Mental Health, Sadness, Stress and Burnout, Are They Inseparable?

Twenty years ago, there was a stigma relating to how persons viewed seeking assistance for mental health related issues. That stigma has somewhat changed within recent years and persons are close to visiting psychiatrists as they would go to their medical practitioners for check up.

Depression, anxiety, stress, poor body image, grief, loss, a major change in your life such as becoming a new parent, can affect your mental and emotional health and also just day-to-day living. Sometimes it is so hard to know if what you are experiencing is depression or sadness, worry or anxiety. Sadness and anxiety are normal emotions that help alert us to, protect us from, and cause us to act. This is healthy!  What is unhealthy is when these feelings become excessive, irrational, ongoing, distressing or interfere with daily life. If you are aware you are not functioning as you normally do, you know something is worrying you, this is the time to learn more about what is happening to you and perhaps seek help.

Psychologists Dr Mandy Deeks and late Counselling Psychologist Dr Clover Jarrett teach you about your mental health and ways to build confidence.

Fear and anxiety are normal emotions that help alert us to, protect us from and cause us to deal with danger. Then one in four women will have some type of anxiety in her lifetime. Anxiety can be managed using interventions and strategies such as cognitive behavior therapy, relaxation and mindfulness. According to statistics, one in eight men will have depression and one in five men will experience anxiety and depression than women. This increases the risk of their anxiety or depression going unrecognized and untreated. Anxiety disorders occur earlier in women than in men. Women are also more likely to have multiple psychiatric disorders during their lifetime than men.

Many women are dissatisfied by the way they look and often say they feel guilty just for eating. Health problems, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and how people talk about your body can all make you feel negative about your body. It can be helpful to focus on the wonderful things about your body and what it can do rather than focusing on the negative parts.

Confidence is believing in yourself – believing that you are capable of completing tasks and reaching goals. Confidence is knowing that you have skills and positive traits, that you are able to face challenges and deal with difficult circumstances; it is knowing that you are your best resource.

Confidence levels can change but many things can influence your confidence levels such as your thoughts, feelings, actions and past experiences. Depression cruches our confidence, tramples our self-belief into the ground and stamps over our self-esteem,

It is very difficult to know if what you are experiencing is sadness or depression. The symptoms, causes, management and treatment of depression are discussed along with how to get a mental health care plan from your doctor and tips on what to do if someone you know is depressed. Our confusion can lead us to neglect a serious condition that requires treatment (depression) or, on the other end of the spectrum, overreact to a normative emotional state (sadness). In other words sadness is a normal human emotion while depression is an abnormal emotional state, a mental illness that affects our thinking, emotions, perceptions and behaviors in pervasive and chronic ways.

Many illnesses are associated with an increase in depression and anxiety. These illnesses include thyroid, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome and even type two diabetes. When this happens it is important to treat both the illness and your mental and emotional health.

Social connections, friendships and relationships with others help shape who you are and how we behave. They are one of the most significant influences on health and wellbeing. Good social support may offer greater protection from chronic disease and illness like cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety. Sometimes it is hard to know if your relationship is healthy or when to let go of relationships, but talking with someone you trust or a health professional is important to both your physical and emotional wellbeing if you are worried.

Counsellors and psychologists will never be able to recommend to all persons how to grieve and deal with loss. How you respond is affected by the strength of your attachment to what you have lost and how that loss occurred. There are many types of loss including separation, illness, job loss and miscarriage. How you react to loss will be influenced by your personality, the way you think, your age and background. There are no rules when it comes to how you manage loss but it is important to know when to seek help. There is no set time or process – grieving and healing takes as long as it takes. However it is important to note that over time, the emotions of sadness, numbness or anger do fade and become more manageable as you start to rebuild your life.

A nutritious, balance diet and regular physical activity can positively influence your state of mind and  emotional wellbeing as much as your physical wellbeing.  Some herbs such as St John’s wort, lavender and lemon balm may help with mental and emotional health.  Also, participating in creative, spiritual and intellectual  activities along with community involvement help to build a healthy lifestyle.

Misplaced keys, forgotten groceries are all familiar with memory glitches.  How do we explain these moments? There are many causes of poor memory, such as stress, ageing, illness, menopause or something more serious, like the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are many strategies to help with memory: avoid cramming, focus your attention, structure and organize, utilize Mnemonic devices, elaborate and rehearse, visualize concepts among others.

Adjusting to the changes of being a new parent can take a toll on your emotional wellbeing and your relationship.  Communication, seeking help and learning strategies to cope with a new baby are important to getting through this time. Research has shown that some children of parents with severe and enduring mental illness, experience greater levels of emotional, psychological and behavioral problems than children and young people in the rest of the population.

Depression experienced after childbirth is called postnatal or postpartum depression also known as PND. About 10-13% of women experience depression when they are pregnant or after birth.  Causes of PND are likely to include hormone changes, previous experience of depression and/or anxiety, personality, timing of pregnancy and many other factors. When I asked a friend who has 2 children, she said that she went through a major process of postnatal depression with the first child because she was not experienced.  The mother’s mother provided much support at home during the first year although the mother of the child was also at home for months.

Relax – to be calm, unwind, loosen up, de-stress, slow down, chill out.  Relaxation can help increase your sense of calm and reduce anxiety and stress. Relaxation techniques can slow heart and breathing rates, reduce blood pressure and decrease muscle tension and is a good tool for stress management.  Different techniques work for different people and can include anything from deep breathing, laughter,  positive thinking, visualization, meditation and mindfulness.

Stress occurs when you are not coping with life. Stress can cause mental health problems and make existing problems worse.  For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of stress, you might develop a mental health problem like anxiety or depression. We all need a little stress  to motivate us to achieve or get things done.  However, too much stress, particularly over a long period of time, can take its toll on  your health and sense of wellbeing.  Extreme stress can be so overwhelming it causes physical reactions such as nausea, diarrhoea, over-eating and under eating.   There are many things you can do to manage stress, it is just about finding the right strategy for you.

If you  are aware you are not functioning as you normally do, you know something is worrying you, you are going around in circles in your thinking and feeling anxious and alone, this is the time to seek professional help.  It take courage to do this, it can feel like admitting failure or you may feel stupid.  This is  a normal struggle for many persons going through mental health issues.  Don’t waste any more time, learn the difference between a psychologist, psychologist or counsellor and how to find/chose a  therapist.

If constant stress has you feeling helpless, disillusioned and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout. You may be on the road to burnout if
A) every day is a bad day
B) caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy
C) you are exhausted and overwhelmed for most of the day
D) the majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly, dull or overwhelming
E) you feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated

Physical signs and symptoms of burnt out
1) feeling tired and drained most of the time
2) frequent headaches or muscle pain
3) lowered immunity, frequent illness
4) change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnt out
1) sense of failure and self doubt
2) loss of motivation
3) feeling helpless, trapped and defeated
4) increasingly cynical and negative outlook
5) detachment, feeling alone in the world
6) decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioral signs and symptoms of burnt out
1) withdrawing from responsibilities
2) using food, drugs or alcohol to cope
3) isolating yourself from others
4) taking out your frustrations on others
5) procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
6) skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

In my view, in most cases I know, burnout stems from one’s job. But anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout. Other factors include your lifestyle and personality traits.

Whether you recognize the warning signs of impending burnout or you are already past the breaking point, trying to push through the exhaustion and continuing as you have been will only cause further emotional and physical damage. Now is the time to pause and change direction by learning how you can help yourself overcome burnout and feel healthy and positive again.  Look with me at the three “R” approach:

RECOGNIZE – watch for the warning signs of burnout
REVERSE – Undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress
RESILIENCE – Build on your resilience of stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health.

Learn what you can do to regain your balance and feel positive and helpful again. “The only thing more exhausting than having a mental illness is pretending like you don’t”

Contributed by HE Prof Colin O Jarrett
Senior News Editor
December 2019

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