In these unusual times, the stresses and strains of everyday life, which can seem overwhelming at the best of times, can be amplified by the pressures of social isolation. A pandemic raises fears for the health of oneself and others as well as financial worries for those for whom the future of their employment or businesses is unsure.
These stresses can manifest themselves in different sleeping or eating habits as well as negative implications for both physical and mental wellbeing which, in turn, can result in increased use of tobacco or alcohol.
If you feel that you are facing a crisis then you should not hesitate to seek help. In the US, the CDC has a list of places you can turn to for help and in the UK, the NHS Every Mind Matters site has lots of useful advice including tips if you are worried about coronavirus, how to sleep better, looking after children and young people, working and living at home and what to do if you feel lonely. You can even create a mind plan to help you deal with stress and anxiety.
Our brains rely on four chemicals for happiness: Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphin.
Dopamine gives us determination to accomplish goals, desires and needs. Deficiency can lead to procrastination, low self-esteem, low energy or fatigue, an inability to focus, feelings of anxiety and hopelessness and mood swings. Tactics to deal with this deficiency could include meditation, a daily to-do list, long-term goals, foods rich in L-tyrosine such as cheese, soybeans, beef, lamb, pork, fish, chicken, nuts, eggs, dairy, beans, and whole-grain, exercise or taking up creative activities such as writing, music or art.
Oxytocin gives us a feeling of trust and motivates us to build and sustain relationships. A deficiency can result in us feeling lonely or stressed with low energy or fatigue, becoming disconnected from relationships or suffering anxiety or insomnia. This can be alleviated by physical touch, socialising, massage, acupuncture, listening to music, exercise, cold showers or meditation.
Serotonin helps us to feel significant and gives us a calm form of accepting ourselves with those around us. A deficiency can lead to low self-esteem, over sensitivity, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, a feeling of hopelessness, social phobia, obsessive/compulsion and insomnia. The best ways to build levels of serotonin are exercise, cold showers, sunlight and massage.
Endorphin releases a brief euphoria to mask physical pain and can alleviate anxiety and depression. A deficiency can lead to anxiety and depression, mood swings, aches and pains, insomnia and impulsive behaviour. The best remedies and laughter or crying, creating music or art, eating dark chocolate or spicy foods, exercise, stretching, massage and meditation.
If you suspect you may be suffering from depression you might want to complete this patient health questionnaire which helps medical professionals to diagnose if a patient is suffering from mental health issues. The questionnaire will give you a Depression Severity: 0-4 none, 5-9 mild, 10-14 moderate, 15-19 moderately severe, 20-27 severe. Even if you feel you have a mild or moderate depression then you should consider contacting a medical professional such as a doctor, counsellor or psychologist or at the very least find someone with whom you can share your concerns.
Likewise, there is a general anxiety disorder assessment which uses a similar questionnaire to identify mild, moderate and severe anxiety. If you have a score of more than 10 then further evaluation is recommended and you should speak with a medical professional.
In situations when exercise, meditation, healthy diet, and psychologists seem to make no difference then a psychiatrist may be able to prescribe medication to help your brain to absorb the chemicals above. Sometimes we genetically inherit and inability to use the chemicals that help us to be happy.
For example, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a widely used type of antidepressant. They’re mainly prescribed to treat depression, particularly persistent or severe cases, and are often used in combination with a talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
It’s thought that SSRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a messenger chemical that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain). It’s thought to have a good influence on mood, emotion and sleep.
After carrying a message, serotonin is usually reabsorbed by the nerve cells (known as “reuptake”). SSRIs work by blocking (“inhibiting”) reuptake, meaning more serotonin is available to pass further messages between nearby nerve cells.
It would be too simplistic to say that depression and related mental health conditions are caused by low serotonin levels, but a rise in serotonin levels can improve symptoms and make people more responsive to other types of treatment, such as CBT.
However you are feeling at the moment, you can be sure you are not alone, there are millions of people around the world who are feeling the same way. Do not be afraid of reaching out for help because there is plenty of help available. If you suspect a friend or family might benefit from seeking help then don’t be shy in reaching out to them.
A problem shared is a problem halved.
Stay safe and take care