Understanding and Managing Depression

What is depression?

Everyone experiences feelings of sadness, disappointment, or ‘the blues’ from time to time. Depression however refers to a range of mood and other symptoms that are more intense, pervasive and long-lasting, are distressing to the person, and interfere with their day-to-day life and relationships.

 

Signs and symptoms

The key symptoms of depression include one or both of the following:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness or lowered mood that lasts for most of the day, nearly every day
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable, like going out, seeing friends, or pursuing interests and hobbies.

 

These symptoms are experienced persistently for at least two weeks, along with several other symptoms over the same period. These vary from person to person, but can include:

  • Significant changes in appetite and/or weight in the absence of dieting
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping
  • Sluggishness
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness or hopelessness, or excessive guilt
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Decreased interest in sex
  • Thoughts of suicide or a feeling that life is not worth living.

 

What causes depression

There is no one cause for depression. In some individuals, stressful life events such as the loss of a job, long-term unemployment, physical health issues, family problems, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a close relationship might trigger depression. For other people, there is no obvious cause.

Some factors that might place a person at a higher risk of developing depression include:

  • Family history: Having a close relative with depression can increase a person’s chances of developing the condition. This doesn’t mean that depression is inevitable – other factors increase or decrease a person’s risk.
  • Social factors: Some people who experience neglect or abuse during childhood might be more likely to develop depression as adults.
  • Personal psychological factors: People who tend to dwell on negative events, worry excessively, or attend more to negative information about themselves, the world or the future are more prone to depression.
  • Neurochemistry: Changes in the levels or activity of certain chemicals in the brain like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine play a role in depression, though the specific processes are not fully understood.

 

Evidence-based psychological interventions

There are many effective psychological treatments for depression. Certain specialised forms of psychological intervention tend to be more effective than general supportive counselling, as they address current issues and symptoms and also aim to reduce the likelihood of having future episodes of depression.

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
    Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) focuses on unhelpful thoughts about the self, others, and the future which may contribute to depression. The goal of this type of therapy is to identify, examine, and modify these unhelpful thoughts and the behaviours that follow, and increase behaviours that might improve mood and quality of life. This includes ensuring a balance of enjoyable activities throughout each day, and a range of activities that give the individual a sense of achievement, Problem-solving, to help address possible causes of stress and lowered mood, is also an important component.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
    Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) involves addressing problems in the person’s relationships and expectations about others that might be contributing to the symptoms of depression. The aims of this type of therapy include helping the individual to find new ways to develop and nurture relationships, resolve conflicts with others, express emotions and communicate more effectively, adapt to life-role changes, and improve social support networks.
  • Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP)
    Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP) can help the person to become more aware and reflective of their own feelings, desires, motivations and thoughts. The goals of this therapy are to identify and change unhelpful defences which may be getting in the way of a healthy life, decrease vulnerability to depression, and build resilience.

 

How a psychologist can help

The psychologist will ask some questions about the individual’s history, circumstances, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. They might also use questionnaires to gather more information. Together, the client and psychologist work towards an understanding of factors that might be contributing to the person’s difficulties. A treatment plan is then developed between the client and the psychologist. The psychologist might use CBT, IPT, STPP, or other psychological strategies such as mindfulness and relaxation to help in the client’s recovery.

 

Other professionals who might be involved

A medical review with a GP is often recommended to help rule out whether a medical condition might account for the symptoms of depression. Where medication might be of benefit, a review with a GP or psychiatrist might be suggested.

Exercise and diet can be important in the treatment of depression, so a nutritionist, dietician or exercise physiologist might also be consulted.
(Article sourced from Australian Psychological Society 2016)

 

Do you think you may be suffering from depression?

If you feel you may be suffering from depression seek the advice of an experienced mental health professional. Visit your GP and discuss your concerns, book a longer appointment so there is time to explain your issues and how you are feeling.

Your GP may write a referral to a psychologist, which may entitle you to access Medicare rebates under the Federal Governments Better Access to Mental Health Care Rebate scheme.

Remember your Doctor and psychologist are there to help,and will not judge.

If you would like to see a psychologist at Lifepath Psychology just ask your GP to write a referral letter and attach your Mental Healthcare Plan. You will need to bring this referral letter and Mental Healthcare Plan with you to your first appointment to receive the Medicare rebate.

To book an appointment at Lifepath Psychology, or request further information about our services, please feel free to email your query to admin@lifepathpsychology.com.au or call 6496 0039 and one of our friendly staff will more than happy to assist.

Understanding and Managing Anxiety

 What is anxiety?

Anxiety refers to feelings of worry, nervousness, or a sense of apprehension, typically about an upcoming event where the outcome is uncertain, or where the person feels he or she might not be up to the task. Anxiety is commonly experienced in high pressure situations, for example, prior to a making a speech or sitting an exam. Feelings of anxiety can also arise following a stressful event, like an accident where the person is left feeling shaken. Anxious feelings are usually accompanied by physical sensations such as a churning stomach, light headedness, and a racing heart.

 

Signs and symptoms

Although the experience of anxiety will vary from person to person, feeling stressed, worried, and having anxious thoughts are common symptoms. Other common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling light-headed or faint
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Sweating.

 

Anxiety disorders

While anxiety is considered a natural reaction to a stressful situation, for some people anxious thoughts, feelings, or physical symptoms can become severe and upsetting, interfering with their ability to go about their daily lives.Where symptoms of anxiety occur frequently, occur over a period of time, and interfere with daily life, it is typically considered an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental disorders diagnosed in Australia. There are a number of different types of anxiety disorder, including:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder  (GAD)
    GAD is characterised by persistent and excessive worry, often about daily situations like work, family or health. This worry is difficult to control and interferes the person’s day-to-day life and relationships.

  • Specific phobia
    People with a specific phobia experience extreme anxiety and fear of particular objects or situations. Common phobias include fear of flying, fear of spiders and other animals, and fear of injections.

  • Panic Disorder
    Panic Disorder is characterised by the experience of repeat panic attacks – sudden surges of overwhelming fear and anxiety and physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, and breathlessness.

  • Agoraphobia
    Agoraphobia involves intense anxiety following exposure to, or anticipation of, a variety of situations such as public transportation, open spaces, crowds, or being outside of the home alone.

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    Individuals with OCD have recurring, persistent, and distressing thoughts, images or impulses, known as obsessions (e.g. a fear of catching germs), or feel compelled to carry out certain repetitive behaviours, rituals, or mental acts, known as compulsions (e.g. hand-washing). These thoughts and acts can take over a person’s life and while people with OCD usually know that their obsessions and compulsions are an over-reaction, they are unable to stop them.

  • Social Anxiety Disorder
    In social anxiety disorder the person has severe anxiety about being criticised or negatively evaluated by others. This leads to the person avoiding social events and other public situations for fear of doing something that leads to embarrassment or humiliation.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    PTSD refers to a set of symptoms that can occur after exposure to a frightening and traumatic event. Symptoms include a sense of reliving the traumatic event (through ‘flashbacks’ or nightmares), avoidance of places, people, or activities which remind the person of the event, feeling numb or detached from others, having negative thoughts about oneself and the world, feeling irritable, angry, or wound up, and having trouble sleeping.

     

 

What causes anxiety disorders?

Whilst there is no single known cause of anxiety disorders, there are a number of risk factors or triggers that may contribute. These differ between the different anxiety disorders too. In general, the following factors may play a role:

  • Genes:
    certain anxiety disorders appear to have a genetic component, with some anxiety disorders running in families.
  • Physical health:
    Poor physical health can increase a person’s vulnerability to developing symptoms of anxiety.
  • Thinking style:
    patterns of thinking characterised by anticipating the worst, persistent negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and unhelpful coping strategies (e.g., avoidance) are linked to problem anxiety.
  • Stress:
    stressful events such as a marriage breakdown, work or school deadlines, financial hardship can act as a trigger for anxiety.

 

How a psychologist can help

Through discussion with the client and the possible use of questionnaires, the psychologist develops an understanding of the potential factors that might be contributing to the client’s anxiety. A treatment plan is then developed by the psychologist together with the person. For anxiety disorders, this can involve CBT, mindfulness, exposure therapy, relaxation and other helpful strategies.

The psychologist might also assist the person to address any lifestyle factors which may increase his or her capacity to better manage difficulties, and reduce symptoms of anxiety. They may also suggest involving a supportive family member or friend to assist in the understanding of the person’s situation and to support treatment.

(Article by Australian Psychological Society 2016)

 

Do you think you may be suffering from anxiety?

If you feel you may be suffering from anxiety, seek the advice of an experienced mental health professional. Visit your GP and discuss your concerns, book a longer appointment so there is time to explain your issues and how you are feeling.

Your GP may write a referral to a psychologist, which may entitle you to access Medicare rebates under the Federal Governments Better Access to Mental Health Care Rebate scheme.

Remember your Doctor and psychologist are there to help,and will not judge.

To book an appointment at Lifepath Psychology, or request further information about our services, please feel free to email your query to admin@lifepathpsychology.com.au or call 6496 0039 and one of our friendly staff will more than happy to assist.

Understanding and Managing Stress

What is stress?

Stress is often described as a feeling of being overloaded, wound-up tight, tense and worried. We all experience stress at times. It can sometimes help to motivate us to get a task finished, or perform well. But stress can also be harmful if we become over-stressed and it interferes with our ability to get on with our normal life for too long.

 

 

What are the signs of stress?

When we face a stressful event, our bodies respond by activating the nervous system and releasing hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones cause physical changes in the body which help us to react quickly and effectively to get through the stressful situation. This is sometimes called the ‘fight or flight’ response. The hormones increase our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, metabolism and muscle tension. Our pupils dilate and our perspiration rate increases. While these physical changes help us try to meet the challenges of the stressful situation, they can cause other physical or psychological symptoms if the stress is ongoing and the physical changes don’t settle down. These symptoms can include:

  • Headaches, other aches and pains
  • Sleep disturbance, insomnia
  • Upset stomach, indigestion, diarrhoea
  • Anxiety
  • Anger, irritability
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
  • Feeling moody, tearful
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem, lack of confidence
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Heart disease

 

When to seek professional help

If high levels of stress continue for a long period of time, or are interfering with you enjoying a healthy life, it is advisable to seek professional help. A mental health professional, like a psychologist, can help you identify behaviours and situations that are contributing to high stress, and help you to make changes to the things that are within your control. Seeking help can be one way to manage your stress effectively.

 

Learning to handle stress in healthy ways is very important. Fortunately, it is easy to learn simple techniques that help. These include recognising and changing the behaviours that contribute to stress, as well as techniques for reducing stress once it has occurred. The following tips from the APS can help you look after your mind and body, and reduce stress and its impact on your health.

 

Identify warning signs

It is very helpful to be able to identify early warning signs in your body that tell you when you are getting stressed. These vary from person to person, but might include things like tensing your jaw, grinding your teeth, getting headaches, or feeling irritable and short tempered.

 

Identify triggers

There are often known triggers which raise our stress levels and make it more difficult for us to manage. If you know what the likely triggers are, you can aim to anticipate them and practise

calming yourself down beforehand, or even find ways of removing the trigger. Triggers might include late nights, deadlines, seeing particular people, hunger or over-tired children.

 

Establish routines

Having predictable rhythms and routines in your day, or over a week, can be very calming and reassuring, and can help you to manage your stress. Routines can include:

Regular times for exercise and relaxation

Regular meal times, waking and bedtimes

Planning ahead to do particular jobs on set days of

the week.

 

Spend time with people who care

Spending time with people you care about, and who care about you, is an important part of managing ongoing stress in your life.

  • Spend time with friends and family, especially those you find uplifting rather than people who place demands on you.
  • Share your thoughts and feelings with others when opportunities arise. Don’t ‘bottle up’ your feelings.

 

Look after your health

  • Make sure you are eating healthy food and getting regular exercise.
  • Take time to do activities you find calming or uplifting, such as listening to music, walking or dancing.
  • Avoid using alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope.

 

Notice your self-talk

When we are stressed we sometimes say tings in our head, over and over, that just add to our stress. This unhelpful self-talk might include things like: ‘I can’t cope’, or ‘I’m too busy’, or ‘I’m so tired’, or ‘It’s not fair’. While we might think that these are fairly truthful descriptions of what’s going on, they are not always helpful to repeat, and can even make you feel worse.

  • Notice when you are using unhelpful self-talk, and instead try saying soothing, calming things to yourself to reduce your levels of stress. Try more helpful self-talk like ‘I’m coping well given what’s on my plate’, or ‘Calm down’, or ‘Breathe easy’.
  • Keeping things in perspective is also important. When we are stressed, it’s easy to see things as worse than they really are. Try self-talk such as ‘This is not the end of the world’ or ‘In the overall scheme of things, this doesn’t matter so much’.

 

Practise relaxation

Make time to practise relaxation. This will help your body and nervous system to settle and readjust. Consider trying some of the following things:

  • Learn a formal technique such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga.
  • Make time to absorb yourself in a relaxing activity such as gardening or listening to music.
  • Plan things to do each day that you look forward to and which give you a sense of pleasure, like reading a book

(Article by Australian Psychological Society 2012)