Filed under: Depression
There’s a strong relationship between your mental health and cardiovascular health, and new research suggests that both are closely tied together in ways not previously understood.
By some estimates, those with cardiovascular disease are 3 times more likely to struggle with depression. They’re also likely to go undiagnosed because of the stigma associated with mental illness and the lack of mental health evaluations conducted in medical settings. The prognosis is worse for adults with depression: 80% are at increased risk of developing new cardiovascular illness, experiencing complications or hospitalizations, and dying from heart disease.
Depression can worsen cardiovascular health through other health behaviors too. For example, those with depression might be less willing to follow medical treatment plans, more likely to eat unhealthy “comfort” foods—especially ones high in sugar and sodium—and live more sedentary lifestyles. Depression impacts certain stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which also can “spike” your blood sugar, blood pressure, and resting heart rate.
On the flip side, psychological well-being might be associated with higher levels of cardiovascular health. Optimism, for example, might reduce your risk of heart disease. How? Optimism is characterized by expecting good things to happen or having a sense of control, and both perspectives can influence you to engage in restorative health behaviors, reduce risky or harmful behaviors, and make better choices. If you believe that what you do affects your health, you’re more likely to take purposeful action to deal with your illness and take preventive measures to ward off disease in the first place.
Psychological health and illness impact cardiovascular health, and vice versa. The relationship is a complicated, two-way street. Love your heart by taking care of yourself and seeking help for depression when needed. Your heart will thank you for it.
It’s almost time to turn the clock back, and for some people, this time of year signals darker days ahead. Shorter days and less exposure to light are no longer thought to directly cause increases in depressive disorders. However, you might still observe noticeable shifts in your mood, behavior, motivation, and even your diet and physical activity routines during this time of year. The increasing darkness and downshift in temperature don’t have to mean the same for your well-being. If falling back is a time you dread, try these tips to create light in the darker days:
- Take care of yourself. Remember that optimal performance requires recovery. Autumn is the perfect opportunity to take time for yourself. Bank some sleep before you have to run around or travel for the holidays. Get in a few extra workouts so you can savor a piece of pie at Thanksgiving dinner without the side of guilt. Rest now so that you can be resilient later.
- Set new SMART goals. You don’t have to wait until the New Year to set resolutions. This is a great time of year to assess the goals you want to work toward in the coming year and begin establishing daily habits early, long before the ball drops in Times Square. Doing an azimuth check now can help to keep you on track through the busy holiday season and reignite a sense of purpose.
- Perspective matters. Some of the reasons why you might feel sluggish and unmotivated during of the change in season are a proxy of your expectations: You think you’re supposed to feel that way, and so you do. Try shifting your lens. Are there things you can look forward to in the winter? Maybe you want to dig into that book you’ve put aside? Break out your snowboard and plan a trip? Focusing on what you’re anticipating rather than what you dread can make a world of difference.
Fall and winter don’t have to become the seasons of your discontent. The grass will be greener when things warm up again, but make sure you take advantage of now to enhance your well-being.
Depression can impact your mood and performance, preventing you from doing your best at work, on a mission, and at home. A total fitness approach—including physical activity, proper nutrition, positive relationships with others, and mind-body skills—to overcoming depression can reduce feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness and lack of motivation or energy, so you can perform well on your mission.
It’s estimated that about 12% of deployed military personnel and 13% of those previously deployed meet the criteria for depression. And many more service members struggle with bouts of misery or restlessness. A total force fitness approach can help. Read more...
The U.S. military supports the use of service dogs and therapy dogs to help wounded warriors obtain a higher level of independence, well-being, and purpose.
There’s an important distinction between service and therapy dogs. Service dogs are trained to do work or perform specific tasks for those with disabilities (as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act). The dog becomes a full-time companion for the person it serves. Service dogs also can retrieve objects, turn on lights, or open doors for those with mobility issues. Guide dogs assist visually impaired individuals, and signal dogs alert those who are hearing-impaired.
Therapy dogs offer goal-directed emotional, psychological, and (sometimes) physical support. They’re trained to provide comfort, affection, and unconditional acceptance. They can complement treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) too. A therapy dog usually belongs to its “handler,” who accompanies it on visits to patients. Such dogs also complete special training, but it’s less lengthy than that of service dogs.
The value of animal-assisted interventions (including service and therapy dogs) has become widely accepted. The range of benefits includes positive physical and psychological health effects. Just physically touching a dog can reduce blood pressure, anxiety, stress, and hopelessness. These dogs are helping injured and ill service members at military and veterans’ hospitals across the country.
A special program exists where the roles of dogs in service and therapy come together: Veterans with PTSD train service dogs for veterans with mobility issues. This is a win-win: Both the veteran-trainer and the mobility-impaired veteran benefit from the same dog. Veteran-trainers learn and use positive methods of shaping a dog’s behavior, and as they do so, regain control of their own emotions, focus their attention, improve their social competence, and gain a sense of meaningful purpose.
Taking an active role in keeping your mind healthy and happy can keep you from feeling down or depressed. Staying on top of your mood can help maintain healthy relationships with your family and loved ones. If you’re not sure whether or not you might be depressed, here are some things to look out for:
- lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities;
- significant weight loss or gain;
- insomnia or excessive sleeping;
- lack of energy;
- inability to concentrate; and
- symptoms such as feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Getting the support of a mental health professional is generally a good idea in dealing with symptoms of depression, but even if you’re in therapy, you can play an active role in improving your situation. Try following some of our simple tips found here.
Anxiety can help motivate you to perform better, but too much can become overwhelming and get in the way of living life to the fullest. When ignored or avoided, anxiety can actually become more intense rather than less. To keep anxiety under control, we have three letters for you: PFD. We aren’t talking about a Personal Flotation Device; we’re talking about first preventing anxiety, then facing it, and finally de-stressing. Read more...
We’ve all heard of depression. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s easy to think that someone could just snap out of it if they wanted to. Depression doesn’t work like that. It can have an impact on a person in every way—physically, mentally, and emotionally, even extending to relationships—and can range from mild to severe. According to the American Psychological Association, “Depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.” Depression is an illness considered to be treatable with professional help.
This factsheet from afterdeployment.org details the signs and symptoms of depression. They also have an anonymous online assessment, general information, personal stories shared by those who’ve experienced depression, an interactive workbook that can help you challenge negative thoughts and identify depression triggers, and information about the link between behaviors and mood. Also take a look at the factsheet on Taking Charge of Depression, which includes helpful strategies.
For more information about depression or other mental states that can influence your performance, check out the section of HPRC’s website on depression. However, if you feel you are in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line—someone is available 24/7 for online chat or via phone at 1-800-273-TALK.
Mindfulness can help you feel better equipped to handle difficult emotions. It’s a process geared to help you tune into emotional experiences rather than try to escape from them. People can feel overcome by depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or other mental health problems, which, ironically, can be exacerbated by trying to forget the cause. For example, a Warfighter afflicted with PTSD often relives difficult events through dreams, flashbacks, or unwanted memories, because he/she desperately wants to avoid experiencing those events. To illustrate this idea, right now, try NOT to think of weapons. You probably thought about them that much more.
Practicing mindfulness mediation means focusing on whatever you are experiencing in the present moment. It can be a structured meditation activity, but because mindfulness is about being present, you can purposefully engage in mindfulness anytime, anywhere. A common meditative approach is to focus on a physical experience such as your breathing, noticing where your attention wanders, and gently guiding it back to your breath; it allows you to experience sadness, anger, fear, and other unpleasant emotions, letting them pass without clinging to the idea of making them go away.”
If you have ever “white-knuckled” your way through an amusement park ride (or ridden in a car with a driver you didn’t trust), you may remember thinking, “When will this be over? Please let it be over…” This shows that focusing on how long something lasts can make it feel like an eternity. By engaging in mindfulness, you will feel less threatened by certain emotions, and you will be less likely to engage in problematic forms of escape (such as drinking, drugs, or simply spacing out).
When people experience difficult emotions, they often cope by engaging the language center of the brain, using words internally to wrestle with the experience. But when people have difficulty re-evaluating why they feel the way they do, this leads to a circular internal debate (such as “I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do, but I shouldn’t…”), which can be pointless and can actually cause more distress. Emotions can be dealt with not just through words but also by tapping into their physical elements (noticing how you feel in your body). When people engage in regular mindfulness practice, the parts of their brains tuned into physical sensations are activated while they experience hard emotions. And people who regularly have this part of their brain activated tend to be more emotionally steady.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to escape unwanted emotions. And more problems will probably pop up as you try to escape. But if you’re willing to face hard emotions, letting them come and go like waves on a beach, then mindfulness practice can help you have a different experience. Tune in to HPRC for more mindfulness resources, and take advantage of the fact that mindfulness is everywhere now, whether part of your martial arts or yoga class or filling the self-help shelves of your local bookstore. Become more mindful, and you can feel better equipped to handle tough emotions; your mind and body will engage them more productively.
Continuing HPRC’s series on keeping the happy in the holidays, last week we “focused on the positive.” This week, learn what the signs of depression are, and make sure you know how everyone in your family is doing.
Depression is not something that you can just snap out of. It can impact a person in many ways and can range from mild to severe. According to the American Psychological Association, “Depression is more than just sadness.” Symptoms can range from lack of interest to thoughts of suicide, so learn what to watch for. Check out this factsheet that details the signs and symptoms of depression and another on “Taking Charge of Depression” that includes helpful strategies. Depression is treatable with professional help; don’t isolate yourself and don’t let others do so.
For more information on depression, check out the suicide prevention section of HPRC’s website.