I have begun to hear a number of things being said by friends and family, in response to my “how are you coping?” question, that are of concern to me. And what I am hearing more and more of, are comments such as the following:
- I am feeling a lack of motivation at the moment
- I have lost interest in….
- I am comfort eating a lot at the moment
- I am not sleeping so well
- I don’t seem to have as much energy as I used to
- I am really finding it hard to focus on anything,
- I can’t seem to make even the most simple of decisions
- I am just feeling irritable
So, what could be going on? Well, it is possible that some of my friends and family are beginning to show definite signs of chronic emotional stress while others may, in fact, be showing the first signs of having dropped into what is termed a “depressive episode”.
And none of this is a big surprise to me. That’s because the last month-and-a-half has been (very) stressful for most people. The high levels of uncertainty, in particular, have resulted in elevated levels of anxiety. And in many families the 24/7 nature of the household relationships, over the past six weeks, is resulting in growing levels of frustration (if not open warfare).
And both anxiety and frustration will trigger the stress response in most of us. This becomes very unhealthy when it occurs day in and day out for an extended period of time as has been the case since the lockdown began. Prolonged periods of emotional stress result in chronic, systemic inflammation of the brain and body which, for those of us with either a genetic predisposition and/or a psychological vulnerability for clinical depression, will invariably lead us into a depressive episode.
Somewhat fortunately, the term “depressive episode” is used because of the fact that it is generally time-bound in nature, and is usually not expected to continue ad infinitum. It is still very unpleasant, however, and is associated with a number of common problems (or symptoms).
If any of the comments that I listed at the beginning of this newsletter resonate with you to some degree and/or with someone close to you, it is worthwhile noting that everyone who suffers a depressive episode will be subjected to a set of problems that is somewhat unique. The intensity of the problems and the particular combination of problems are rarely the same for any two people.
This is largely because your brain is unique in structure because of the unique set of genes and life experiences that you have. As a result, your brain will (mis)function slightly differently from the brain of any other person struggling with depression.
The problems associated with a depressive episode involve compromised functioning in the emotional, physical, and mental (cognitive) areas of one’s being. And for it to be formally diagnosed the majority of the following problems/symptoms must be present most of the day nearly every day (for a period of at least two weeks):
1. Emotional problems/symptoms
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Depressed mood (e.g., feeling sad or empty) or appearing tearful to others
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities, including hobbies
2. Physical problems/symptoms
- Change in appetite or a significant weight loss or gain
- Change in sleep patterns, e.g insomnia
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Psychomotor agitation and/or retardation
3. Thinking-related problems/symptoms
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate,
- Diminished short-term memory
- Negative thinking
- Heightened levels of Irritability
- Recurrent thoughts of death or of committing suicide
Common behavioural problems include anger attacks/aggression, alcohol or drug abuse, and risk-taking behaviour.
Keep an eye open for my next newsletter delivered to your inbox next week.
With warm regards,
Alistair Mork-Chadwick (Psychologist)