Do you have "Syndrome D?"
If you're one of nearly 44 million Americans, you likely suffer from it. Worse, it's putting your health at risk.
Here's a quick test:
- Do you find yourself worrying about situations often?
- Do you have trouble sleeping – either too much or too little?
- Do you have trouble concentrating or focusing on anything?
- Do you feel restless or have an unusual lack of energy?
- Do you have any rapid heartbeats or palpitations?
- Do you feel like you've lost interest in your old hobbies or activities?
If your answer to any of these is yes, then ask yourself if they've lasted for two weeks or longer. Then ask the most important question: How much do these symptoms affect your daily life?
Maybe you've been late to work because you're having trouble getting out of bed on time. Or your productivity is down because you can't seem to focus on anything. Or you realize you can't remember the last time you talked with your friends. If any of these sounds familiar, you could have this "syndrome."
We have to confess, Syndrome D isn't a real term. But we're using it here to illustrate an important point... all of the above are symptoms of mental illness. Specifically, anxiety and depression.
The problem is, most people don't want to discuss mental illness. We think it's selfish to focus on ourselves so much. Maybe you've heard (or made) dismissive comments about things like self-care.
The truth is, one in five Americans will suffer from a mental illness this year. The two most common are anxiety and depression.
Anxiety involves feeling worried or uneasy more than a reasonable amount. What's more, those with anxiety have difficulty relaxing. They often suffer from overthinking, restlessness, and rapid heartbeats or palpitations. There are several types of anxiety disorders. These include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Depression involves an overwhelming sadness. But it also can mean a loss of interest in your favorite hobbies or activities, sleeping too little or too much, loss of concentration, and lower energy levels.
One of the root causes for both of these problems is the same – unrelenting, unmanaged stress.
Managing your stress levels will not only prevent these serious – and very real – disorders, it will also help prevent something even scarier... dementia.
Recently, we wrote about a new study out of the University of Southampton in the U.K. It was a decade-long study that found people who suffered from anxiety in their mid-life had a significantly higher risk of dementia.
It's not a straightforward cause-and-effect, but it makes sense. Anxiety results from an overabundance of stress. When we experience stress, we go into a fight-or-flight mode. Our adrenaline pumps, our hearts race, and we can feel the strain on our bodies.
But if that stress doesn't dissipate – if you don't manage it properly – it can start to do damage. Think about the strain on our hormones and our brain cells, and most of all, the inflammation stress causes. And inflammation over time contributes to things like diabetes and Alzheimer's.
What's more, anxiety and dementia go hand in hand. In fact, when docs diagnose one of them in seniors, often the other follows around the same time. This study is the first to demonstrate that diagnosing anxiety earlier could help give us time to stave off dementia.
The way to do that is simple. Managing your stress before you develop anxiety involves some simple lifestyle changes, such as:
Exercise. Getting just a few minutes a day gets your endorphins going. Walking, especially in the sun, helps produce healthy levels of serotonin as well.
Eating well. Foods high in trans fat increase inflammation and pump up our cortisol levels. Cortisol is our stress hormone, meaning higher levels accompany high stress. Foods to avoid include processed foods and those high in refined sugar.
Yoga and meditation. Both practices promote the relaxation response, which calms our overactive minds. Yoga also promotes healthy breathing techniques that you can use to quell panic attacks.
Now, we know what you're thinking... "I've tried these and they simply don't work." Or worse, "depression is what's keeping me from doing these activities."
That's where reaching out to others comes in.
Therapy can also help alleviate anxiety and depression. Sitting down with an impartial third party often helps you not only talk out your problems, but also feel that someone is listening. Therapists may also offer coping techniques and strategies to help you through more difficult problems.
But we know some people aren't open to therapy. What really provides benefit in the scenario is the communication with others. Feeling heard goes a long way to combating negative emotions. And sometimes just talking out loud about your struggles and worries can help you see or approach them differently.
So, find a trusted friend, mentor, life coach, or family member who can listen without judgment. If you need extra help, learning about coping skills through workbooks will give you even greater relief.
And remember, take small steps. Enlist a loved one to get you to go for a walk every day. Start with journaling if you're too shy to talk to someone at first. Spend time gardening as a way to meditate while enjoying the sunshine.
In general, we don't recommend medication, as it's often abused or taken long-term when it should only be for short-term treatment. What's more, research indicates some antidepressants do little more than placebos. But our message here is to empower you to break the silence around mental health. We need to change this culture of ignoring the problem or feeling guilty for seeking help.
If you continue to struggle after following these steps, talk to your doctor or therapist about other options. You shouldn't struggle with mental illness alone. Reach out to friends, family, or your doctor and get the support you need. We're also including a list of resources below so you can learn more.
Take the time to care for yourself now and your future self will thank you.
American Psychological Association
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Crisis Call Center
Medical News Today: Primer on Mental Health
Mental Health America: Stress and Our Mental Health
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (1-877-662-4357)
Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1)
Here's to a fresh start,
Amanda Cuocci & Laura Bente
With Dr. David "Doc" Eifrig
May 20, 2018
P.S. Doc writes about lifestyle changes like the ones in this issue every month in Retirement Millionaire. His goal is to give you the tools you need to manage your health and wellness, and make better health care and investment decisions. If you don't already subscribe to his monthly letter, sign up today with this offer.