How to Recognize Binge Eating Disorder

Sixteen year-old Addison has a great, loving family and plenty of friends. She excels in school and is also very active in the church’s youth department and in sports as well. Addison’s issues are deep within, however. She has trouble expressing her emotions and therefore struggles alone in her sadness and insecurities.

When the day is done and the night closes in, as everyone else sleeps, Addie feels drawn to the kitchen area. The day’s stresses fade away as she begins to relax over the food she finds there. From cookies, chips, and cake to a gallon of chocolate ice cream, she eats all she can manage to get her hands upon. Then she makes her way to her bedroom where more snacks she’s stashed await her.

At first, Addy experiences relief as she eats. She does not, however, enjoy feeling powerless over the situation and not in control. Once she realizes the amount of food she’s eaten, she is overridden with shame. Addy swears to herself that she will never repeat the action again.

She tries to live up to her promise but cannot. The cycle continues, over and over again. Every time she feels stressed out, she uses food for an outlet. She has no clue what to do about her situation or who to turn to. She doubts anyone would understand. She feels extremely along and afraid.

Brady has just turned thirteen. He’s known as a nice kid and he is also the joker of the classroom. He’s got friends but isn’t at all secure in himself or his friendships. He is always paranoid that his friends will decide they don’t like him anymore due to something he says or does.

His jokes are just a cover for his fear. Food is one thing he can rely upon to give him the happiness he is longing for. When sad, stressed, or bored, food is always there to lift him up and offer him relief, at least temporarily.

It wasn’t until Brady got into therapy that he realized the connection between food and his feelings. He knew he was drawn to food, but prior to therapy, he didn’t know the full implications and how very serious the situation was. When he felt he was not in control, he knew he could eat food and he’d feel better, if only for a moment.

The eating then turned to shame, especially when comments were made about his love for food by his parents. His eating caused him to gain weight which prompted bullying by his peers. The situation eventually escalated to the point that he required therapy. Now he is learning to identify and express his feelings. He is developing skills that he needs in order to cope with the emotions that used to overwhelm him.

Tammy is a young woman of thirty-four years of age. She has had issues with her body image and problems with her self-esteem for as long as she can remember. Her weight and appearance have been a struggle ever since she was a child.

She faced ridicule and bullying by her peers which turned into a severe distrust of others. She doubts who she is on the inside and feels very alienated. She is grown now but her job is quite stressful and very fast-paced. Keeping up with the job is tough and keeping up with life is even tougher.

There are two things that help Tammy deal with her stresses: food and alcohol. It seems she is forever having one drink too many or eating too much, too quickly. She feels remorseful after doing either. But, she feels very alone and overwhelmed.

She is doing all she knows how to do to cope with the way she feels. Therapy has crossed her mind but she thinks she should be able to handle her emotions and feelings on her own. Besides, unleashing all the pain is a scary thought. She doesn’t need the added stress.

The concept of being an “emotional eater” simply means to use eating in order to cope. It isn’t a new thing and most people have heard of it but it is far more serious than most realize. Binge Eating Disorder differs from just eating too much at one sitting. It isn’t simply eating for reasons that are emotionally based either. While both scenarios are problematic, they don’t entail the qualifications for being a binge type eater.

What Binge Eating Disorder Really Is

Binge Eating Disorder was recognized by the Association of the American Psychiatric’s list of mental disorders in 2013. Before that, it was in still in research although it was deemed a serious problem by a myriad of professionals throughout the course of many years. Finally, it has its rightful place as a disorder with a name and a set of criteria which distinguish it.

The BED diagnosis criteria are as follows:

  • The person must have repeated episodes of bing-eating.
  • The definition of a binge consists of possessing three or more of the five following characteristics:
    • Eating considerably quicker than normal
    • Continuing consumption of food beyond being comfortably full
    • Eating large quantities of food even though one is not feeling hungry
    • Eating alone because of being embarrassed by the portion sizes
    • Having feelings of guilt, depression, or disappointment with oneself following the binge-driven behavior
  • In addition, the person who engages in the binges must feel significant emotional distress or remorse about the binge they have taken part in.

The criteria for this disorder is different from that of bulimia nervosa, however, because an individual with BED doesn’t frequently take part in behaviors that are aimed at preventing weight gain.

Negative emotions usually come prior to the episode of binging. It can also be characterized by triggering from other root stressors. That is the reason it’s often regarded as a coping mechanism which is closely related to stress and other negative emotions.

As mentioned before, it is typical with this disorder for food to be consumed in a rush instead of at a pace that is normal. There is little to no mindfulness in the process. The person is likely to eat as an effort to relieve emotions and/or to escape stress.

Shame tends to be an ever-present part of the equation. It is common for those with BED to experience it on a regular basis. It is also typical for one to attempt to hide their shame by engaging in their behavior disorder which only increases and intensifies the negative ways they were already feeling. That is how cyclical behavioral patterns begin and continue.

Additional Common Diagnoses

Those who have been diagnosed with BED quite often meet additional criteria pertaining to other diagnoses as well. It’s not unusual for them to also display signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and even bipolar disorders. Another typical problem is substance and alcohol abuse. For this reason, a professional who is trained to recognize BED will also generally check for additional diagnoses as well.

Medical Complications

This type of eating disorder should be taken very seriously. Heart disease, diabetes type 2, muscle and joint issues, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal problems may be present. It’s vital with a BED assessment to also have an evaluation of medical health as well as one of mental health.

BED Risk Factors

There are a number of factors that put a person at more risk, typically. Those things tend to be common with those who have BED.

Some of those risk factors are:

  • Persistent dieting, prior to or in conjunction with active BED
  • Significant weight change history
  • Being overweight
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Not being able to emotionally cope or express oneself
  • Being unhappy with bodily appearance
  • Possessing other mental health disorders like having bipolar disorder, substance abuse issues, or depression
  • Being bullied or made fun of about weight
  • Emotional, sexual, or any other type of trauma or neglect
  • Experiencing a significant loss such as a breakup or death

Warning Signs of Binge Eating Disorder

Remember that weight is not always an indicator that someone has BED. The problem can occur in those who don’t have weight issues and those who have weight issues may not have BED.

Shame is frequently experienced with BED. Due to shame, hiding the symptoms and behaviors is very common. Though not conclusive, the signs below may be an indicator of the disorder if one or more are present.

  • Trouble eating in social situations, preferring to eat when alone
  • Obsessing over food and/or binge planning
  • Eating fast with a lack of control
  • Frequently feeling constipated or bloated
  • Eating past the point of feeling full
  • Discovering food wrappers, hoarding food, finding large quantities of food missing
  • Elevated withdrawal from activities and relationships and/or becoming isolated more
  • Habitually beginning new diets and/or odd meal rituals and/or frequently skipping meals
  • Fluctuation of weight
  • Unhealthy fixation and focus on bodily shape and/or weight
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

If a loved one, or yourself, is displaying BED symptoms, it’s imperative to seek a professional evaluation by a specialist in the field. Because BED is likely to include serious medical complications, it is recommended that a physician also evaluate the patient.

In addition, a dietitian can be a very important professional involved in the treatment since they are able to assist a person with the diagnosis and the disorder. They can play a crucial role in the patient understanding and coming to grips with the implications BED has on their health. Nutritional needs are discussed and medication is sometimes prescribed.

If BED is determined to be present, a number of psychological treatments exist which can be of help. Some of these methods are as follows:

  • Cognitive Behavior based therapy, or CBT, is a method which assists individuals in understanding the direct relationship thoughts, behaviors, and feelings have. It helps them develop positive and effective strategies to help alter negative patterns.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Technique, known also as DBT, is a helpful approach to teaching new skills which can be focused on so that emotions can be regulated during stressful times and during temptations to eat irregularly. Both individual and group settings are generally a part of this type of therapy.
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy, also known as IP, is a technique which helps individuals explore relationships such as loss, conflict, and so forth. It examines how they perceive themselves alongside others and takes a look at how those components might play into their eating disorder and its behaviors.

There are even more treatment types that might be recommended for BED, depending on the individual needs that you may have which flow from our life experiences, like trauma, abuse, etc. A qualified licensed therapist will be able to lovingly point you in the direction that will be the most helpful where a full plan of treatment is concerned.

It is overwhelming to live with BED. Hopeless feelings can consume you and sadness may be a constant emotion you feel. But, there is a better way. There’s hope just around the corner when you begin your journey to healing and recovery. Don’t put it off. Call today and walk in the sunshine. A brand new life awaits you.

Photos:
“Happy”, Courtesy of Matias Saw, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Altered Conscious”, Courtesy of Alex Perez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Frustrated,” courtesy of Tim Gouw, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stack of Pancakes”, Courtesy of Maria Mekht, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Treatment for Anxiety: No Medication Needed

In this age of social media, more and more people, including popular entertainers, are posting their struggles with anxiety.

Though not life-threatening, anxiety is a real, debilitating condition as the sufferer deals with excessive worry and troubling physical effects like difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, a racing heart, cold sweats, and other unpleasant symptoms.

Medication for these symptoms does exist. However, reliance on such is never a good thing as there are possible side effects, including addiction. Rather than turning to chemicals, it is best to deal with treatment for anxiety through other healthier methods.

Treatment for Anxiety: Options for You

The following are some great ways to reduce anxiety symptoms without the need for medication. A sufferer ought to consider a combination of these practices for best results.

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a very effective way to deal with anxiety issues. When one has anxiety problems, the sufferer is overthinking what is happening at the moment or what may happen in the near, or even far, future.

In CBT, the professional counselor helps the sufferer reframe how they think and how they understand their behavior. In this way, negative thought patterns may hopefully be reduced to something more rational and realistic, preventing these unnecessary mental worries and physical responses to worry.

As part of CBT, the therapist may introduce breathing techniques to help the sufferer relax more. This helps reduce negative physiological symptoms like tightness in the muscles, a rapid heart rate, and difficulty breathing.

2. Self-Care

Similar to treatment for other forms of illnesses, physical or mental, it is important that overall well-being is considered. This means that mentally, physically and spiritually the anxiety sufferer must be conscious of finding ways to take care of themselves.

Physically, this means a proper diet, exercise and stretching; and enough rest. If the body is well, it will be able to respond to the physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g. racing heart, shortness of breath, muscle tension and aches) better than if it were weak.

Mental self-care is also important because if the mind is weak (e.g. low self-esteem, morbid thoughts) then the easier it will be to panic more due to anxious thoughts. Breathing exercises, journaling, and mindfulness of your current state (inner emotions and outer stimuli) can help you relax and get to know yourself in a more positive and informative light.

Spiritual self-care, which many today seem to ignore, is very essential as a weak spiritual connection to God makes one very susceptible to all kinds of problems, especially worries about the future. Regular prayer time, reading of Scripture, meaningful Church attendance, and fellowship with other caring believers will do wonders for the spiritual health so that negative, anxious thoughts will not easily bring one down.

3. Massage

Though it might not resolve the underlying issues behind a sufferer’s anxiety, massage therapy is still very helpful for relaxing the body and reducing tension. Muscle tension can be quite painful and bothersome so a good massage may provide temporary, yet needed, physical relief.

4. Yoga

Many therapists recommend yoga to strengthen the body and modulate the stress response. The various breathing exercises and yoga poses also help improve mental clarity which is why yoga is very popular today.

Now while yoga is very helpful for those suffering from anxiety, as a Christian, one must remember to only incorporate the principles of relaxation and mindfulness and not any non-Christian spiritual practices or beliefs. Compromising one’s spiritual beliefs should never be an option.

5. Acupuncture

An alternative form of medicine from the Far East is acupuncture. Here, through the guided hands of an expert, needles are inserted into the body to relieve pain and cure ailments. Though not all medical doctors believe in its effects, many more claim that it does work to reduce anxiety symptoms.

Summary

While medication for anxiety may be necessary in severe circumstances, it is generally still best to avoid ingesting too many chemicals. As there are many other options available to minimize anxiety symptoms, a sufferer ought to try them first to avoid future, medicine-related problems.

If you or a friend are struggling with anxiety and would like to know more, particularly about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, then you should seek the help of a professional Christian counselor to help you find the best treatment plan for you.

Photos:
“Anxious”, Courtesy of LoganArt, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Therapist Office”, Courtesy of Cater Yang, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Church”, Courtesy of Neonbrand, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yoga”, Courtesy of Matthew Kane, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Common Signs of Abuse and What to Do About It

Domestic abuse used to be a somewhat hidden topic. It may have seemed too shameful to speak about, especially because of the strong possibility that disclosure would be met with skepticism. Although it’s become more acceptable to talk about abuse today, victims are still often met with disbelief or blame. For this reason, among others, they are often afraid to talk about their experience.

In this article, we’ll discuss the most statistically prevalent form of abuse, which is committed by a male perpetrator on a female victim. (It is possible for any gender to commit abuse, which means men can be victims as well.)

Here are some of the most frequent questions I am asked as a domestic abuse counselor:

  • If there’s no physical violence, is it really abuse?
  • If he’s never touched me but is threatening and controlling, is this abuse?
  • Is it possible to fix the relationship?

I want this article to be a place to define domestic abuse. I’ll also list some of the most common signs for outsiders to be aware of, and for victims to be able to confirm that what they are experiencing is indeed abuse. I’ll also outline what steps a victim can take upon finding themselves in an abusive situation.

The Definition of Domestic Abuse

Abuse is rooted in a sense of entitlement and a desire for control. The attempt to control can involve many different behaviors, including threats, fear-mongering, physical violence, or other attempts to limit the victim’s independence.

Domestic abuse does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. Its cyclical nature traps victims into believing that it’s eventually going to change, but then it never does. It crosses socio-economic, racial, and religious barriers, and it can happen to victims of any age.

Because of how insidious domestic abuse is, it’s often difficult for victims to fully acknowledge what’s happening to them. Domestic abuse tends to escalate over time, making the victim’s situation increasingly dangerous.

Acknowledging the abuse is the first step. Recognizing what’s happening to you includes the realization that you are worth far more than this and don’t deserve to be treated in such a way (although the abuser will try to blame you).

Meeting with a professional can be the next step, but make sure that you are doing so safely to avoid retaliatory actions from your abuser. When a victim takes even a small step towards independence, abuse can escalate quickly.

Common Signs of Abuse: The Power and Control Wheel

The “Power and Control Wheel” is a resource used by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. It divides abuse into eight categories, which you can see in the following image. Here you’ll see that abuse includes but is not limited to physical actions.

Coercion and threats: This can include self-harm, threats of suicide, or threats to hurt you or someone you love. Possible threats include violent ones, but other forms of harm are included as well.

An abuser may threaten to get you in trouble in some way or take something you value. These threats are made in order to intimidate you so you’ll submit to their demands or allow them to further abuse you. Threats of self-harm may also be used, in order to guilt you into giving in to the abuser’s demands.

Domestic abuse does not always happen how you might think. It can start small and build up from there. Often, abusers choose kind-hearted, empathetic victims whose very strengths are used against them. The victims are then manipulated into a life of submission to a controlling, abusive partner.

Intimidation: This form of abuse is related to coercion and threats. Intimidation describes the instilling of fear to force the victim into compliance. If the victim does not comply, she knows there will be consequences.

Emotional abuse: This type of abuse can be easy to hide or deny. Since it doesn’t leave physical scars, the abuser often claims the abuse didn’t happen or that the victim is exaggerating, being overly sensitive, etc.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of mind games, put-downs, insults that may or may not be disguised as jokes, minimizing, denying, blame-shifting, gaslighting, using male privilege, and more. The effect of this over time is that the victim’s confidence and self-worth drastically deteriorate. The victim then finds herself constantly seeking the intermittent reinforcement (periods of affection, approval, compliments, etc.) that the abuser periodically doles out.

This type of abuse can seem subtle, but it can eventually overtake the entire relationship and become normalized. When you’re coming to terms with emotional abuse, you need to know that it is not okay for your partner to degrade you, bully you, or verbally abuse you.

Emotionally abusive partners will seek (whether consciously or subconsciously) to condition their victim to accept this unacceptable and cruel behavior, but it is not normal or acceptable, and you do not deserve it.

Isolation is another form of control used by abusive partners. Little by little, the abuser removes your independence. You lose control over your time, spend less time with your friends and family, and become completely absorbed in the relationship. Not only does this isolation enable more abuse to take place, but it also removes both witnesses and influencers who could help break the cycle.

Over time, the abuse escalates as the victim becomes more isolated, and then she has no one to talk to. This benefits the abuser because the more isolated the victim is, the less likely someone will convince her that he’s abusive and she needs to leave.

Many domestic abusers will minimize and deny that the abuse is even happening. The abuser can also blame their significant other for the abuse. This can be very confusing for the victim. I have heard clients say things like, “Am I going crazy? Is this really not happening?” This is all part of the abuser’s control tactics, by making you feel “crazy” and/or confused, and he can keep the abuse going.

Minimizing and denying: This is an integral part of abuse. Very few abusers are violent, angry, or mean 24/7. They intersperse their abuse with occasional good treatment (although this can become more and more rare as the abuse escalates).

This keeps the victim confused and off-balance. She might think that the latest abusive incident is the last one. She might think it’s her fault, which he would like to convince her of, especially if she responds emotionally or angrily to his treatment of her.

Often the abuser will convince the victim that his treatment of her is not that big of a deal, that she’s just too sensitive, that all relationships are like this, or that it didn’t happen at all. (This is especially powerful if he is not physically violent but sticks to emotional abuse. How can she prove it, even to herself?)

Abusers also gaslight their victims by claiming to forget an abusive incident or twisting it to make it seem like it happened differently than it did.

Using children: Abusive partners often use children as pawns in their quest to control their victim. They take advantage of a mother’s fierce maternal instincts and manipulate that love to intimidate, threaten, manipulate, and/or demean her.

One of the most frequent and potent examples of this is when an abuser threatens to take the kids and prevent the victim from seeing them. He does this so she will agree to his terms. It can be terrifying to encounter this and know what to do next to both escape the abuse and not lose the children.

Male privilege: This type of abuse is when a man uses his gender as a basis for power and control. He bases his demands on the fact that he is the man of the house, or on his twisted view of traditional gender roles. Many healthy marriages are based on traditional gender roles, but it is not healthy when a man uses “gender roles” to control his partner.

He does this to create an imbalance of power so he can make unilateral decisions without taking her thoughts or wishes into account. This leads to a feeling of helplessness on the part of the victim. She might feel as if she has no say in anything about her life or decisions for the family.

Economic abuse: This is another form of subtle abuse that is very difficult to identify and address. It involves the woman being financially dependent and the man using this to control her and benefit himself. This can take many forms, and it can happen whether or not she is working herself.

What Should I Do Now?

If you have read this and started to realize that you are in an abusive relationship, or maybe that someone you know is, it’s important to know what to do next.

Assessing the safety and risks is the important factor. Once a woman begins to make efforts to change the relationship or to leave the situation, the risk of violence increases exponentially. Making a safety plan is paramount if you believe there is even the slightest risk of violence.

Listen to your intuition; it’s a powerful ally. Physical abuse can begin suddenly even if only non-physical abuse was happening before. The National Domestic Hotline (1-800-799-7233) can be a good place to start assessing your safety and deciding what to do next.

Seek Counseling

A counselor can be an invaluable resource if you feel that you are experiencing domestic abuse. The isolation of abuse can make freedom seem almost impossible to attain. Doing it alone is overwhelming, and it’s easy for the abuser to maintain control.

The support and professional guidance you’ll receive from a Christian counselor can help alleviate the anxiety of this process. We will walk with you as you begin your journey to safety, freedom, and healing.

Escaping a domestic abuse situation is not simple. A counselor can help you to carry out the next indicated actions, as well as providing practical help making a safety plan, finding lawyers, medical professionals, understanding the law, and more.

The emotions and possibly trauma involved in domestic abuse will require a committed and extended recovery process. Feelings of low self-worth are common and normal after abuse. Counseling can help you process what you’ve been through and find a healthy place of recovery, hope, and personal growth.

The Lord provides comfort for His children. We want to help you seek a relationship with Him so that you can lean on Him each day of this difficult journey. He loves you and does not desire for you to be abused and mistreated.

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4) As Christian counselors, we desire to be instruments of His freedom and healing. You do not have to go through this alone.

Photos:
“Alone,” courtesy of Tiko Giorgadze, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hurt”, Courtesy of Dmitry Ratushny, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Victim”, Courtesy of Zach Guinta, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reflection”, Courtesy of AKi Kikuti, Flickr.com, CC 2.0 License

Social Anxiety: How to Manage Well

Social situations tend to make many of us anxious. Some of us find meeting people a challenge. Walking into a place where there are people we don’t know makes us uncomfortable. It is common to try to work around these uncomfortable situations in order to survive in the world.

Anxiety can prevent us from taking part in social activities. It can cause us to have problems at work or keep us from going to gatherings. When we are missing out, it is high time to take a close look at our anxiety and the social phobia it is causing in order to better understand it and to better enable us to get help.

When Social Anxiety Becomes a Disorder

The more you know about a problem, the easier it is to find a solution. The same is true with social anxiety and the disorder behind it. Learning more about the diagnosis of it and what it entails will help you assess your symptoms so you can determine whether seeking mental health assistance is advisable. In the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or, DSM-5), Social Anxiety Disorder is described as:

“Marked anxiety or fear having to do with a social situation, or situations, where the individual is exposed to the possibility of being scrutinized by others. It might be brought on by something like a conversation with another person or persons, meeting new people, being observed when drinking, eating or something similar, and/or performing or speaking in front of others such as giving a speech.”

In children, the anxiety must be brought on in a setting that is pure rather than just when they are interacting with adults.

The individual has anxiety and fear of acting in a certain way or of showing the symptoms of anxiety in a fashion that will be viewed negatively such as being embarrassed or humiliated which will ultimately lead to being rejected by or offending others.

The situations are typically socially oriented and almost always instigated by anxiety or fear. It is common for children to express their anxiety and fear through crying, freezing, clinging, throwing tantrums or not speaking when they are in social situations.

Social situations which provoke negative emotions are either endured with great anxiety and fear or avoided altogether. The degree of anxiety or fear is exaggerated in comparison to the threat that’s posed from the situation or the socio-cultural context. Generally, the individual experiences the anxiety and/or fear for a period of six months or longer.

The negative feelings of anxiety or fear or the action of avoidance bring on significant clinical distress or the inability to function properly in the individual’s occupation, social life or another important area. It’s important to note that the avoidance is not brought about by drugs, illicit or prescription.

If there is a medical condition that exists (like Parkinson’s disease, disfigurement from injury or burns, obesity or such) the problem is only classified as social anxiety if it is not caused by the medical problems or if it is in extreme excess.

Self-diagnosing is not wise when you are concerned if you have a mental disorder just as it is not advisable to self-diagnose when wondering about medical problems. It is imperative to be certain that you are given the correct diagnosis and, if warranted, the right treatment as well. It is recommended that you incorporate time with a therapist to ensure you get the proper diagnosis.

Rekindling Our Bodily Connection

Anxiety is never comfortable. That is why our natural reaction is to get as far as we can away from it. We do whatever we can in order to avoid feeling it. The problem is that this type of reaction is counterproductive to the diagnosing of the problem and to successful treatment. With this in mind, the next time you feel anxiety creeping in, try to turn to it instead of away from it. Acknowledge your feeling. Don’t hide from it.

It is also helpful to approach it with curiosity. Ask yourself where you are feeling it. Perhaps it is in your stomach, or the area around your chest or in your neck. Sometimes, tingling fingers or hands accompany fear and anxiety.

Try to get a grip on it through taking deep, controlled breaths. Breathe in through your nose and then out slowly through your mouth, counting to three. Once you have completed the deep breathing exercise, attempt to figure out what the trigger is.

There are times the trigger will be obvious. You may suddenly recall that you are about to go to a party where there will be a number of people you don’t know. Or, it may seemingly come out of nowhere. It is a good idea to ask yourself where it came from anytime your anxiety or anger rises suddenly. Even if you don’t have the answer, you will be taking a step toward your recovery.

Trigger Complexities

Our mind, body, and emotions are all interconnected which means there can be a myriad of possibilities when it comes to causes for our anxieties, social ones included. It is a defense mechanism that we develop early on to deal with traumatic experiences. We naturally defend ourselves against further harm and protect ourselves from the pain as well.

Imagine you are in a dark room full of furniture. You can’t see the furniture so you continue to bump into it time after time. A therapist helps you to identify and understand the triggers you have, much like illuminating the furniture, one piece at a time.

When you can clearly see the furniture, the less likely you are to run into it as much and when you happen to, you know just what you ran into. Throughout the course of time, you may even decide to move the furniture elsewhere rather than it being in the middle of the room where you easily bump into it.

Understanding Social Anxiety

It is conducive to have a range to work with when we are trying to get a handle on our anxieties in social situations. When you note that it is rising, assign it a suitable number. “I feel my anxiety is at a 7 on a scale where 10 is the highest,” you may tell yourself. If you find your anxiety is in the 7-and-over range much of the time, it would be a wise idea to set up a meeting with a qualified therapist.

If you leave high anxiety unchecked, you can condition your body to be chronically anxious. That is why there are some disorders of anxiety that only get better with medication.

When you have identified the degree of your level of anxiety, the next thing you will want to do is to make an attempt to lower it by using the tools you have at your disposal. When our anxiety is soaring, it is very difficult to think with a clear head and deep breathing can be helpful at times like this. It sends a signal to your sympathetic nervous area (the system that deals with fight or flight) that it is alright to be calm as there is no danger.

While you are doing deep and slow breathing, you can try to think and focus on just one thing. It might be a smooth stone, a waterfall or a word. Since our minds can only handle thinking about one thing at a time, it becomes impossible to dwell on the fear at hand when we are thinking about a stone or waterfall. Initially, it may be difficult to do because we feel as if we are thinking of a million things at once, but in reality, our minds are just racing with many thoughts coming at us, one by one.

Controlling our focus is the key to stopping the circus. It takes some practice but it can be done. When you think of positive things about yourself, you will find that your anxiousness subsides. A good bit of the worry we have is based on things that are not true. You may feel God is going to punish you for something or that you are going to get a disease. Think of fears you had in the past that never came to pass. That is very helpful in recognizing the unwarranted fears.

Putting your thoughts and feelings into perspective is helpful too. Since there are millions of things that have the ability to kill you, you can see how it is a complete wasting of your time to try to figure out which of those things you will die from. Living in the here and now means not being obsessed with the past or the future. Now is all we have anyway so, why not chose to live in it?

It will be easier to think clearly when your anxiety has subsided and is under control. That is the time to think about the root of your social anxiety. Know the difference between normal anxiety and anxiety that is not typical. If you are at odds with someone and are nervous about running into them, that is normal. But, if you fear to encounter anyone, that is not.

What is it that scares you about the given situation? Do you worry that you will not know what to do or say and will look foolish? Are you afraid you will say something but it won’t be appropriate? Do you fear you will fall or break something and look clumsy?

In each one of the cases mentioned, fear is the underlying factor. You are afraid of looking foolish or like a jerk. You are afraid that you will be rejected or hated. While the fear is not legitimate because it is exaggerated, it certainly feels true. Until you take it by the horns. Realize that one of the greatest fears humans have is abandonment. Do you fear you will be left alone?

The stakes seem incredibly high when social anxiety tells that you will do or say something so bad that you’ll be hated, despised or abandoned. But when you start to understand more about the situation, you can make a plan and have a way out. You can control and manage your situation and fight the lies that you have let yourself believe.

Managing Social Anxiety

There are many experiences when it comes to anxiety and everyone is different. It is not possible to address each possible situation so I will be using a few vignettes with various examples of possibilities for the approaches. These are generalized in order to hopefully paint a picture that many can imagine themselves in.

First Vignette – A twenty-eight-year-old male is employed at a large company where there are no inside walls and the individual desks are grouped. Each person in the area views and contributes to everyone’s work. One day, the man walks into the area and his heart begins to race. He feels like he is getting dizzy and reaches to steady himself. He gets out of the building as quickly as he can and the thought of ever going back paralyzes him with overwhelming anxiety.

Approach Possibilities – When there is a symptom of dizziness or any form of chest pains, it is certainly recommended that a physician is consulted in order to rule out any medical causes. If medical causes are ruled out, then you can look further into the root.

One thing to check into is if anyone he is not comfortable with moving in closer to his proximity. Has the work he has been doing been brought into the spotlight and he has been ignoring it to where it has become an insurmountable anxiety? Perhaps the close quarters in his work setting is finally closing in on him. Is there anything about the area of his workspace that has undergone change or has any of the relationships changed?

If all environmental factors have been ruled out, it could very well boil down to a psychodynamic contributor, like having an overly critical father or mother who continually made him feel belittled. While this issue is one that can take some time to really work through, there are short-term solutions that can temporarily help to boost his self-confidence.

This is where the tools mentioned above could really help to calm anxiousness in the moment. Focusing on one single thing could be very helpful. If the given anxiety has continued for over six months, it might not respond to somatic techniques in which case, a visit with a qualified psychiatrist might be in order to talk about the possibility of an anti-anxiety prescription. Persistence and patience when pursuing a diagnosis is the best route to getting the best care possible.

Second Vignette – A thirty-something-year-old female always has anxiety creep up when she is in public, but one night when she is at a party where she doesn’t know hardly anyone, she gets so anxious that she has to flee the party.

Approach Possibilities – Like the man in the first vignette, the manifestation of chest pains or dizziness is a good indication a doctor should be seen as a first step.

If leaving the party helped to calm her, it might be of help to rule out the environmental factors that could have possibly been present. Asking if there was anything in the room that seemed to be threatening in some familiar way is a good place to start. Smells can initiate triggers too. Was there a smell that could have triggered an old trauma response emotionally?

Perhaps someone vocalized something that triggered the response. Maybe there was a person who appeared to be familiar but who she couldn’t seem to place and that mentally distressed her. And, there might be a person who had a similarity to someone within her past who was threatening.

Environmental factors should be ruled out and psychodynamic roots can be addressed and looked into too. Taking steps of desensitization may well be the most helpful answer so that she doesn’t have to avoid going to parties for months or even years.

The first thing she might attempt is to go to another party in order to see if the problem is a recurring one. Then, she could try meeting a stranger and a friend together. Then she could be around one friend and five or so strangers at once.

As she does this, she should monitor her anxiety level and also watch for triggers. She can then begin to get in touch with the level of her anxiety and can work to develop solutions for workarounds and also to address the specific issues she has.

While there are common factors, everyone’s individual anxiety is different. It is something that is unique to them and only them. It takes courage and it takes determination to face fears and to wonder about them so we can reduce anxiety by developing and using techniques.

If anxiety is disrupting your life, it is time to get help so you can explore your thoughts and feelings. Getting help will help you take steps toward a life of growth and better health. You can be free.

Photos
“Anxious,” courtesy of Sascha Berner, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Thinking,” courtesy of Jacob Botter, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Stretch,” courtesy of Jacob Postuma, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alejandra thinking II,” courtesy of Luis Alejandro Bernal Romeo, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

How Do I Know if I Need Help for Depression?

Emotions, including sadness, are a natural part of what it means to be human. As much as Facebook friends might never admit it publicly, life isn’t all “likes” and “shares.” When sadness becomes all-encompassing and debilitating over an extended period, it may be time to consider the need to get help for depression.

We’ve all heard of depression, but how much do we really understand about it? It’s often misunderstood in terms of its clinical diagnosis and greatly overused in pop culture.

According to a recent 2016 national survey on drug use and health, an estimated 16.2 million adults 18 or older across the United States experienced at least one or more major episode of depression (SAMHSA, 2016).

This number represents nearly 5% of all adults (Bureau, 2016) with the highest percentage of occurrence among adult females (8.5%). From 2005 to 2015 depression had the highest increase among teenagers with the most rapid increases seen in young people (A. H. Weinberger, 2017).

When Should I Get Help for Depression?

Because depression can vary in how it presents itself, it’s difficult to know whether it’s truly a mental health concern or simply a case of the blues.

Below are some of the more common symptoms of depression that you should be aware of:

A pervasive feeling of sadness and hopelessness

Changes in emotional functioning are one of the most noticeable early signs of depression. You may notice yourself feeling more irritable, or just plain sad more days than not. Things suddenly feel hopeless, crying becomes a daily routine, sometimes for no clear reason.

You may begin to blame yourself for your condition and the lack of control you feel with your emotions. This is often accompanied by growing feelings of anger internalized to yourself.

Things you might find yourself saying things like:

  • “I can’t do this anymore.”
  • “Why do I feel this way, no matter how hard I try nothing changes?”
  • “I should just give up.”

Lashing out and reduced patience

If you’re noticing that you’re very short-tempered or yelling at your spouse or kids a lot, or otherwise lashing out. Instead of working through your feelings, and identifying their root cause you may project them onto others, blaming those around you for the feelings you have about yourself.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “You don’t understand me, you never have.”
  • “All you do is think about yourself, you don’t care how I feel.”
  • “Why am I always angry, I hate myself. I’m a horrible parent.”

A lack of appetite or disinterest in food

A sudden change in weight, either gaining or losing, can be a warning sign of depression. You may lack appetite, or no longer remember the last time you ate or have interest in foods that were once enjoyed. This is often tied to feelings of low self-worth regarding body image.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “No matter how hard I try, I’ll always look this way. I can’t change a thing.”
  • “I cry by myself and then I eat, it’s what makes me feel better for a short while.”
  • “I’m not hungry right now.”

Fatigue, lethargy, reduced physical activity

Another common symptom associated with clinal depression is being extremely restless at night and constantly tired during the day when awake, with little to no motivation to get out of bed to start daily activities. Going to work, or getting the kids on the bus in the morning becomes overwhelming. Even trips to the grocery store may begin to seem like they are simply too much to handle.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “Can we go out another time, I’m just not up for it today.”
  • “I’m falling behind on my work, I just can’t keep up. Who cares anymore, it doesn’t matter.”
  • “Why am I so tired all the time. I can’t get any good sleep, I just need to rest a little longer.”

Having feelings of worthless or excessive guilt

You may experience increased feelings of guilt about things that have occurred in the past. Regret and a growing sense of how little you matter to the fabric of everyday life with your friends and family may begin to fester. This often is accompanied by an increased or sudden onset of thoughts of death or dying.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “It might be better for everyone if I wasn’t around anymore.”
  • “It’s as if I didn’t exist now, no one even notices that I’m not around.”
  • “No one cares about me, and why should they, I’m a mess.”

A loss of interest interesting or pleasurable activities

It is common for people who are experiencing depression to experience a decreased or complete loss of interest in life. Things that once provided a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment no longer provide any satisfaction. Spending time with friends or family becomes more of a chore as isolation and solitude increase.

This often results in even greater feelings of worthlessness as one considers a possible reality where they are no longer tethered to the lives and activities of others they once identified as foundational to their sense of self.

Things you might find yourself saying:

  • “It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares about me anyway.”
  • “I’m all alone.”
  • “They will be better off if I’m not there. They don’t want to spend time with me anyway.”

Hope Through Christian Counseling

If you are reading this and you are concerned that you are experiencing one or more of these changes in functioning, health, or lifestyle, it is important that you seek treatment to determine the underlying cause.

Many different issues can be at the root of the emotions that cause symptoms of depression. A number of counselors at Huntington Beach Christian Counseling work directly with individuals and families who struggle with depression.

Give us a call and we can meet with you today to help you find the path to a functional and enjoyable life once again.

References

A. H. Weinberger, M. G. (2017, October). Trends in depression prevalence in the USA from 2005 to 2015: widening disparities in vulnerable groups. Psychological Medicine.

Bureau, U. C. (2016, July). Quick Facts United States. Retrieved from US Census: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045217

SAMHSA. (2016). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved from SAMHSA: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm#mde

Photos

“Depressed”, Courtesy of Anh Nnguyen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Eruption”, Courtesy of Yosh Ginsu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Alex Boyd, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Ian Espinosa, Unsplash.com, CC0 License

Do Not Battle Alone: Seek Help for Depression

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8

Among the psychological struggles plaguing people in the US, depression is one of the more common ones. The ADAA.org states that “MDD [Major Depressive Disorder] affects more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.”

And even for adolescents, depression is an issue. “In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents age 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the previous year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.” (ADAA.org)

These statistics are not surprising, however, given that life is so unpredictable. Negative experiences like the death of a loved one, separation, illnesses and accidents, failure at work or school and other forms of emotional or physical harm can readily cause severe depression.

Fortunately, it can be overcome.

The Various Ways to Get Help for Depression

Because depression is a common issue, much research has been done to discover ways to battle depression. Here are some things to do to receive help for depression.

1. Talk to somebody

One important step is to open up to someone about the problems causing the depression. The more a person stays isolated, the more hopeless the situation becomes. Speaking to a trusted family member, friend, or colleague can do wonders to lift the emotional burdens. Just the feeling of being cared for through their concern can make a sufferer feel that they are not alone.

Professional counseling is another way as some loved ones are unsure of what to say, especially if the issue is very complicated or life-threatening. Professional counselors can better probe the issue to get to the true root of the problem. If needed, counselors may also prescribe medicines to combat the problem.

2. Get diagnosed

There are different forms of depression such as major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and even depression due to medical conditions. Each one has its own characteristics.

Since depression recovery requires the willing cooperation of the sufferer, it helps that the sufferer feels that they are in good hands. This is more quickly done if the type of depression is known so that the counselor knows how to objectively explain what the sufferer is going through.

3. Join a support group

For many people undergoing struggles – emotional or physical, it helps to know that you are not alone. In a support group, experiences are shared, and emotions are unburdened.

4. Contact a crisis worker

In case depression leads to suicidal thoughts, it is imperative that the sufferer speaks to somebody about this. Sadly, many are not able to as they feel ashamed to reach out to a loved one or there may be no loved ones around to speak to. Fortunately, there are hotlines specifically for this need.

  • One may call the suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
  • One may also text 741741 and be connected immediately to a crisis worker for no charge.

5. Learn more about depression

A sufferer of depression can proactively choose to deal with their situation by learning more about what they are going through. There are many available resources (e.g. blogs, articles, videos and books) that deal with this, many of which written by people who dealt with depression themselves.

Here are some helpful options:

While there are several good books out there discussing depression, two very good Christian books on surmounting depression are:

  • When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper
  • Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine

Take Care of Yourself

As with any mental issue, help from others is important in order to address what is causing the suffering. But there are also things that a sufferer must do for themselves to take care of their physical, mental and spiritual health. Failure to do so will make the depression will feel even more insurmountable.

1. Exercise and diet

Just like in other sicknesses, mental issues or injuries, if the physical body is not well, then overcoming the problem becomes more difficult. A weak body can affect the mind and soul. While a depressed person may not “feel” like taking care of themselves, it is important that this is still done. For example, a quick jog around the neighborhood or a trip to the gym can give the sufferer a healthy change of scenery to uplift their mood.

Additionally, a proper diet is necessary to prevent sickness and ensure that one’s mood does not become even more morose, adding to the depression.

2. Yoga

In recent years, yoga has become quite popular in Western culture as a way to keep the body and mind strong.

The physical discipline required to do it, as well as the emphasis on deep breathing and mindfulness of one’s body and thoughts, do wonders for obtaining self-control and peace of mind. Research has even shown that yoga can positively combat anxiety.

3. Keep a journal

Similar to the methods of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), journal writing allows a person to focus on their mental process and how that may be affecting them. When thoughts are written down, a sufferer may look at them objectively to unlock the negative thoughts behind their mental issues. Journal writing may also work as an “eraser” or “editing marker”, allowing a person to remove negative ideas or perhaps view them in a different light.

But even if journaling does not allow them to see the roots of their negativity, at least it may serve as an outlet for emotional release.

3. Listen to healing music

Music can be a means to heal if the melody and message are right. The following are some Christian artists whose songs can help heal.

  • Sleeping at Last

Try the songs “Saturn”, “Emphasis”, and “You are Enough.”

  • Bellarive

The song “Tendons” is about the act of grace committed on the cross.

  • Josh Garrels

The songs “Beyond the Blue,” “Farther Along,” and “Born Again” are very helpful.

  • Needtobreathe

Many of their light-hearted tunes contain much depth for the soul.

4. Read the Bible and Pray

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. – Psalm 40:1-3

All over Scripture, it is clearly seen that there is an on-going spiritual battle for our souls. Prayer and Bible reading are direct ways to fight the darkness’ powers that threaten to turn us away from God.

When depressed, a sufferer may feel that their spirit is at an all-time low, making it easier to succumb to negative thoughts about self-harm (e.g. suicide, alcohol or drug abuse) or breaking relationships (e.g. divorce, running away, isolation). This is why it is very important for the sufferer to reconnect with God.

Another helpful spiritual activity is to have someone pray for you or pray with you. As earlier stated, opening up to others is already a helpful step when battling depression.

It helps to know that somebody cares about your situation. But corporate prayer is also a powerful method in dire circumstances as there are two or more of you seeking God’s wisdom and help through Christ.

As stated in Matthew 18:19-20, “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

Our Savior knows what is like to be human and what it means to struggle. If there is anyone that can help, it is He.

Depression is a serious issue indeed. It saps a person’s emotional, physical and spiritual energy, causing them to look at life from darkly tinted lenses.

If you or someone you know is suffering from it, it is best to get help soon. The abovementioned methods should be reviewed and applied. However, if professional counseling seems to be the best path, then you should get into contact with a professional Christian counselor who can listen to your concerns while applying Scripture to heal both mind and soul.

Photos
“Tearful”, Courtesy of Kat J, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Group Effort”, Courtesy of Rawpixel.com, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Yoga”, Courtesy of Matthew Kane, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “His Word,” Courtesy of jclk8888, Pixabay.com, CC0 License