Are You Depressed or Stressed?

If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, you are not alone. Stress is good if it motivates you but not, if it wears you down. Many reasons can contribute to your stressful experiences, and this can cause changes in your body that affect your overall physical, mental, and emotional health. Depression is more detrimental than stress, and necessitates a different kind of help.

In a 2010 survey by the American College Health Association, 28% of college students reported feeling so depressed at some point they encountered issues functioning, and 8% sought treatment. It is said that “’People can become deeply disappointed. These people are unhappy, not depressed”. So what is the difference?

Depression is a chronic condition that can have numerous clinical components like a neuro-chemical imbalance or a genetic predilection. Unhappiness is a state of mind associated with a individual’s perspective of the world. Stress can be a major contributor. Whilst a bit of stress is ordinary, acute stress can be problematic and an antecedent. Additionally, certain areas of functioning be impacted. For stress, this can be short-term whereas depression, this can be long-term.

Common Signs – Stress

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Problems with memory & concentrating
  • Change in eating habits
  • Feeling nervous / anxious
  • Feeling angry, irritable / easily frustrated
  • Feeling burnt out
  • Feeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life
  • Trouble functioning in class or in your personal life

Common Signs – Depression

  • Withdrawing from others
  • Feeling sad and hopeless
  • Lack of energy, enthusiasm and motivation
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Being restless, agitated / irritable
  • Change in eating & sleeping habits
  • Trouble in concentration & memory
  • Feeling bad about yourself / guilty / anger / rage / that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life
  • Trouble functioning in your class or in your personal life
  • Suicidal ideation

Remember, high levels of stress, depression and other mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of. It is not a sign of weakness, and seeking help is a sign of strength. Telling someone you are struggling is the first step toward feeling better.

Written by

Dr Felicia Neo
PhD (Clinical Psychology & Neuroscience)
PGDip (Clinical Psychology)
BA (Psych & Mass Communications)
Clinical Psychologist, Neuroscientist

 

 

 

Self Harm and How You Can Help

Self harm is a serious issue affecting many young people today.  Sadly it has become a common coping mechanism of youth who are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.  Beyond Blue Australia reports 12% of young people will engage in self injurious acts with average first times act occurring at 12-14 years. Whilst not a suicide attempt, the risk of suicidal ideation increases with the longevity of self harm, as does the risk of hospitalisation due to self harm.

For most, the idea of engaging in behaviours such as cutting, burning, hair pulling or hitting oneself seems shocking and difficult to understand.  If your child or anyone you know is engaging in such behaviours it is important to ask them to help you understand and that you are free of judgement or reproach.  The young person is in need of help from a professional and family and friends.

Explanations for self harm include the young person feeling so numb and disconnected that to them the act of self-harm provides an opportunity to feel, therefore reducing frightening and isolating feelings of numbness.  A second reason cited is that the individual is so overwhelmed that cutting creates a release for the internal pain and chaos they are experiencing.  Others use self harm as a means of self punishment in response to feelings of self loathing and judgement caused by depression. The injurious behaviour may provide temporary relief for numbness, overwhelm or self-loathing however they soon returns as the core issues have not been resolved.

In the absence of healthy coping mechanisms self-harm can become habitual and increase in frequency.  Therefore maintaining constant and open communication with our adolescents is essential for providing avenues for them to talk about the challenges they are facing.  Remember, adolescence is a time of great self-exploration and growth, with heightened emotions and at times debilitating self-doubt.  Add to this school pressure, social media, romantic relationships and the complexity of teen friendships, you can see there are many factors that can result in teens feeling overwhelmed, alone and scared.  Find opportunities to talk with your teens when they are receptive, for example driving together in the car, walking, doing a task without other family members.  Let your teens know that you want to know about their good and bad experiences. Also provide the opportunity for your child to speak with a professional counsellor if you sense that they are struggling or there has been a change in behaviour or mood.  

Ensure that your adolescent develops healthy coping strategies such as exercise, regular study breaks, healthy eating, fun activities, reading, journaling, meditation and most importantly adequate sleep. Explore avenues for expression of intense emotion such as boxing classes, drama, art and high impact exercise.  Listening to sad music or watching sad movies can provide a means of emotional release, as can comedy.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about self-harm and ask if they have ever thought about it or if any of their friends do it.  Maintain a caring nonjudgmental approach to this but let your child know that it is serious and you are their to help them or their friend get the help they need.  It is important that your child believes you can handle whatever it is they are going through, reassure them that you are there to support.  Self-harm is something to be concerned about, but with the appropriate help, lots of love and patience it can be overcome.

Please see the resources below for further information

www.beyondblue.org.au

A Bright Red Scream – Marilee Strong

The Parents Guide to Self-Harm, What Parents Need to Know – Jane Smith

Stopping the Pain: A Workbook for Teens Who Cut and Self-Injure  – Lawrence E. Shapiro

Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation by Steven Levenkron

 

Written by

Rachel Upperton
B. Psych (Hons) PhD.
Registered Psychologist, MAPS

Emotional Hijacking: Why it happens and what we can do about it

1

Have you ever had a time your emotions took control over you?  Maybe you reacted without thinking, said something you wish you hadn’t or done something impulsive you regretted afterwards.  When moments like this happen people often say they “weren’t being themselves” or they weren’t thinking straight. Why does this happen and how can we train the different parts of our brains to be more integrated?

Our brains in a nutshell:

  1. The Reptilian Brain (Primitive Brain) – this is the part of our brain we are unconscious of.  This includes breathing, body temperature and heart rate, but also our survival instincts.  When the body perceives it’s in danger or imminent threat this part of the brain takes over and prepares to fight, flee or freeze (shut down) to optimise survival.
  2. Limbic Brain (Emotional Brain) – this is the part of our brain that contains the amygdala, the part that assesses external or internal stressors and determines whether we need to go straight to survival mode (fight/flight/freeze) or can consult the thinking part of our brain, the neocortex.
  3. Neocortex (Thinking Brain) – this is the part of our brain that makes us human and the last to develop over the life span.  It is responsible for complex/abstract thinking, language, logic, creativity and empathy.  The Neocortex is slow to respond to the signals of the emotional brain and therefore shuts down when life-threatening stress occurs or is perceived.

2

Why emotions take over:

When we experience emotions such as fear, anger or stress our limbic system can perceive it as life-threatening (whether or not we are actually in danger).  The thinking part of our brain shuts down and we act on impulse to keep ourselves “safe” and our reptilian brain takes over (heart rate increases, muscles tense, blood flow increases etc) to prepare our bodies to respond to the “threat”.

How can we train our emotional brain to get the signals right more often?:

We can regulate our nervous systems to work more efficiently by becoming more aware of the emotional and physical cues from our bodies.  If we can tame our emotions and aroused states, we can keep our Thinking Brains online and make better choices in responding.  Regulating our emotions and body signals sends the message to the limbic system we are not in danger and allows the Thinking Brain to think!

We can regulate our emotions and physical sensations by changing the pace of our breath, grounding ourselves, doing something active like walking or cleaning the kitchen, practicing mindfulness, yoga, or reaching out to others in support.  People who have had multiple traumatic or stressful life experiences or insecure attachment figures often get dysregulated more often, however we know our brain’s neural pathways can change throughout the lifespan. The more we practice ways of calming ourselves (no matter what our history is) the better our limbic system can be at judging real vs perceived danger.  Having trusting relationships, secure attachments histories and safe living environments are protective factors for an integrated nervous system.

Resources:

About Paul D. Maclean’s Triune Brain Theory

Dr. Dan Siegel writes a few books to help everyday people understand the neuroscience behind our psychology and offers strategies for parents, teenagers and adults, particularly Mindsight and Brainstorm.

 Check out Dan’s Ted talk about mindfulness and neural integration for more understanding on this topic.

Written by

Kady Leibovitz
MA Clinical Social Work
BSc Psychology
Licensed Clinical Social Worker  

What is Being Mild to Yourself?

This is a translation of a Dutch Piece out of the book of Edel Maex (Mindfulness, 2006) named:

“Wat is mildheid?”, meaning “What is Being Mild to Yourself?”

“Mildheid” is translated as Mildness, being mild, gentleness, a mixture of kindness and compassion, not being too hard or too harsh on yourself.

 

Being mild is what most people feel when they see any young child walk for the first time. With a mixture of compassion and encouragement you watch how the child tries to stand up, keeps its balance, enjoys its first success and then falls, and then stands up again and…

When the child falls you are not angry. You give the child space to develop itself and find his/her own way. That’s how we learn. When it enthusiastically and eagerly extends out with its hands to you, you reach out your hands and give the child the opportunity to grab them and enjoy it if he/she reaches his goal.  

Most people don’t treat themselves that way. How often do you lose yourself in criticism and disapproval? If things don’t work out you give yourself an extra punishment. As if it is isn’t hard enough already… This way you actually can’t learn, you only make it worse.

How can you be mild to yourself? What is being gentle for yourself? If someone would judge and blame you in exactly the same manner as you are doing to yourself, you would perhaps not put up with it. Hopefully you have enough self-respect to realize that you really don’t need accusation.

What is mildness? The best way to find out what mildness is, is your own desire. How would you want someone else to treat you when you are going through a tough time. Are you longing for accusation and humiliation or for understanding and respect? Someone who listens to you or someone who tells you that you should do everything differently (as if you didn’t know that already)?

Being mild is a conscious decision. You choose to not continue with the destructive pattern of self-blame. What do you notice? First of all, you notice how deep this pattern of self-criticism is. The judgements and blame come automatically and you can’t stop them. You tend to judge yourself for this failure.

This is THE moment to remind yourself that you choose for gentleness. Condemning yourself for a lack of mildness would be more of the same. So… what can you do? Look at yourself the same way as you look at a child who falls and stands up. To your deep automatic patterns that you can’t stop, to your pain, to your desire. It doesn’t change the patterns, at least not immediately. The thoughts remain the same. But by changing the way you handle and look at it is in itself a radical change.

Written by

Flo Westendorp
Registered Clinical Psychologist
Extended Healthcare Psychologist Certificate MSc & BSc (Clinical Health Care Psychology)