Tag Archives: Wellness

How to manage depression, anxiety and panic?

James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC
Keys to managing depression anxiety and panic

While a severe mood disorder and/or addiction may not be curable, their results need not be chronic dysfunction. You need not be a helpless victim of a debilitating illness. The frustrating pattern of wellness followed by relapse can be disrupted with proper psychiatric support, therapy and an array of supportive services which ultimately teaches the person about their disability and how to choose to be well.

The fundamental operating principle is that each person has the capacity and responsibility to maintain a state of recovery. Gladstone, DelGenio, Taussig, et al. (1984) have identified interrelated elements which will reduce relapse and bring the person to a higher level of functioning.
These components are:

1. Structure addresses the importance of your daily routine in the management of symptoms including: medication management and compliance and the use of free time, physical activity, exercise, social activity and hobbies. Planning your day/week is key to management.

2. Psychoeducation refers to the guided experiential learning that takes place in individual, couple or family therapy.

3. Ongoing treatment and support via the level of service necessary to maintain a state of wellness. This is a step-down approach which gradually reduces the frequency of therapy from weekly to as needed.

These are further defined below:
1. Structure
First, you must recognize the need for structure in combating your disorder. Initially, structure means securing an array of supports including an individual/family therapist and a psychiatrist. Add Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Smart Recovery meetings and professionally led alcohol and addiction groups for dependence or dual diagnosis. Most service providers are willing to collaborate with one another once written permission is obtained from the client. The collaborative support of the treatment team will create a common treatment plan. This will aid all providers to work in the same direction with common goals.

Once the treatment team is in order, the client learns the skills to combat the lack of structure in their daily life. This includes their medication management, i.e., taking the medication at the same time each day which will help ensure compliance. It also includes management of the sleep issues that mood disorders create. This means maintaining consistent sleep/wake habits. It is important to get up and get to bed at the same time each day.

In addition, many people are overwhelmed with common daily tasks such as grocery shopping, chores and laundry. These too can be structured by the day of the week and can become routine. I recommend that you spread out these tasks by picking various days of the week for each task. If it is Tuesday for instance, and that is the day you have picked to clean the kitchen, the day of the week makes the decision for you. This will help to address the lack of motivation which is so common among various mood disorders. The structure provided by this approach will hopefully be the foundation for success, permitting the person to achieve his or her individual capacity for stability and consistency.

2. Psychoeducation aka Experiential Learning
In the early 1990’s, my father-in-law had a heart attack. Fortunately, there was little damage to his heart. What was discovered, however, was that his blood sugar was elevated. He was diabetic. When he moved out of intensive care, they began to teach him how to cope with his newly discovered disability. He learned how to measure his blood sugar and how to give himself insulin injections. He was taught what he could eat and what he could not. He even learned what to do if he had a reaction to a particular food or his medication. When he was discharged from the hospital, a nurse visited him at home several times a week for several weeks just to make sure that what he had learned in the hospital, he continued at home. Through education and experiential learning, my father-in-law learned how to manage his diabetes. He learned to manage his disorder so well that eventually he was able to take oral medication and discontinue insulin injections.

In psychotherapy, psychoeducation refers to teaching the person how to be well. The therapist will explore relationship issues, provide education about the disorder, symptoms, medication, relapse warning signs, and teach the coping skills necessary to maintain healthy functioning. I say, “This is not as obvious as if you are sitting in a wheelchair, but you do have a disability. You will need to learn how to manage it.”

Clearly, you will need a licensed therapist to assess and identify your disorder. The therapist will guide you through the experience and teach you how to cope with your symptoms. The goal of psychoeducation is to help you maintain consistency in the management of your disorder. Without consistency in management of your moods, life will be a rollercoaster and much harder than it needs to be.

You may also be referred to a psychiatrist to confirm your diagnosis and possibly prescribe medication for you. Medication education is very much a part of psychoeducation. Initially, if necessary, the doctor will discuss the reasons for and purpose of the use of medication. In the case of mild or situational depression, a psychiatrist may help you determine if medication may be appropriate for a limited time. Typically, the psychiatrist will give you the option of taking medication and encourage continued psychotherapy for daily management. Additional services and supports may be necessary if alcohol/substance abuse and dependence are related issues.

3. Ongoing treatment
Ongoing treatment refers to the lifelong nature of many mood disorders. Some call it recovery, but to me that implies cured. I prefer to call it maintenance and stability. It takes about a year, sometimes two to learn all that one needs to know and experience to master the symptoms of a mood disorder. As time goes on and stability is achieved, the focus of treatment becomes about consistency in managing the symptoms. Unfortunately, there are those who say, “I feel good; maybe I don’t need treatment or medication anymore.” As much as I try to warn against this, even predict that this day will come, there are those who have to see for themselves. I guess some people just have to learn the hard way. I hope you hear what I am saying and take the less difficult route.

If you do want to try discontinuing medication, please do it with your doctor’s guidance. Typically, you discontinue these medications the way you began them, i.e., gradually. Though antidepressants and mood stabilizers are not addictive medications, an abrupt discontinuation will create uncomfortable side effects and may even be dangerous. Many people refer to the symptoms of abrupt withdrawal from medication as flu like symptoms.

Major depression disorders and bipolar disorders have become more commonly accepted by society in general thanks in part to high profile actors and professional athletes who have disclosed their disorders to the public. Clinical depression and bipolar mood disorders are biological/genetic problems that you most likely inherited and are considered no different than the diagnosis of other medical conditions such as epilepsy. Other mood disorders may be just as debilitating if left untreated. Most will require psychoeducation, medication, and ongoing treatment. These disorders are usually manifested in the teens and as late as mid-30s. Real changes come from within. With structure, psychoeducation, and ongoing treatment, you can control your disorder.

The most effective way to achieve stability and consistency is through ongoing therapeutic support. Initially this means weekly visits to the therapist and monthly visits to the psychiatrist. As time goes on and the client gains mastery over his or her disorder, the time between visits is extended. You will know because there will be less to discuss. I have clients who I now see monthly or even quarterly. I have found the best long-term results are achieved with ongoing therapeutic support. Practically, this means that we gradually step down the frequency of therapy after you stabilize and begin to master your disorder. Sessions are gradually reduced from weekly to as needed. This is just to check in and remind people that because they don’t have active symptoms does not mean that they are cured. The goal is stability and consistency. I suggest using the weekly review of consistency form.

Recovery means management of an intermittent lifelong disorder with only minor interference in one’s life and relationships.

For more information, call 847-733-4300 Ext 638.


Disclaimer: This material is meant to be used in conjunction with psychiatric treatment, medication when necessary, and supportive therapy. Always share this material and your questions about this material with your doctor and therapist.

How to be well when you have a mood disorder?

By: James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC
The Family Institute at Northwestern University

How to be well when you have a mood disorder?
Coping with a mood disorders is no easy task!  It takes professional support, medication when necessary, psycho-education and experience to manage the debilitating symptoms. With the necessary supports and monitoring, persons with mood disorders can learn to have long-term stability and consistency.
I have also found that it takes an average of about one year to reach those goals. In addition, many people will need some level of support on and off for their entire lives. The bottom line is you can’t do it alone. You need a psychiatrist to manage your medication, if necessary and a therapist to provide ongoing support.

Ten Steps to Wellness
1) Take the medication as prescribed by your doctor.
● “I don’t miss often; maybe once per week.”
The number one cause of relapse to symptoms is medication non-compliance. This is definitely a tough one. In order for psychiatric medication to be effective, it must be taken daily as prescribed. I consider compliance to be missing no more than 5 pills per year! Many people don’t like to take medication, especially if it means daily for life. Let’s take one step at a time and see what it’s like to function to your capacity for a year or two before you make decisions about the rest of your life.
But remember, clinical depression is a lifelong illness and it’s all about a chemical imbalance. It is a biological problem first and foremost. It’s like being a diabetic: you must take the medication as prescribed in order to be well.

2) No caffeine, substance abuse, or alcohol.
● “It’s not the caffeine. I like coffee. It doesn’t affect me. I’ve always drank coffee.”
Whether it’s coffee, power drink, soda or tea, caffeine can interfere with sleep and create anxiety. It is the most obvious reason for poor sleep. With your doctor’s supervision to avoid anxiety and headaches, gradually reduce your daily caffeine use. Eventually, when you are consuming two cups per day, I believe, you will feel and sleep better.
I would certainly recommend gradually reducing caffeine use before asking the doctor for a sleep aid. Caffeine may interfere with your sleep/wake cycle. As far as your mental health, I recommend keeping caffeine to a minimum and before noon.
I also don’t recommend working the night shift i.e., midnight to 8 AM. It is difficult for your body to adjust. For a person with a mood disorder, this is not recommended. The back and forth between day and night shifts and the social isolation are risky to one’s mental health. It also wreaks night havoc with the sleep/wake cycle. Lack of sleep for a client with a bipolar disorder may bring about rapid mood fluctuations and jeopardize stability. Tell your doctor or your therapist if you are not sleeping. Wouldn’t it be better to reduce the caffeine rather than take a habit forming sleeping pill?
● “What? I can’t have a glass of wine with dinner? I don’t do it often. It’s just one glass. It’s not like I’m an alcoholic.”
The second leading cause of relapse to symptoms is alcohol and substance use. Some doctors and even therapists say that it is alright to have one or two drinks if you have no alcohol abuse or dependence issues. I still question this because alcohol and pot are depressants. Why would you take a depressant when you are depressed under any circumstance?
Alcohol may affect your mood for days, even weeks. At least track your mood on the calendar after you have been drinking to see if it has made your symptoms worse. As far as alcohol and substance use, it is as simple as it is hard. If it interferes with your life, your daily functioning or your relationships, don’t do it!
There is a definitely a negative correlation between the use of alcohol or drugs and a mood disorder. The increased chance of dependence and risk of relapse to the symptoms of your mood disorder are just not worth it. Connect the dots! The bottom line is that for many people USE IS THE SAME AS ABUSE!
I recommend you discuss this with your doctor. If you already know you have a problem, get into Rehab. It’s never too late to turn your life around. Get professional help and go to your Alcohol or Narcotics Anonymous meetings as often as it is necessary to maintain sobriety. Even if you are not dependent, alcohol or pot may not be a healthy choice for you. Don’t deny the obvious. So remember, the healthy use of alcohol is for one person, may not be a healthy for you. Make healthy choices!

3) Take care of your physical health.
Be sure to have annual dental and physical exams. Some medications require regular blood testing. Some physical ailments can cause depression. See your doctor regularly.

4) Exercise
People with mood disorders tend to be sedentary. They need to walk and get exercise as much or more than any of us. You don’t have to join a gym; all you need to do is take a brisk walk. You don’t have to run but you do have to hustle a little bit. Studies going back thirty plus years say that cardiovascular exercise lifts one’s mood and reduces anxiety. The more recent studies show that those old studies are true but the walk needs to be at least 40 minutes to get the full benefit toward lifting your mood and reducing anxiety.
Walk at least 4 times per week. I also recommend that you pick your days, otherwise you will say, “I don’t feel like it today; I’ll do it tomorrow.” Tomorrow comes and the same thing happens. If you make a schedule and stick to it (say, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday), the day of the week makes the decision for you. “Oh darn, today is Monday. I have to walk.” Remember, depression affects one’s motivation; if you wait until you feel like doing it, it may never happen.
Note: Always consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

5) Plan to have fun
It’s good to have fun; have fun! When my son was about four years old, I remember distinctly, it was a beautiful summer day. Our front door was open and he stood there and saw children outside playing. He said, “Dad, there are kids out there! Can I go out and play?”
My point is that when you are a child, all it takes is something as simple as finding other kids and the party is on! As an adult, it takes planning, especially if you have a mood disorder. You need to take time to plan to have fun. Join a bowling league, take a pottery class or cooking class, take ballroom dancing, or take a photography class at the local park district. Take an adult education class at your local community college or park district. It’s not about the grade so you can also skip the tests and homework. These are inexpensive and fun and a great way to meet your socialization goals!
● Don’t do it for a grade
● Do it because you are interested in it
● Do it to help manage (structure) your symptoms and your free time
● Do it to be more social

6) Make time to nurture your relationship.

Line up sitters so you can have time alone with your spouse or significant other. This may feel awkward at first, but keep it up anyway. Gentlemen, don’t let the wife be responsible for all the social and vacation planning. Do your share. Plan a date night. When you go to dinner, discuss your next date night, event, or do vacation planning. Don’t use the date night to discuss difficult issues. This is should be a fun time and a way to nurture your relationship. If you are going to have fun, you are going to have to plan ahead!

7) Be social
A common symptom of a mood disorder is social dysfunction or social isolation. Human beings are by nature social creatures, but unfortunately, a common symptom of mood disorders includes social isolation and/or withdrawal. Call a friend and make a lunch date. Have people over to play cards or watch a sporting event. If you don’t have a large social network, use the park district or local community college to meet people. Taking a class or joining the volleyball league at least gives you an opportunity to be with people and make a friend. While meeting strangers may seem intimidating, think of it this way: if you don’t know them to begin with, then you really have nothing to lose if things don’t work out. On the other hand, you never know when a stranger can turn into your new best friend, business partner, or love interest!

8) Hobbies

Try woodworking, sewing, knitting, crossword puzzles, gardening, toy trains, arts and crafts, or whatever you choose! Go to a hobby shop and look around but pick something and stick to it. Work on your hobby several times per week or when you are feeling low, negative, or worrisome. It is quite possible you will enjoy the activity so much that you will forget about your symptoms for a while. Hobbies are a great way to distract yourself from troubling thoughts when one else is around.

9) Chores

Most any physical activity is a good distraction from your negative thoughts and symptoms. Chores are another way to distract yourself and give you a clean environment. When you have depression, the idea of cleaning the entire house or apartment can be overwhelming. Break your chores down into one or two chores each day. For example:

● Monday is vacuuming
● Tuesday is bathroom cleaning
● Wednesday is washing the floor
● Thursday is cleaning the kitchen
● Friday is changing the sheets and towels day
● Saturday is laundry day
● Sunday is a free day. It is your reward for doing your chores all week long.

Chores are a great way to distract yourself from your symptoms. Most any physical activity will help. Make a schedule and stick to it. Try to come up with your own list of distraction activities. The more things you try, the less likely you will be a victim of your disorder.

10) Make healthy choices
This is my generic one. This one may very well be different from person to person. A healthy choice for one person may not be healthy for you. If you have a mood disorder, poor sleep, too much caffeine, alcohol or drug use, and social isolation are mental health issues. Remember! You manage it or it will manage you.

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For those in the metropolitan Chicago area, I have offices in Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue, and near 22nd St and Wolf Road in Westchester. Call James E. DelGenio MS, LCPC, Senior Staff Therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, 847-733-4300 Ext 638.
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Disclaimer: This material is meant to be used in conjunction with psychiatric treatment, medication, if necessary, and supportive therapy. Always share this material and your questions about this material with your doctor and therapist.