This article was written for our sponsor, Alliance Health.
Life is full of both joy and challenges and no one is immune to its ups and downs.
When it comes to "having a bad day," everyone has been there, and it's natural to feel sad, low or overwhelmed at times. But how do you know if you should take a closer look at your mood? What if your symptoms are indicative of something more serious than an "off day?"
"You're entitled to times when you're not feeling 100 percent emotionally or feeling less than optimal – that happens to everyone. The question a person should ask themselves is whether they're experiencing more sad, anxious or irritable days than happy days," said Dr. Mehul Mankad, chief medical officer at Alliance Health. Alliance Health is a managed care organization for public behavioral health that serves citizens of Durham, Wake, Cumberland and Johnston counties.
Mankad has years of experience working with patients struggling with mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety and depression. He previously served as the president of the North Carolina Psychiatric Association and was the chief of psychiatry at the Durham VA Medical Center.
"If somebody is having problems and is struggling more days than not, that's the first red flag," Mankad advised.
Depression and Anxiety
The terms "depression" and "anxiety" can be characterized in several ways, but the Mayo Clinic defines them as follows:
Anxiety that is more than everyday stress, and is instead excessive and ongoing worry that is difficult to control and interferes with day-to-day activities may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder.
"Generalized anxiety disorder has symptoms that are similar to panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other types of anxiety, but they're all different conditions. In many cases, it occurs along with other anxiety or mood disorders," the Mayo Clinic says. "Your anxiety, worry or physical symptoms [often] cause you significant distress in social, work or other areas of your life. Worries can shift from one concern to another and may change with time and age."
Depression is more than just a bout of the blues and "is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems."
Mankad highlighted some cautionary signs of clinical depression that individuals should take note of when regarding their mood and state of mind:
- Disinterest in things or activities that once brought you pleasure
- Lack of motivation at home or work
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in appetite (whether it is a decrease or increase)
- Lower energy levels or inexplicable fatigue
- Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Stress and the Holidays
The holidays, while a festive time of year, can also be very stressful. The CDC reports a spike in alcohol and drug use, and related deaths during the holiday months of December and January. Often the holidays present financial, familial and other pressures that frequently accompany the celebrations and are unique to this time of year.
"This is a time of year where a lot of things are changing. Individuals are dealing with everyday stresses and strains, with the additional stress of preparing for the holidays," Mankad said. "People don't necessarily think of happy times as stressful times, but happiness and stress can coexist."
Mankad also noted the societal pressure to be cheerful around this time of year, which can be a struggle for people dealing with hardship or loss, veterans with PTSD, individuals with illnesses, people with strained relationships with their families or no family at all, and many others.
During the holidays, it's important to keep in mind that your feelings are valid and to try to manage your expectations, responsibilities and stress as best as possible.
"It's easy during the hustle and bustle of the season to lose control of what matters. I think the important thing is to focus on what matters to you as an individual and what really matters to your family and prioritize along those same lines," Mankad advised. "Even on very busy days, it's important to make time for yourself and recharge your batteries in whatever way works for you."
He continued, "With the added obligations of the holidays and our regular lives, things like exercise and sleep are often compromised to keep up. Try to get enough sleep; regulate what you're eating because around the holidays you've got a lot of temptations, and it's okay to indulge in some of those, but maybe not every single day; get regular exercise. Sometimes people are burning the candle at both ends."
Resources That Can Help
If you or a loved one ever gets too overwhelmed, stressed or depressed, there are both local and national resources that can help.
If you feel like your life is not worth living or if you feel you are a danger to yourself or someone else, the best thing to do is call for emergency help, whether that is 911 or another telephone-based crisis line.
"Alliance Health operates a crisis line called the Alliance Access and Information line. Anyone can call that line – you don't have to be a member of Alliance Health. Individuals are directed to the care that they may need. There's also the national crisis line. These lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – no matter the holiday," Mankad said. "You will not be judged for calling one of these lines, and you should not feel ashamed for reaching out for help."
If you are not in a life-threatening situation, but feel like you could still benefit from behavioral health resources, consider seeking help at a Behavioral Health Urgent Care — a walk-in crisis alternative to an emergency room that employs a fully engaged staff that is trained in mental health to help patients with mental health and substance use disorders who are experiencing a crisis. The Alliance Access and Information Line can help you locate a facility in Durham or Wake counties.
- Alliance Health Access and Information Line: (800) 510-9132
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
This article was written for our sponsor, Alliance Health.