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Dysthymia: Help for Depressed Parents

Dysthymia and Resolving Conflict

Conflict and disagreements are inevitable in relationships. Two people can’t possibly have the same needs, opinions, and expectations at all times. However, that needn’t be a bad thing! Resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways can strengthen trust between people. When conflict isn’t perceived as threatening or punishing, it fosters freedom, creativity, and safety in relationships.

The ability to manage conflicts in a positive, trust-building way is the fifth key skill of emotional intelligence. Successfully resolving differences is supported by the previous four skills of emotional intelligence. Once you know how to manage stress, stay emotionally present and aware, communicate nonverbally, and use humor and play, you’ll be better equipped to handle emotionally-charged situations and catch and defuse many issues before they escalate.

Tips for resolving conflict in a trust-building way:

• Choose your arguments. Arguments take time and energy, especially if you want to resolve them in a positive way. Consider what is worth arguing about and what is not.
• End conflicts that can't be resolved. It takes two people to keep an argument going. You can choose to disengage from a conflict, even if you still disagree.
• Forgive. If you continue to be hurt or mistreated, protect yourself. But someone else’s hurtful behavior is in the past, remember that conflict resolution involves giving up the urge to punish.
• Stay focused in the present. When we are not holding on to old hurts and resentments, we can recognize the reality of a current situation and view it as a new opportunity for resolving old feelings about conflicts.


 Dysthymia and the Use of Humor and Play

Humor, laughter, and play are natural antidotes to life’s difficulties. They lighten our burdens and help us keep things in perspective. A good hearty laugh reduces stress, elevates mood, and brings our nervous system back into balance.

The ability to deal with challenges using humor and play is the fourth skill of emotional intelligence. Playful communication broadens our emotional intelligence and helps us:

• Become more creative. When we loosen up, we free ourselves of rigid ways of thinking and being, allowing us to get creative and see things in new ways.
• Simultaneously relax and energize ourselves. Playful communication relieves fatigue and relaxes our bodies, which allows us to recharge and accomplish more.
• Smooth over differences. Using gentle humor often helps us say things that might be otherwise difficult to express without creating a flap.
• Take hardships in stride. By allowing us to view our frustrations and disappointments from new perspectives, laughter and play enable us to survive annoyances, hard times, and setbacks.


Dysthymia and Nonverbal Communication

Being a good communicator requires more than just verbal skills. Oftentimes, what we say is less important than how we say it or the other nonverbal signals we send out. In order to hold the attention of others and build connection and trust, we need to be aware of and in control of our nonverbal cues. We also need to be able to accurately read and respond to the nonverbal cues that other people send us.

Nonverbal communication is another skill of emotional intelligence. This wordless form of communication is emotionally driven. It asks the questions: “Are you listening?” and “Do you understand and care?” Answers to these questions are expressed in the way we listen, look, move, and react. Our nonverbal messages will produce a sense of interest, trust, excitement, and desire for connection–or they will generate fear, confusion, distrust, and disinterest.

Part of improving nonverbal communication involves paying attention to:

• Eye contact
• Facial expression
• Posture and gesture
• Timing and pace
• Tone of voice
• Touch


Dysthymia and Emotions

Another key skill of emotional intelligence is having a moment-to-moment awareness of your feelings and how they influence your thoughts and actions. Emotional awareness is the key to understanding yourself and others.

Many people are disconnected from their feelings–especially strong core feelings such as anger, sadness, fear, and joy. But although we can distort, deny, or numb our feelings, we can’t eliminate them. They’re still there, whether we’re aware of them or not. Unfortunately, without emotional awareness, we are unable to fully understand our own motivations and needs, or to communicate effectively with others.

What kind of a relationship do you have with your feelings?

• Are your feelings accompanied by physical sensations that you experience in places like your stomach or chest?
• Can you experience intense feelings that are strong enough to capture both your attention and that of others?
• Do you experience discrete feelings, such as anger, sadness, fear, joy, each of which is evident in subtle facial expressions?
• Do you experience feelings that flow, encountering one emotion after another as your experiences change from moment to moment?
• Do you pay attention to your feelings? Do they factor into your decision making?

If any of these experiences are unfamiliar, your feelings may be turned down or turned off. In order to be emotionally healthy and emotionally intelligent, you must reconnect to your core feelings, accept them, and become comfortable with them.


Dysthymia and Reducing Anxiety

Develop your anxiety busting skills by working through the following three steps:

• Discover the anxiety busting techniques that work for you – The best way to reduce anxiety quickly is through the senses: through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. But each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find things that are soothing to you.

• Identify your anxiety response – Everyone reacts differently to anxiety. Do you tend to space out and get depressed? Become angry and agitated? Freeze with anxiety? The best way to quickly calm yourself depends on your specific anxiety response.

• Realize when you’re anxious – The first step to reducing anxiety is recognizing what anxiety feels like. Many of us spend so much time in an unbalanced state that we’ve forgotten what it feels like to be calm and relaxed.


Dysthymia and Negative Thinking

Dysthymia puts a negative spin on everything, including the way you see yourself, the situations you encounter, and your expectations for the future.

But you can’t break out of this pessimistic mind frame by “just thinking positive.” Happy thoughts or wishful thinking won’t cut it. Rather, the trick is to replace negative thoughts with more balanced thoughts.

Ways to challenge negative thinking:

• Keep a “negative thought log”. Whenever you experience a negative thought, jot down the thought and what triggered it in a notebook. Review your log when you’re in a good mood. Consider if the negativity was truly warranted. For a second opinion, you can also ask a friend or therapist to go over your log with you.
• Replace negatives with positives. Review your negative thought log. Then, for each negative thought, write down something positive. For instance, “My boss hates me. She gave me this difficult report to complete” could be replaced with, “My boss must have a lot of faith in me to give me so much responsibility.”
• Socialize with positive people. Notice how people who always look on the bright side deal with challenges, even minor ones, like not being able to find a parking space. Then consider how you would react in the same situation. Even if you have to pretend, try to adopt their optimism and persistence in the face of difficulty.
• Think outside yourself. Ask yourself if you’d say what you’re thinking about yourself to someone else. If not, stop being so hard on yourself. Think about less harsh statements that offer more realistic descriptions.


Dysthymia and Eating Healthy

What you eat has a direct impact on the way you feel. Aim for a balanced diet of protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables.

• Boost your B vitamins. Deficiencies in B vitamins such as folic acid and B-12 can trigger dysthymia. To get more, take a B-complex vitamin supplement or eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.
• Consider taking a chromium supplement – Some dysthymia studies show that chromium picolinate reduces carbohydrate cravings, eases mood swings, and boosts energy. Supplementing with chromium picolinate is especially effective for people who tend to overeat and oversleep when depressed. Aim for 600 mcg per day.
• Don’t neglect breakfast. A solid breakfast provides energy for the day.
• Don’t skip meals. Going too long between meals can make you feel irritable and tired, so aim to eat something at least every 3-4 hours.
• Focus on complex carbohydrates. Foods such as baked potatoes, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain breads, and bananas can boost serotonin levels without a crash.
• Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or french fries. But these “feel-good” foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.
• Practice mindful eating. Slow down and pay attention to the full experience of eating. Enjoy the taste of your food.


Dysthymia and Regular Exercise

When you’re depressed, exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing. But exercise is a powerful tool for dealing with dysthymia. In fact, studies show that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication at increasing energy levels and decreasing feelings of fatigue.

Scientists haven’t figured out exactly why exercise is such a potent antidepressant, but evidence suggests that physical activity increases mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain, raises endorphins, reduces stress, and relieves muscle tension – all things that can have a positive effect on dysthymia.

To get the most benefit, aim for 30 minutes of exercise per day. But you can start small. Short 10-minute bursts of activity can have a positive effect on your mood. Here are a few easy ways to get moving:

• Pair up with an exercise partner
• Park your car in the farthest spot in the lot
• Take the stairs rather than the elevator
• Take your dog for a walk
• Walk while you’re talking on the phone

As a next step, try incorporating walks or some other enjoyable, easy form of exercise into your daily routine. The key is to pick an activity you enjoy, so you’re more likely to keep up with it.


Develop a Dysthymia-Recovery Toolbox

Come up with a list of things that you can do for a quick mood boost. Include any strategies, activities, or skills that have helped in the past. The more “tools” for coping with dysthymia, the better. Try and implement a few of these ideas each day, even if you’re feeling good.

1. Do something spontaneous.
2. List what you like about yourself.
3. Listen to music.
4. Play with a pet.
5. Read a good book.
6. Spend some time in nature.
7. Take a long, hot bath.
8. Take care of a few small tasks.
9. Watch a funny movie or TV show.
10. Write in your journal.


Dysthymia and Taking Care of Yourself 


In order to overcome dysthymia, you have to nurture yourself. This includes making time for things you enjoy, asking for help from others, setting limits on what you’re able to do, adopting healthy habits, and scheduling fun activities into your day.

Do things you enjoy (or used to)—

While you can’t force yourself to have fun or experience pleasure, you can choose to do things that you used to enjoy. Pick up a former hobby or a sport you used to like. Express yourself creatively through music, art, or writing. Go out with friends. Take a day trip to a museum, the mountains, or the ballpark.

Push yourself to do things, even when you don’t feel like it. You might be surprised at how much better you feel once you’re out in the world. Even if your dysthymia doesn’t lift immediately, you’ll gradually feel more upbeat and energetic as you make time for fun activities.

Adopt healthy lifestyle habits—

• Practice relaxation techniques. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of dysthymia, reduce stress, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.
• Expose yourself to a little sunlight every day. Lack of sunlight can make dysthymia worse. Make sure you’re getting enough. Take a short walk outdoors, have your coffee outside, enjoy an al fresco meal, people-watch on a park bench, or sit out in the garden.
• Aim for 8 hours of sleep. Dysthymia typically involves sleep problems. Whether you’re sleeping too little or too much, your mood suffers. Get on a better sleep schedule by learning healthy sleep habits.

Fight dysthymia by managing stress—

Not only does stress prolong and worsen dysthymia, but it can also trigger it. In order to get over dysthymia and stay well, it’s essential to learn how to minimize and cope with stress.

• Go easy on yourself. Many depressed people are perfectionists, holding themselves to impossibly high standards and then beating themselves up when they fail to meet them. Battle this source of self-imposed stress by challenging your negative ways of thinking.
• Identify your stressors. Figure out all the things in your life that are stressing you out. Examples include: work overload, unsupportive relationships, substance abuse, taking on too much, or health problems. Once you’ve identified your stressors, you can make a plan to avoid them or minimize their impact.
• Plan ahead. If you know your stress triggers and limits, you will be able to identify and avoid many landmines. If you sense trouble ahead, protect yourself by dipping into your wellness toolbox and saying “no” to added responsibility.


Dysthymia and Cultivating Supportive Relationships

Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of dysthymia and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat dysthymia. But the very nature of dysthymia makes it difficult to reach out for help. However, isolation and loneliness make dysthymia even worse, so maintaining your close relationships and social activities are important.

The thought of reaching out to even close family members and friends can seem overwhelming. You may feel ashamed, too exhausted to talk, or guilty for neglecting the relationship. Remind yourself that this is the dysthymia talking. You loved ones care about you and want to help.

• Join a support group for dysthymia. Being with others who are dealing with dysthymia can go a long way in reducing your sense of isolation. You can also encourage each other, give and receive advice on how to cope, and share your experiences.

• Try to keep up with social activities even if you don’t feel like it. When you’re depressed, it feels more comfortable to retreat into your shell. But being around other people will make you feel less depressed.

• Turn to trusted friends and family members. Share what you’re going through with the people you love and trust. Ask for the help and support you need. You may have retreated from your most treasured relationships, but they can get you through this tough time.

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