The reality is that this was not the first, and won’t be the last time, I will have to push myself back into good habits.  As a result, I’ve researched a plan to help you find your own motivation again.

Going back to the original purpose for your motivation is huge.  It can be challenging to maintain a level of energy or dedication to a particular goal, but reminding yourself regularly of your initial purpose is vital.  This is also a good opportunity to reassess your goals.  Is your motivation lacking because your goals, or the steps to achieving those goals, are no longer realistic?  If that’s the case, it’s ok!  Reassessing and establishing more appropriate short-term and long-term goals can be pivotal to regaining your motivation.  This can mean the difference between feeling like you are fighting an uphill battle versus walking on level ground again. 

The second key point to remember is that motivation is a process that does not have an endpoint.  You’ve probably noticed that those things you are struggling the most to maintain are probably things that should be lifelong habits, such as a healthy diet and exercise, incorporating self-care into your routine, and managing your mental health overall.  Although it sounds corny, remembering that maintaining your motivation for healthy habits is a journey with no real and finite destination, may actually make the process easier.  Set the bar low and start with a mini-goal, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.  Accomplishing even the simplest of things can feel like a huge boost and there’s only upward movement from there.  If you can remind yourself that you have the time and ability to take this at your own pace, you might actually notice a decrease in the pressure you’re putting on yourself and possibly a boost in energy.    

The last BIG thing to consider when working to find your motivation again is that emotionally it will be difficult and at times, possibly very difficult.  You may have noticed that through your struggle to regain motivation you have talked yourself into and explained to yourself multiple times, why you need to do this or why it’s important.  However, you still probably are stuck in the same place that you have been.  This is because our emotions are very powerful and often beat out our logical thought process.  Very frequently negative emotions help us to justify a variety of excuses to ourselves and continue the negative cycle.  So, what to do about it?  Notice the negative thoughts and feelings you are having about your particular goal.  Ask yourself, “Is this thought or feeling helpful to me or hurtful?”  The answer is probably going to be hurtful, so instead find something to say to yourself that is more accurate to the situation and will encourage you in an honest way.  Please take note that the important word there is honest.  If your thought is too over-the-top positive, you probably won’t listen to yourself.  For example, if your original thought is, “I’m too tired to go for a run tonight tonight, I don’t want to,” you might have better emotional luck changing that thought to, “I know I’m tired tonight, but if I go for a run I only have to run half the distance and can walk the other half.”  Emotionally this might feel more sustainable and at least you are still being active.  Finding the middle ground to help you feel better is always more productive than living in one of the two extremes. 

I’m not saying that finding your motivation again is easy or that you will be successful on your first attempt.  I’m saying that finding your motivation is important and should not be something that you give up on, you deserve to live a high quality of life.   Sometimes just a little bit of readjustment is all that is needed to increase your own dedication to yourself. 

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Puppies and Kittens and Bunnies, Oh My!

If you have ever owned a pet, you know how much joy than can bring into your life. It seems as if their sweet little paws and fuzzy little faces can make you forget all your worries. Think about it: when was the last time you a little puppy do their little floppy run and thought about your taxes? Or rubbed behind a purring kitten’s ear and worried about office drama? Exactly.

So what does this mean for depression? Well, as it turns out, there is plenty of research to back the fact that owning pets such as dogs and cats has mental health benefits. They are known to ease anxiety and depression symptoms, increase vitality and life satisfaction, decrease aggression, and so much more. They give you a reason to get out of bed, leave the house, and socialize. They add structure to your day and they offer you a sense of responsibility and pride. As they offer love that is unconditional and uncomplicated and they never hide their excitement to see you, it’s no wonder that they are so effective in reliving depression symptoms.

As much as they will help your psyche, you should be aware of how much time, money, and effort you can realistically spend with on your pet. Though they add meaning and happiness to your life, they can be expensive and exhausting. If you are considering getting an animal, make sure you have the means to care for it. Additionally, choose a breed that will work best for you. 

 

The Link between Alcohol Use and Depression

With the holidays over, a number of us have likely consumed more alcohol than we typically do.  January is also a month that statistically shows a higher level of alcohol consumption than other months because of its tendency to be dark and cold.  Many people have trouble finding the energy or will power to go out and do the activities that they would do if it was warmer.  The following are points to be aware of if you have depression or depressive symptoms and you notice your drinking habits are changing:

  • Approximately one-third of people who have major depression also have a tendency to consume alcohol to an unhealthy level. 
  • Men are more likely to experience an increase in their drinking, which then leads to depression.
  • Women are almost twice as likely to start drinking heavily, when compared to men, if they already have a history of depression. 
  • Men who abuse alcohol are three times more likely to be depressed than the general population and women who abuse alcohol are four times more likely to be depressed.
  • Drinking will only make your depression worse by increasing the levels of negative emotions experienced and by making antidepressant medications less effective.

Alcohol is a depressant that reduces arousal and excitability levels in your body, although this may not seem to be the case when you are drinking.  Self-medication is a term used by many to describe a cycle of temporarily easing symptoms in an unhealthy way.  Drinking alcohol to cope with different sets of symptoms, including depression, is often a way that people rationalize the frequency and intensity of their drinking habits.  Unfortunately, this can turn into a downward spiral that causes more problems and can lead to a level of destruction. 

  • Using alcohol can be a way to avoid symptoms, as opposed to treat them, which does not improve your long-term situation.
  • People typically make choices and act in ways when under the influence that they would not soberly, causing them to feel badly or beat themselves up afterwards.
  • When intoxicated, people have less self-control and are more impulsive.  This gives a person an opportunity to agree to things that they otherwise would not, making a potentially dangerous environment for someone who is depressed.  Suicidal ideation and intent can increase as a result when drinking.
  • Binge drinking can begin to cause difficulties in relationships with friends and family, work, and financial stability.  All of these negative life circumstances, when made a reality, will encourage depression.

Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a two hour time period.  Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 or more drinks weekly, for men, and eight or more drinks weekly, for women.  The important thing to remember is that these points are not referencing levels of occasional or social drinking.  However, if you notice that you find yourself in any of these mentioned categories, can identify as a heavy or binge drinker, and are noticing a negative change in your mood that intensifies while drinking or after a drinking episode, considering treatment may be a positive step for your own wellness.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

The Holiday Pitfall - Overeating and How it Can Make You More Depressed

We all know that the holidays are a dangerously likely time that we will overeat.  I’ve even heard that the week of Thanksgiving some people re-calibrate their scales, subtracting ten pounds.  Many of us come to some internal understanding that we will gain weight through November and December and unwillingly accept that.  However, there can come a problem when our holiday overeating leads to unintentional side effects, one of them being depression.

Food is obviously a way that people connect with their family and friends during the holiday season, but when your family time becomes stressful, one of the ways people deal with that stress is through overeating.  The problem here is that using food for comfort will not help, but only hurt.  Using food to self-medicate around the holidays to avoid the stress, negativity, or discomfort that your family can bring on can easily add extra pounds.   For some, this stress does not come from family, but from loneliness during the holidays.  Whatever your initial reason for overeating, using food as a comfort source is unproductive for your waistline.  So we all know that overeating during the holidays is not the best idea, so why do we give in when we know better?  Eating comfort foods during the holidays makes sense, the sugars found in high carbohydrate holiday goodies does, temporarily, increase the level of serotonin in your brain, which elevates your mood.  However, this elevation is short-lived and leaves you wanting more to sustain the happy feeling. 

The other danger about our eating habits around the holidays is that there is suddenly an increase in treats available.  Whether that means cookies at the office, holiday parties, or your mom/grandma’s holiday staples, there is significantly more food available than is normal for your regular lifestyle.  This will increase even mild levels of depression as these festive snacks will be convenient, but not necessarily nutritious.  The significant problem here is that the month-long eating rut that is December will be hard to break out of come January, particularly if you notice that shift in your mood that was mentioned earlier.  Although it may seem challenging, the following are things you can do throughout December to manage your eating patterns and potentially any resulting depression:

  • Find other ways to soothe yourself during the holidays instead of using food.  Aromatherapy, massage, warm baths, or sipping hot/lower calorie drinks are some healthier ways to be mindful of and connect with your senses in a way that does not involve food.

  • Be aware of your hunger.  When you get the urge to eat a sugary snack, ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you are attempting to eat to fulfill another need.  Asking yourself this question could help you to realize that you are experiencing a certain emotion, am in need of some support, or maybe even just thirsty and dehydrated.  Giving your mind and body an opportunity to answer you honestly before instantly reaching for the fudge might be useful.

  • Work to eat a varied diet outside of your holiday festivities.  If you are over focusing on sugars and nutritionally deficient in other areas, depression can actually worsen.  Visit our nutrition page, or any other reputable internet source, for information on how to make a balanced diet a lifestyle.

  • Boost your energy by engaging in exercise or any other self-care technique.  Activities such as going for a walk, reading, listening to music, or interacting with a friend will work to improve your outlook, making healthy food choices seem easier in the moment of temptation. 

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

The Myths and Misconceptions of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression (PPD) is a subset of depressive symptoms that develops for about 10-15% of women following the birth of a child.  These numbers demonstrate that PPD is greater than three times more common than breast cancer.  This makes PPD the most common complication of childbirth. 

Symptoms can develop up to a year after the birth of a child, making an accurate diagnosis and treatment of PPD an infrequent occurrence for the vast majority of women.  There is a large amount of confusion and misconception about postpartum depression.  Unfortunately, this misconception also affects the medical professionals expected to treat PPD.  Having a solid understanding of the facts can help better determine if you or someone in your life might be experiencing PPD.  If any of the following facts are close to your own experience or you notice any of these symptoms in someone you care about, you should consider seeking help from a mental health provider in the form of therapy and/or medication management. The following are the most common myths about PPD, followed by the facts behind the misconception.

1.        All new mothers are depressed and fatigued after childbirth, so it’s normal.

  • All new mothers do experience a variety of emotions, which can be fueled by exhaustion and a feeling of overwhelm.  When these symptoms are lasting longer than two weeks and are beginning to interfere with your functioning, you might be experiencing PPD. 

2.       PPD only occurs immediately after your child is born and if it doesn’t, you won’t get it.

  • Most women tend to recognize their symptoms within the first three to fourth months following childbirth.   However, symptoms can develop any time within the first year of your child’s life. 

3.       PPD will go away on its own, especially if you are just more positive or get more sleep.

  • PPD is not a minor issue that only requires an ‘attitude adjustment.’  PPD is very responsive to treatment via psychotherapy and/or medication management.  It is a serious mental health condition that deserves help.   The “baby blues” is a more short-lived feeling of sadness following the birth of your child that will only last about four weeks.  If your symptoms are more intense or lasting longer, you are likely experiencing PPD.  Untreated PPD can continue into a more chronic form of depression if it is left untreated.  This makes it important to seek help when you begin to notice significant symptoms and impairment in your abilities. 

4.       Women who experience PPD hurt their baby.

  • Women with PPD are not bad mothers and do not harm or hurt their children, contrary to what the media may report.  Some women who experience PPD may have suicidal thoughts about hurting themselves and some may even have passive thoughts about hurting their baby.  However, the action of hurting themselves is typically only followed through on when the depression is severe.  A number of moms experiencing PPD experience passive suicidal thoughts, but do not ever consider a plan or going through with the action.  The same is true for women who have thoughts of hurting their child; although they may have these thoughts, that does not mean they will be followed through on.  When a mother does hurt or kill her child, what is likely occurring is postpartum psychosis.  These are two different conditions.  One in eight women will experience PPD, one in one thousand women will experience postpartum psychosis.

5.       Women with PPD look depressed, you’ll know her when you see her.

  • Contrary to popular belief, women with PPD are not always sad, nor are they constantly crying.   Although this may be the case for some, typical symptoms include:  low mood, prominent anxiety, irritability, repetitive worries, disrupted sleep, feeling overwhelmed by large and small things, and experiencing guilt for not enjoying their motherhood as society says they should.  Just like any other mental health concern, presentation of PPD is very individualized and will look different across mothers.  Most women who experience PPD are still able to function in their roles of mother, wife, and/or employee, but suffer greatly on the inside.

6.       PPD is your fault, the result of something you did or did not do, or the environment you live in.

  • PPD is not something to blame yourself for.  It is not an experience that you, or anyone, would choose to have.  Hormone shifts, such as estrogen and progesterone, are one of the primary reasons for PPD.   You do not have control over these shifts.  Do not dismiss the symptoms because they are real and can improve with professional help.

7.       Nursing mothers can’t take antidepressants.

  • Research shows that antidepressants present a very minor risk to the health of your baby.  If you need one, take one.  Your doctor will know the medications that are least likely to cause harm to your baby.  Of the antidepressants, SSRIs, like Zoloft, are considered to be the safest for women who are breastfeeding.

8.       If you’ve never been depressed before, you won’t experience PPD.

  • If you have previously suffered from depression there is a higher chance that you might experience PPD, when compared to the average person.  This is likely because of the associated hormone fluctuations.  If your body has already experienced those types of fluctuations in the past, it possibly will again.  However, that does not mean that if you have, you will, or if you’ve never experienced depression prior, you are immune to PPD.  All new mothers run a potential risk.

The take-home message is that if you are noticing symptoms of PPD, seek treatment.  These symptoms can cause serious suffering and your mental health deserves immediate attention. 

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Hiding Depression with Humor

The holiday season brings a variety of strong emotions and late fall signifies the start of that season.  However, for people suffering with varying levels of depression, this societal expectation to be happy and jovial this time of year can feel overwhelming.  Humor is a way that many people cope with depression, particularly around the holidays.  To some, this may seem like a healthy coping skill, but the truth is that using humor to manage depression in public can become exhausting.  Here are some points to look for if you might use humor to cope with depression. 

It’s fairly common for individuals who experience depression to feel isolated, even when they are in a group of people.  Using humor to mask depression can help you feel like a part of the group again.   It can also help you keep a full time job, keep your grades up, and have an active social or family life.  However, it comes with experiencing internal pain and a high amount of energy to “fake it” on a regular basis.   Helping you to cope with reality and maintaining your self-image is why most people start to “fake it.”  This experience has become termed “smiling depression” and encourages people to continue living an alternate persona.  After time, it becomes difficult to be honest about the way you are feeling.  Typically, people with smiling depression are afraid they will be mocked, judged, not believed, or treated differently if they are honest about their mental health.  Unfortunately, this is what encourages the negative cycle to continue.   

Humor is often used as a defense mechanism because it can distract from the painful or stressful parts of a situation.  It will also take the focus away from whatever pain you may currently be experiencing, even if other people are not aware of it.  Humor allows you to distract any unwanted attention from yourself, particularly when others start to question how you are doing.  Humor can be a really good way to change the topic.  A useful question to ask yourself is, “Am I using humor to protect my emotions?” And if the answer is yes, a good follow-up question may be, what are you working to protect yourself from? 

So maybe you aren’t a person that considers yourself to be funny or have “smiling depression,” but what about when you make jokes at your own expense?  Using self-deprecation, disguised as humor, is another way to mask depression.   When self-deprecation goes too far, it can actually become a form of self-loathing, a covert way to put yourself down.  Unfortunately, people may even start to believe what you are saying.  This can increase your depression and lead to varying levels of self-sabotage. 

Individuals who use humor to fake it or degrade themselves can start to feel exhausted.  This concentrated level of energy is spent covering up your emotions and will bring you no return. If your humor doesn’t feel like it’s being used to bring people together or make yourself feel good, it could be hurting you.   Being honest with yourself and others close to you is a safe place to start letting go of using humor for the wrong reasons.  Even if you can start by being honest with one person, whether that is a person in your private life that you trust or a mental health professional, you’ve made significant progress.  Denying a level of depression by using humor maintains its power through secrecy.   Being forthright about your mental health with one person may be scary in the moment, but it will also save you time, energy, and happiness in the long run.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Am I Depressed or Just Stressed?

Fall signifies a time of transition.  Not only are the seasons changing, but often our lives are also changing.  Whether it’s going back to school, starting a new phase at work, or making other changes to our personal life, September can signify a time of new beginnings.  Typically, with transition, there comes stress.   When going back to school ourselves, it is important to know how, when, and why stress can lead into a level of depression.

For those going to school, whether it be undergraduate or graduate, the extreme change in surroundings is likely the most stressful event that occurs.  For many, there is a new and radical stage of independence when students leave their homes and families for the first time.  Being removed from one’s comfort zone can leave space for uncertainty and bad decisions.  Feeling isolated and alone from those who care about you can make the outcomes of these bad decisions even more painful.  A separation from the student’s original support system can lead to feelings of isolation, chronic sadness, inadequacy, and/or low self-esteem.  This can become a vicious cycle that only enhances the original depression by deepening the isolation and negative emotional states.  

Depression can be minor or major.  What’s important is recognizing how you are feeling and how other parts of your life are being affected.  If you notice that your school work is starting to suffer, you are becoming less social, or you are missing your family significantly, you may want to consider if you are experiencing other symptoms of depression.  Ask yourself if you are feeling sad, anxious, hopeless, guilty, worthless, helpless, or irritable regularly.  You might also notice that your energy has decreased, you don’t participate in activities you used to enjoy, you have trouble concentrating or making decisions, there are significant changes to your sleep or appetite, body ailments or pains that do not go away, or thoughts of or attempts of suicide.  If you are noticing any of these symptoms, contacting a mental health professional is strongly suggested.  Whether through a private provider or a professional within your campus system, it is important for you to seek help when back-to-school stress has crossed the line into depression.

There are a number of positive activities you can do for yourself if you start to notice this transition occurring. 

  1. Make and stick to an exercise routine.  Exercise releases endorphins to enhance positive feelings within the body that can naturally fight depression.  This tactic can work well for mild to even moderate depression, as well as increase your overall health.
  2. Stay social.  Focus on your school work, but also make sure to schedule time for healthy social activities.  Even if you have to study large amounts, try to do it in a group setting.  This will both increase your productivity and your social interaction.
  3. Use counseling services.  Whether you choose a private provider or the professionals on your campus, it is your right to seek help.  Professionals are there to assist you and you deserve that assistance.
  4. Stay in touch with family and friends from home.  Technology has increased significantly in recent decades and it’s easier than ever to stay in contact with people.  Schedule times to speak with people from home so you continue to feel connected and supported in your relationships.
  5. Get enough sleep.  Making sure that you are not over-exhausted by maintaining a regular sleep schedule can help you avoid depression.  This appropriate sleep will also help you to enhance your ability to form memories, making it easier to learn.

On average, 30% of college students yearly can be identified as depressed.  Recognizing when your stress levels are becoming too overwhelming and reversing that progression is critical.  Luckily, there are a number of tactics you can utilize on your own to alter that course.  And even if these are less successful, remember that there are always mental health professionals ready and willing to help.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

The Pursuit of Optimism

Major Depressive Disorder has become one of those diagnoses that everyone in our society is becoming aware of.  Either we have been diagnosed ourselves, know someone who has been, or experience some level of symptom; even if it’s not enough for a full diagnosis.  It is a disorder that is frequently referenced as a catalyst for a number of different individual and more global problems in our media, print news, and interpersonal conversation.  Often, we can find ourselves in an endless cycle of stress and depression that eventually becomes exhausting and even damaging.  Therapy and medication management will be helpful to those stressful and depressive situations and symptoms that do not appear to have an end in sight.  But what about those situations that are more temporary?  What about those times when we believe in our abilities overall, but are beginning to notice those precursors of possible depression:  feeling defeated, unsure of ourselves, or inadequate?  Recent research suggests that positive thinking and optimism may be the answer.

Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” a quote from a man governing a country during one of the most trying times in world history.  Research shows that pessimists and optimists approach problems differently and that the way you approach these problems could significantly impact your current mood state.  Optimistic people believe that problems or negative events are time limited, temporary, and overall, manageable.  They are better at taking on appropriate levels of responsibility and accountability; meaning they do not take the blame for things they don’t deserve to.  Instead they accept responsibility for things that they have some influence over.  The powerful component of this type of outlook is that you do not beat yourself up for reasons you don’t deserve and you can acknowledge where you may have actually gone wrong and then work to make changes in the future.  This gives the optimistic person the hope for change and a level of personal power and control that can and will be useful in the future.  

Optimism is a significant protective factor that can be useful from minor life occurrences to some of the more major and extreme life events.  For example, the optimist is more likely to recover from and even feel like they are overcoming a life challenge more effectively than a pessimist.  Research indicates that this is primarily the result of the optimist’s ability to more successfully cope with challenges and disappointments by attending to the positive points of the situation and developing active plans to make positive changes.  This is a useful skill because we know that even in bad situations there are always positive aspects because there is always a balance.  Optimists can notice this “silver lining” more quickly than pessimists and use that as a spring board to move past the current negative and begin to problem-solve.

This may all make complete sense and sound awesome, but you might be saying to yourself:   “How do I start becoming more optimistic then?”  In reality it takes a lot of work.  It is significantly more complicated than just telling yourself to ‘get over it’ or ‘look on the positive side.’  The bright side (no pun intended) is that optimism, like any other skill or habit, can be learned with practice.  In the technologically savvy world that we live in, there is always an app for everything and developing your optimistic skill set is no different.  Searching for ‘optimism mental health’ apps on your smart phone will pull up a number of self-tracking apps that can help you detect your current level of optimism and increase ability to proactively manage your daily stressors.  There are a number of apps that will help you develop, and then monitor, strategies that will work best for you.  You will also be able to track your “triggers” (those things that have a tendency to pull you more towards your pessimistic side.)   “Optimism” is an app available for Apple products that helps you chart your mood.  You can also develop and store strategies and chart triggers and symptoms for depression, as well as other mental health conditions.   “Moody Me” is a daily mood/diary tracker that can help you understand the changes in your mood.  This app is useful to better comprehend the trends of your moods and determine where the best interventions can be placed.  In a modern day world, where optimism can be hard to come by, utilizing apps to become more mindful of the people, places, or things that tend to make us feel depressed can be extremely beneficial to our overall happiness and our long-term mental health.

Authored by:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

Bridal Depression: The Sad Days After the Happiest Day

Our society can make it seem like your wedding is meant to be the happiest day of your life, and for the vast majority of people, it is.  All of the hard work is paying off, all of your friends and family are together in one place, and everyone is there to celebrate the intense love you have for another person.  This all seems pretty positive, right?  So then why is ‘post-wedding depression’ a real emotional response that a number of people have to deal with?  In fact, one out of every ten new brides are likely to feel this way following their wedding.

Realistically, you’ve been putting a lot of time and energy into planning an awesome party, and when that is over, what else do you have to look forward to?  You might start to beat yourself up over the idea that I should be excited and thrilled to continue the rest of your new life with my partner.  This conflict can lead to experiencing depressive symptoms stemming from this internal struggle and contradiction.  Post-wedding depression can also become a problem if it causes distance or rifts between you and your partner.  Becoming more aware of what your expectations are, post-wedding for your relationship, is a way to address this concern before it becomes seemingly too unmanageable.  Remembering that your wedding day was just one day of your life, that there were happy days before your wedding and that there will be happy days after, is a useful way to reframe what you are experiencing.  Acknowledging that you can be both extremely happy and extremely sad at the same time is a realistic possibility. 

Communication and support are extremely important if you are noticing depressive symptoms stemming from this type of conflict.  Particularly, communicating with your partner that this is no one’s fault is important.  Letting your partner know that they are not the reason for your emotional state and clarifying what is the cause may help your partner better support you though these emotions.  The first year of marriage can be a challenging year on its own, simply because of the adjustments that are necessary.  Continuing to plan different social engagements, such as weekend plans, dinner parties, or small trips, will help to keep that feeling of looking forward to something enjoyable alive.  Making sure to get adequate rest and exercise is always useful to help balance your mood, as well as finding additional hobbies or enjoyable activities to fill this void that had been consumed with wedding planning for so many months.  Setting a schedule or making daily goals could be helpful, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed or if you are uncertain about exactly where to start. 

If you think about it, since we were children, we have been primed to look forward to our wedding day and place a high level of importance on that one event.   Working to keep a realistic outlook of what that day means and that afterwards you might experience feelings of loss can be useful.  Losing a day that you’ve been dreaming about for so long, likely even longer than the wedding planning period, is a real feeling.  Giving yourself a break and realizing that it’s ok to feel this way is necessary.  Continuing on with your life and decreasing these depressive symptoms requires a level of acceptance, which will encourage the rest of your life to be as happy as your wedding day was.

Authored By:  Kaitlan Gibbons, PsyD

SAD in the Summer

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a set of mental health symptoms that have become more colloquially recognized within our society.  Typically, symptoms of “seasonal depression” are thought to show up when the weather turns colder and maintain throughout the winter months.  You may start to notice yourself becoming more moody and losing energy, especially as the days get shorter.   Typical symptoms for winter-time SAD include:  irritability, tiredness, problems getting along with others, hypersentivity to rejection, a feeling of heaviness in your limbs, oversleeping, craving foods high in carbohydrates or alcohol, and weight gain.   These symptoms can lead you to feel “down” for days at a time and limit your motivation to do things you once enjoyed during warmer days.  Winter-time SAD is thought to be the result of changes to your circadian rhythm (as a result of a decrease in sunlight that may disrupt your body’s internal clock), a drop in your serotonin levels (also from a reduction of sunlight), and a disruption in your melatonin levels (which can affect your sleep and mood patterns). 

As already mentioned, a number of people have heard about SAD and it’s symptoms related to colder weather, but what many people may not realize is that there is also a Spring and Summer-time version of the disorder.   Common symptoms of this warmer weather variety include:  depression, insomnia, weight loss, poor appetite, and general agitation or anxiety.  Causes for summertime SAD are thought to be biological in nature OR the result of a disrupted and/or more hectic summer schedule.  All those long weekends and summertime vacations are supposed to be fun, but often can just add more stress to our plates.  Maybe you are a person who doesn’t really enjoy the heat or maybe your summer plans are turning out to be more expensive than you budgeted for.  Perhaps you didn’t accomplish the ‘summer beach body’ that you started out striving for in February and now feel self-conscious in skimpier clothing.  Regardless of what combination of stressors you could be facing this summer, SAD may be contributing to your depressed or changed mood.

Let’s work to make this summer different.  You should always talk to a mental health professional if you think you are becoming depressed.  These symptoms can impact your job, family, and most importantly, your quality of life.  A professional would be able to assist with therapy and/or psychotropic medication.  However, there are a number of things you can do, on your own, to combat summertime SAD.  The unique thing about seasonal depression is that you know when it will hit and you can plan ahead.  Organizing plans that don’t feel like you are over-doing it, budgeting for summer vacations and outings, developing and sticking to a schedule can all be ways to stay in control of your symptoms.  Remembering your boundaries and limits can also be helpful; protect yourself from too many obligations.  Tell people “no;” don’t push yourself to the point of feeling overwhelmed.  Have realistic expectations for yourself and your body.  Don’t push yourself into some extreme dieting and exercise routine, instead stay balanced without neglecting your fitness as a whole.   Give yourself a break and remember that the summertime is meant to be an enjoyable time of year.    Stress affects everyone in different ways, unfortunately for some, that’s in the form of summertime SAD.  However, there are interventions that work, all it takes is a combination of allowing others to help you and a commitment to choosing what is healthy, all while cutting yourself some slack.

By Kaitlan Gibbons, Psy.D.