Posts Tagged ‘Depression’

More People Are Using Antidepressants, Just to Keep Going

August 9th, 2014 at 11:36 am by timigustafson

In 1994, when Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote “Prozac Nation,” an autobiographical account of her struggles with severe depression, which was later adapted into a feature film under the same title, her story was considered an extreme case of a troubled life. What she described then, however, was already a widespread phenomenon that has now morphed into a national malaise and beyond.

Antidepressants and painkillers rank among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States today. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics published a report that identified about 11 percent of the American public as antidepressant users, a 400 percent increase since the 1980s when previous surveys were taken.

Worldwide, consumption of antidepressants has been dramatically on the rise over the past decade, and there are no signs of abating. On the contrary, the pharmaceutical industry predicts ever-increasing demands in the U.S. and globally.

According to the CDC report, people who take antidepressants do so not only to treat depression but also anxiety and other disorders in response to stress. In fact, about 8 percent of those taking antidepressant drugs had no current symptoms of depression at all.

Women between the ages of 40 and 59 make up the largest group of antidepressant drug users – about 23 percent. Females in general are more likely to take such medications than males; whites do it in greater numbers than other ethnicities; most users stay on antidepressants for two or more years; less than half ever seek professional help in form of hospitalization or counseling.

Experts have offered a wide range of explanations for the growing demand for psychotherapeutic drugs. The heightened economic struggles over the last few years have added substantially to the stress levels vast parts of the population are exposed to. In the media, pharmaceuticals of all kinds, including antidepressants, are aggressively marketed, and many insurance plans cover them. There is also suspicion that many doctors tend to over-diagnose when it comes to psychological disorders, even in cases where they appear to be temporary and mild in nature.

The truth is that antidepressant drugs are not harmless and can cause a number of unpleasant side effects, among them nausea, weight gain, loss of sexual desire and erectile dysfunction, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, suicidal thoughts, and even greater anxiety.

Experts recommend to switch between different types of antidepressant drugs if debilitating symptoms persist, but they also warn not to take such steps without consulting one’s physician.

Generally speaking, taking medications against depression or anxiety should not always be the first measure to find relief. A health-promoting lifestyle that includes eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and enough sleep can be very helpful in dealing with many disturbances, both of body and mind. That does not mean to underestimate their seriousness, but at least it can provide a much-needed foundation for recovery.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Exercise Can Make You See the World in a Different Light

August 2nd, 2014 at 8:44 am by timigustafson

Being physically active has countless health benefits. It helps prevent weight problems and reduces the risk of serious illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But according to a recent study from Canada, regular exercise can also improve how people perceive the world around them. Especially those suffering from anxiety or depression can profit from workouts or even just short brisk walks, researchers found.

Exercising and relaxation techniques like Yoga have long been successfully utilized in the treatment of patients with mood and anxiety disorders, said Adam Heenan, a researcher and PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Queen’s University, Ontario, and co-author of the study in a news release by the university. What sets this study apart is that it was able to demonstrate how participants perceived ambiguous events like being approached by an unknown figure. It found that those who had previously exercised, for example by walking or running on a treadmill, felt less apprehensive about the encounter than others who had remained sedentary. The results were similar for those who engaged in relaxation exercises.

Their findings could be useful in the treatment of overly anxious or depressed individuals, the researchers concluded. If physical exercise can indeed manipulate how such persons feel about their surroundings, following an appropriate regimen may have significant therapeutic advantages, they suggested.

Earlier studies have shown that exercising does not only stimulate the brain but, at the same time, can also induce calmness and reduce the effects of stress. Rigorous physical activity increases the secretion of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that can induce a sense of relaxation and wellbeing.

While being exposed to a certain amount of stress is unavoidable and may even be beneficial in some situations, chronic stress can lead to multiple damaging effects, including psychological dysfunctions. Stress-related anxiety disorders rank among the most common psychiatric illnesses, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

Some studies found that people who maintained a regular exercise routine were up to 25 percent less likely to develop depression and/or anxiety disorders than those who did not.

Other research showed that habitual exercisers have on average more self-esteem, are less prone to mood swings, sleep more soundly, are better equipped to deal with life’s challenges, and run a lower risk of succumbing to age-related cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Naturally, different people respond differently to exercising, and not all activities produce the same results. What experts say they know for certain, however, is that sedentary behavior is harmful in many ways, and is considered a “silent killer” that contributes not only to diseases but also shortens people’s life span. For this reason alone, it would be worthwhile to start moving, wouldn’t it?

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Is It Me or Is It Just SAD?

March 8th, 2014 at 7:25 am by timigustafson

I’m generally an upbeat person, not given to bouts of sadness or melancholy, and, luckily, I’ve never suffered from serious depression. Bad weather doesn’t drag me down. In fact, I like the rain – I better, I live in Seattle. But this year, the winter months seem to last longer than usual, and slowly but surely even I begin to yearn for a change of season.

I’m not alone in this regard. Many of my clients tell me how much harder they find it to get out of bed when it’s still dark outside on their way to work and dark again when they get home.

“I just don’t have the energy, not even for the things I normally like to do,” one of them told me. “Everything seems to depress me.”

While it is perfectly normal to feel down from time to time, mood swings, even if they don’t persist for too long, should not be ignored. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes more casually called the “winter blues,” can seriously affect how a person is able to function and carry symptoms not unlike depression. The point is not to underestimate SAD, which can get worse over time, potentially resulting in difficulty with concentration, anxiety, social withdrawal, alcohol and substance abuse, even suicidal thoughts and behavior.

“SAD is a mood disorder, and although it is generally thought of as a winter problem, it can also occur in other seasons,” says Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and life coach. “The major distinction between SAD and other forms of depression is that it occurs at the same time every year, for at least two years, and there’s a remission of symptoms off-season.”

One of the causes, he says, is lacking sun exposure for people who live in the northern hemisphere. Shortage of vitamin D may play a role but also low serotonin levels, a brain chemical that affects our moods, as well as an unbalance of melatonin, a hormone responsible for our sleep patterns. It may also be that our inner biological clock, known as the circadian rhythm (the thing that gets out of whack when you are jet-lagged), is disrupted when days are shorter and nights are longer.

So, how worried should you be about SAD? First off, you want to make sure you are not experiencing the symptoms of something more serious. If you have suffered from emotional disorders or depression in the past, or if there is a family history concerning depression, you should definitely tell your doctor about it. But before you ask for anti-depression medicines, you may want to consider some alternative remedies. Perhaps you will respond to light therapy, a procedure where your body gets exposed to artificial light that simulates sunshine. Or you may take a larger amount of vitamin D supplements, or try St. John’s wort, an herb traditionally used to treat depression, although not without side effects.

In any case, spending as much time outdoors, exercising regularly, and eating a healthful diet can make a significant difference. You may also benefit from Yoga, acupuncture, meditation, and massage therapy.

Stress management and practicing sound sleep hygiene are especially important during such times. So be extra kind to yourself, and when you regain your strength and optimistic outlook, remember what helped you through the doldrums and return to your practices as needed. It can only get easier that way.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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A Good Night’s Sleep Gets Harder to Come by with Age

February 19th, 2014 at 1:47 pm by timigustafson

In our busy lives, getting enough rest can be challenging at any age. But for older people it becomes even more difficult, perhaps not so much because of stress-related sleep deprivation but because of changing sleep patterns. As we age, we not only need less sleep, we also don’t sleep as deeply and wake up more often during the night.

While these changes are not always cause for concern, they can become problematic if they lead to persistent sleep disorders with potentially serious health effects.

As younger adults, we typically spend much of our sleep time in a state called “deep sleep.” Closer to the morning hours, we enter a different phase named “REM” (rapid eye movement), a lighter form of sleep where the eyes move rapidly behind closed lids. Usually, there are several back-and-forth switches between deep sleep and REM periods throughout the night, but the latter gradually dominate and let us eventually wake up.

Not so with older folks. Deep sleep phases become shorter and turn more often into lighter REM sleep and actual awakening, possibly three to four times per night.

It is this repeated awakening that can do long-term damage. Deep sleep is the most restorative phase when both body and mind can heal from their daily wear and tear. If it is interrupted or cut short too many times, these necessary healing processes are prevented from taking place. On the outside, you may just feel groggy and tired in the morning, but on the inside much of the repair work meant to keep you healthy remains undone.

There can be a number of causes for sleep disruption. Besides age-related changes of sleep patterns, you may be dealing with the effects of late-night consumption of food, alcohol or caffeine, interference from medications, chronic disease like high blood pressure and heart disease, sleep apnea, need for frequent urination, and others.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the health consequences from sleep-related disorders are far from benign. Studies have shown associations between disturbed or insufficient sleep and unhealthy weight gain and other diet-related ills. For older adults, the results can be even more dire. Researchers have found that frequent sleep disruption in the elderly is a leading cause for depression and other detrimental effects on mental health.

Regrettably, sleep disturbance, especially when it affects older patients, is not taken seriously enough by many healthcare providers. The fact is, it is not an inevitable part of aging.

Helpful steps to prevent sleep interruptions during the night are:

• Avoiding heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine close to bedtime
• Avoiding large amounts of water and other liquids late at night
• Avoiding strenuous exercise and other physical activities shortly before sleep
• Avoiding stimulating or aggravating interactions (like problem solving, arguing, watching movies, listening to loud music, etc.)
• Practicing good sleep hygiene (like keeping bedrooms dark and at low temperature)
• Using relaxation practices (like meditating, yoga, massage, etc.)

Many people with sleep troubles are tempted to take sleeping pills or supplements containing melatonin and the likes, and that may indeed be part of the solution. But there can also be a risk of addiction. Be advised that most of these remedies have side effects and should not be taken without consulting a physician. For these reasons, most experts recommend not to take sleep medicines for extended periods of time.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Don’t Let Holiday Stress Wear You Out

November 28th, 2012 at 1:17 pm by timigustafson

It’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year.” But for many Americans the holiday season brings considerable stress, anxiety and even depression. What should be an opportunity to slow down, take a vacation, focus on family and friends, often turns into an annually reoccurring hassle that is more of a burden than a relief.

It’s no wonder that so many people have a sense of dread rather than excitement about the holidays and find themselves completely frazzled by the time it’s over, says Elisabeth Scott, a stress management expert at about.com. According to a poll she conducted, 80 percent of respondents said they were more stressed during the holidays than they would like to be.

“All of the baking and entertaining, shopping, wrapping, relatives we don’t often see (sometimes for good reason), and holiday cards can add up to a schedule packed with extra activity and responsibility. Pair that with high expectations that most of us carry for the season, as well as the debt that often lasts for months afterwards, and you have a recipe for stress,” says Scott.

Stress is also one of the reasons why so many people get sick around the holidays. It’s not just flu season that catches up with you, it’s also that the heightened stress weakens your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Studies have shown that when test participants were subjected to elevated stress levels, their bodies almost stopped producing infection-fighting antibodies and their natural defenses went down.

Stress can make you more susceptible to illnesses from colds and flu to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, according to WebMD. Studies found that chronic stress can ‘age’ the immune system and potentially increase the risk of any number of serious health conditions, including cancer.

It doesn’t have to be this way. “This year can be different,” says Scott. “Try a combination of cutting back on activities, taking shortcuts, and adjusting your own expectations for the season. You can enjoy the holidays to the fullest without maxing out your energy, schedule and credit cards.”

Most importantly, you need to take care of your health, if you want to make it through the holidays in one piece. That starts with sound eating habits, regular exercise and getting enough rest.

Stress increases your need for nutrients because stress makes it more difficult for the body to digest properly, says Cindy Heroux, a registered dietitian and author of “The Manual That Should Have Come With Your Body” (Speaking of Wellness, 2003). “The more malnourished you become, the more severely stress will impact both your body and your mind,” she warns.

To prevent that from happening, health experts recommend eating plenty of antioxidants from fruits and vegetables to keep so-called “free radicals” at bay. Free radicals are reactive biological compounds that can damage DNA and suppress the immune system and are associated with many diseases. It is believed that stress plays a significant role in the increasing presence of these compounds.

Exercise, of course, is a great way to find relief from stress. “Exercise can decrease stress hormones like cortisol and increase endorphins, your body’s feel-good chemicals, giving your mood a natural boost. [It] can take your mind off your problems and either redirect it on the activity at hand or get you into a zen-like state,” says Scott.

In addition to following a balanced diet and exercise regimen, you also must set time aside for rest and relaxation. If necessary, you have to say ‘no’ and cut back on preparations or activities if they overwhelm you. “You don’t need to try every activity offered, go to every party thrown, or do everything the ‘Martha Stewart’ way in order to make your holiday special,” says Scott. Don’t become so busy that you no longer enjoy what is supposed to be fun and give you pleasure. Stick to what’s important to you, the things you would really miss if they weren’t included, and don’t measure yourself by other people’s expectations. After all, it should be a wonderful time for you, too.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

About Timi Gustafson, R.D. As a clinical dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and, as of late, blogger, she has been able to reach millions of people, addressing their concerns about issues of health, lifestyle and nutrition. As Co-founder and Director of Nutrition Services for Cyberdiet.com (now Mediconsult.com), she created the first nutrition-related interactive website on the Internet in 1995. Many of the features you find on her blog, www.timigustafson.com, are based on the pioneering work of those days. Today, her goals remain the same: Helping people to achieve optimal health of body and mind. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from San José State University in California and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. She is a registered dietitian and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Dietitians in Business and Communications, Healthy Aging, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Groups. For more information about Timi Gustafson R.D. please visit: www.timigustafson.com

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