By: Laura Alderman, LPC-S, LMFT, NCC, serves as the Research and Development Project Coordinator for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine
Just one year ago, we were longing to gather with those we love for the holiday season, yet fearful that doing so may have deadly consequences. What was traditionally a joyful time only heightened the universal pandemic distress felt around the world. This recent collective experience can serve as an important reminder to consider that for many people, the holidays may be far from joyful.
For scores of us, the holidays are an annual harsh reminder of loss. Loss of security, loss of relationships, loss of people we love. With extra time on our hands, these losses bring past regrets or future fears into focus and depression can emerge. And we are all now more painfully aware that social isolation increases the risk for despair.
Depression is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood for at least two weeks with additional symptoms which may include loss of interest or pleasure in activities, decreased energy, feelings of hopelessness, and others. Depression can occur at any age, in any demographic, etc.....
Depression can be the first domino for many other problems. In a desperate effort to avoid or numb this psychological pain, we may engage in health-harming behaviors such as overeating, smoking, or substance abuse. Yet we pay a high price for this temporary relief, which not only harms our health, but also can negatively impact our job performance and our relationships with others. Clearly it is imperative that we recognize and treat our depression early.
In spite of depression, an improved quality of life is within reach. There is a large body of research that indicates depression can improve with effective treatments. These treatments can include self-care, psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of all three.
In this time of increased personal stress, we are all at risk for depression. Knowing this, self-care is the priceless gift of prevention we must all give ourselves. Through self-care, we build resilience - the powerful combination of attributes and experiences that helps us bounce back from adversity. Thankfully, it is never too late to build resilience - it can be created at any point in our lifetime.
Resilience consists of three primary building blocks: Connections (safe, stable relationships), Coping (healthy ways to manage negative emotions), and Capabilities (engaging in activities that are enjoyable or build skills). Simply put, we all need to be around caring people, to express our emotions, and to experience moments of joy. Resilience-building activities can include things like meditation, art, music, exercise, volunteering, and nature experiences. Mental Health America provides a Live Your Life Well Toolkit which suggests many strategies to promote wellbeing and resilience.
While self-care strategies can help, if depression feels unrelenting, severe, or unmanageable, your primary healthcare provider is there to develop a treatment plan with you which may include psychotherapy and/or medication. Self-care, by definition, must include a willingness to reach out and follow through with professional help when needed.
The American Psychiatric Association offers guidelines for choosing a psychotherapist and treatment type. Evidence-based therapies for depression include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). There is a treatment that is right for you.
As we end this year and begin a new one, let us seize this opportunity to improve our own wellbeing and encourage others to do so as well. For not only is it possible to heal from adversity; we can build resilience and thrive.