Let's Take a Closer Look at Functional Depression
Updated: Feb 6, 2022
Most of the members of my family suffer from some form of depression or anxiety. No one has ever been hospitalized for depression but many of my relatives have struggled with addiction as a form of self medication, mild chronic depression and anxiety. I have also struggled with depression and anxiety. There have been days when it has been a struggle to get out of bed. I have experienced anxiety attacks that would leave me crying in the aisles of the supermarket or result in an episode of vomiting following a particularly nerve racking classroom observation.
In today's tumultuous environment of illness, high inflation, discord and stress it is no wonder that many people experience depression and anxiety. According to a pre-pandemic study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2015, 6. 7 % of U.S. adults are suffering from depression and anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million people over the age of 18 (Shannon-Karasik, 2017). Most of those people are like me, they get up every morning, go to work, and appear to function well as a parent, spouse and friend but constantly battle feelings of fear, loneliness, and hopelessness.
Dr. Anthony Rothchild, A Professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School describes this condition as " High Functioning Depression" or "Dysthymia" which is a Diagnostic and Statistics Manual diagnosis of mild chronic depression (Pallarito,2018). High functioning depression is characterized by chronic feelings of hopelessness and losing interest in the activities of daily life, changes in appetite, problems sleeping, brain fog and fatigue. Many people will also isolate themselves, experience episodes of low self esteem, frequently feel unhappy and withdraw from social activities with friends and family members ( Shannon-Karasik 2017). I have experienced all of those symptoms and can mark my life by periods of depression following life changes such as divorce, death of a loved one, relocation, or job changes.
Anxiety disorders can also trigger feelings of apprehension and fear about the future, leading to irritability, fatigue, muscle tension, and problems with sleeping and concentration. Anxiety can cause physical problems like headaches, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, difficulty concentrating, stomach problems and stress on the body. Shannon-Karasick notes that anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United Sates (2017). When depression, anxiety and stress merge it creates a form of overstress which can take both a mental and physical toll.
Learning to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety begins with recognizing red flags. Often changes in the seasons, yes, seasonal depression is a real thing; can increase symptoms of depression. Grief over the loss of a loved one, problematic relationships, or even changes in employment or moving can trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety. Learning to manage the day to day pressure created by these life situations can help control the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Start with finding emotional supports, talk with a supportive, non-judgmental friend, family member, church member, your pastor, or find a counselor or life coach for support. Check your local yellow pages, community Facebook pages or Yelp for a list of local providers. Counselors and coaches are also available online and will schedule zoom sessions at your convenience. Apps like Calm, Wysa, and TalkLife can provide daily check-ins, meditations and breathing exercises for anxiety. Self Help support groups can also be a wonderful resource for coping with depression and anxiety. Many have online meetings or Facebook forums and events.
Make changes in your sleep patterns, work on getting eight hours of solid sleep. Minimize distractions at night. Spend at least thirty minutes before bedtime winding down, reading, listening to music, taking a bath or shower. Focus on making your bedroom as calming as possible. Turn off the TV, de-clutter and avoid doing work in your bedroom. Dedicate it to sleep and relaxation. Your bedroom should be a safe, calming place in your house, not a place of chaos.
Improve your eating habits, according to the Harvard Health Blog, "what we eat matters for every aspect of our health but especially our mental health" (Tello, 2020). avoid eating junk foods, work toward eating a balanced diet of proteins, fruits, and healthy carbs. avoid excess caffeine. Caffeine can increase anxiety, cause problems with your digestive system, and trigger headaches. The Harvard Health Blog also notes that our bodies function a lot like automobiles. What fuels we use affects our performance, Multiple studies show correlations between our diets and brain function (Tello 2020).
Movement also affects symptoms of depression, Researchers at Harvard found that an increase in physical activity can reduce your chances of becoming depressed by 26%. Exercises such as walking, yoga or riding a bicycle can improve your mood and help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression ( Harvard Health Blog, 2019).
My journey to overcoming depression has led me to make all of these lifestyle changes. I have a support system which includes friends, my husband and a counselor, I watch what I eat, I try to drink lots of water and get regular sleep (at least most of the time) and I take medication to manage my symptoms of depression. I also engage in a regular habit of avoiding stressful situations. I have come to realize that I can't control the behavior of other people or their opinions but what I can do is take care of myself, monitor my symptoms, remind myself daily that I am a worthwhile person, deserving of love and success and do my best to confront problems as they arise instead of avoiding them and hoping they go away because they won't. So, take time for yourself, put good food in your body, spend time with supportive friends, take every opportunity for movement and most of all the next time someone invites you to a movie, say yes! Don't hide out and isolate yourself. Just because you may not "feel" like doing it doesn't mean your won't enjoy yourself when you get there.
Stephanie Brown Myers, Ed.S, M.Ed
Mental Health Recovery Coach
Pallarito, Karen, What is High Functioning Depression and could You Have it? Health.com (02/07/2018), https://www.health.com/condition/depression/high-functioning-depression
Shannon-Karasick Please Stop Thinking My High Functioning Depression Makes Me Lazy, Healthline.com, (6/20/2017) https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/this-is-what-high-functioning-depression-looks-like#No,-I-cant-just-get-over-it
More Evidence That Exercise Can Boost Mood, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, (5/01/2019), https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/more-evidence-that-exercise-can-boost-mood
Tello, Monique, Diet and Depression, Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, (01/29/2020) https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/diet-and-depression-2018022213309