Tips for Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder

November 19, 2021

Last month we “fell back” with the end of daylight-saving time and the start of standard time. Morning comes sooner, but darkness also starts earlier.

This marks the start of fall-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for millions of Americans. It’s been called the “winter blues” but for many people, there’s a lot more to it.

It’s important to know the difference between sadness and depression and how you can work through your struggles, what to expect, and when to visit a doctor for help.

Computer

SAD Signs

About 5% of adults in the U.S. experience SAD and it typically lasts 40% of the year according to the American Psychiatric Association. It is a form of depression, and it has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours. SAD also gets more prevalent the farther north you live. Juneau, the capital of Alaska, which gets only six hours and 22 minutes of sunlight on Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year, sees significantly more cases of SAD than Los Angeles. But it’s still a condition that needs treatment.

Symptoms specific to fall-onset SAD include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Craving foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Low energy

There are also the more common signs of depression:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

If you have suicidal thoughts and feel like you could be a harm to yourself or others, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

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Who Gets SAD?

While anyone can be affected by SAD, it is more common in women than men, and more common in areas where there is less sunlight in winter. It’s more common in people with bipolar disorder. People with SAD typically have other mental disorders like anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or an eating disorder. It can also run in families.

It’s not clear what causes SAD but there seems to be a correlation with the chemicals serotonin and melatonin. These are hormones that help regulate our bodies. Serotonin helps regulate mood while melatonin helps us maintain a normal sleep cycle.

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Potential Treatments

The typical treatments include light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy or a combination of all three. It’s important to be aware of any additional mental health disorders you may have as light therapy could trigger manic episodes for those who are also bipolar.

  • Light therapy — Patients sit near a special light box each morning when they wake up. The light mimics outdoor light and seems to affect the brain chemicals linked to mood. It usually starts working within a few days.
  • Medications — Antidepressants help some people with SAD. It sometimes takes several weeks to notice the full benefits from an antidepressant, and you may have to try a few to find the right one.
  • Psychotherapy — This is also called talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that can help you identify and change negative thoughts and actions. It can also teach you healthy ways to cope, and help you manage stress.

You can also take some control by:

  • Getting outside, especially within two hours of waking up
  • Exercising regularly, which can help reduce stress and anxiety
  • Opening blinds and sitting next to windows

Help for the Mind and Body

It’s natural to feel worried, sad, and lonely from time to time. But if these feelings start to interfere with your ability to get through your daily life or start making you feel bad physically, it may be time to ask for help. To learn more about AltaMed’s Behavioral Health Services, call us at (855) 425-1777.

If you have suicidal thoughts and feel like you could be a harm to yourself or others, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

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Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy Through Trying Times

November 02, 2021

People have been struggling to cope with some form of fear, grief, or anxiety for more than 20 months. Stress has become the “new normal.”

This time last year we were preparing to spend our holidays apart from loved ones as isolation was the practice during the first year of the pandemic. Now we have vaccines that have provided us greater freedom to gather. Still misinformation and political wrangling have kept us from putting COVID-19 in our rearview mirrors. It’s just something else to add to our stress and anxiety.

It’s important that we acknowledge our stress and deal with it in a healthy manor. Just like it’s important to get vaccinated and take precautions to put an end to the pandemic, it’s important to address any mental health concerns and change behaviors that may have sent you down a path toward depression.

Defining Mental Illness

The term mental illness is used to describe a broad range of conditions that vary from mild to moderate to severe. It is extremely common affecting one in five U.S. adults, in 2019. That is the most recent figure available. That figure is probably much higher now since the start of the pandemic.

Mental illness falls into two categories: any mental illness (AMI) and severe mental illness (SMI). AMI can literally be any mental condition that affects your mood, thinking, or behavior. They include depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. SMIs are similar but they drastically affect a person’s ability to function normally.

Woman Mental Health

Making Things Worse

The pandemic has only made mental health a bigger issue in the last 20 months. As creatures of habit, we were thrown for a loop as we lost the routine, dependability, and stability of our daily lives once the pandemic started.

The forced isolation, the onslaught of bad news, and the loss of jobs, income, and lives were almost like something out of a dystopian film. Stress became our new normal. Left untreated,
stress can cause:

  • Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of anger, fear, frustration, sadness, and worry
  • Physical reactions like headaches, body aches, stomach problems, and rashes
  • Worsening chronic health problems
  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances

Therapist Mental Health

Acknowledge You Need Help

Far too many of us have been trained to ignore these feelings. We’re taught to fight through, keep your chin up, or just to get over it.

It doesn’t work that way. It’s important to acknowledge that you may need help to get over a mental health hurdle. That’s OK. Too many people don’t get treatment however because of the stigma around mental illness and treating it.

It can lead to discrimination at work, in school, or in social activities. Family, friends, and co-workers don’t fully understand what’s going on. You might start to think that you won’t succeed, or you begin to define yourself by your feelings. You should never let that stigma keep you from seeking treatment, however.

Couple Mental Health

Getting Past the Stigma

Stigma can be overcome. Just like you wouldn’t deal with a mental illness alone, you have resources to help you get past the stigma. They include:

  • Getting treatment. It’s only through treatment that you can identify what’s wrong and then find solutions for reducing the symptoms that are interfering with your life.
  • Not giving into shame. You are not weak. People often need help when dealing with mental health concerns. Connecting with others can help boost your self-esteem and get past destructive self-judgment.
  • Not isolating yourself. It’s important to reach out to people you trust. They might be hard to find at first, but there are caring and compassionate people who have been through similar struggles. They can offer you support if you confide in them.
  • Not identifying with your illness. You have an illness. You are NOT your illness. You may have bipolar disorder, or you may have schizophrenia. You are not bipolar, and you are not a schizophrenic.
  • Joining a support group. You can talk with a physician or counselor to find local programs or internet groups that can educate people about your condition. This offers support for you and helps to educate others.
  • Getting help at school. If your child is dealing with mental health issues it is illegal for the school NOT to accommodate them. Educators at every level, from elementary through college must make adjustments for children to the best of their abilities. Not doing so can lead to civil or criminal penalties.
  • Speaking out. Giving your voice to fighting the stigma against mental illness will boost your confidence and the confidence of others.

Help for the Mind and Body

It’s natural to feel worried, sadness, and loneliness from time to time. But if these feelings start to interfere with your ability to get through your daily life or start making you feel bad physically, it may be time to ask for help. To learn more about AltaMed’s Behavioral Health Services, call us at (855) 425-1777.

If you have suicidal thoughts and feel like you could be a harm to yourself or others, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

Anxiety Disorders: Know the Different Types and Symptoms

July 27, 2020

The past few months have been challenging. As a result, many of us, including children, parents, and seniors, are experiencing feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.

Occasional anxiety over recent events, on top of additional personal stress, is normal. However, the feelings of anxiety caused by an anxiety disorder, do not go away and can worsen over time. These feelings of anxiety can interfere with your daily life and may be difficult to control.

Knowing the difference between normal fears or worries and anxiety disorders is important and can help you recognize them and seek treatment.

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

Worried man

Each type of anxiety disorder has its own unique symptoms:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A person with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has frequent or constant feelings of worry and anxiety about issues, such as health, work, social interactions, or everyday situations. These feelings can cause problems in areas of your life such as school, work, and social interactions. In some cases, people with GAD have experienced these feelings since childhood or adolescence, while in other cases, they may have been triggered by temporary stress.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling irritable
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tense muscles
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are periods of intense fear that can occur suddenly. Over time, they can be triggered by certain situations. A person with panic disorder has repeated and unexpected panic attacks, and often worries about when the next attack will happen.

During a panic attack, some people may experience:

  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control
  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heart rate
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking

Phobia-related Disorders

A phobia is an intense fear caused by a specific object or situation. Common phobias include flying and heights, but people can develop phobias regarding almost anything. People with phobias feel fear that is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by that situation or object. People with a phobia may:

  • Experience an irrational or excessive worry about encountering the feared object or situation
  • Endure unavoidable objects and situations with intense anxiety or dread
  • Experience immediate, intense anxiety upon encountering the feared object or situation
  • Take steps to avoid the feared object or situation

Know the Risk Factors

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The risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder can vary, but some general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders can include:

  • A family or genetic history of anxiety or other mental illnesses
  • Consumption of caffeine or medications (such as certain steroids or over-the-counter cold remedies) that can produce anxiety-like effects
  • Exposure to stressful and negative events in early childhood or adulthood
  • Health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias

Actions You Can Take

Girl con videocall

While you can’t predict what will cause anxiety disorders to develop, you can take the following steps to help reduce the impact of symptoms if you are anxious:

  • Avoid alcohol or drug use since it can cause or worsen anxiety.
  • Make it a priority to get a good night’s sleep, since poor sleep quality, insomnia, or sleep deprivation may increase your risks.
  • Our social interactions have been limited during the last few months but talking with friends over the phone and doing things that you enjoy while staying safe may help reduce your worries.
  • Seek help early if you are experiencing symptoms that don’t go away.

If you have an anxiety disorder, you should work with your doctor to choose the best treatment for you. In addition to psychotherapy or medication, there are other ways that you may benefit from when dealing with an anxiety disorder.

  • Support groups. A support group alone is not a substitute for therapy. But, in conjunction with other treatment, joining a support group and sharing your experiences with others could benefit you.
  • Meditation and techniques to manage stress. These can help people with anxiety disorders calm themselves and enhance the effects of therapy.

We Are Here to Support You

Doctor and patient

Your mental health is important. If you are unsure whether you are experiencing occasional anxiety or an anxiety disorder, you can call AltaMed Behavioral Health Services directly at (855) 425-1777. We are here for you, and together we can find the answers you need.

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