Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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COVID-Fatigue or Depression: How Can You Tell?

By Lynne Gots, posted on February 9th, 2021.

In the last week, everyone I’ve seen virtually for therapy has voiced increasingly familiar complaints. They are bored; they cannot get motivated to work or study; they have no appetite or have put on pounds from mindless snacking; they cannot practice healthy sleep habits even though they know too much screen time before bed and staying up past midnight will make it harder to function at peak efficiency the next day.

A lack of interest and motivation, along with appetite and sleep changes, can signal depression. And, certainly, we all are experiencing what feels like a collective state of depression after nearly a year of living with the drastic changes raised by a global pandemic, a situation that appears endless to many of us.

So, if your mood is low and you are having trouble concentrating, take heart. You are not alone.

As we know from a large body of research on mindful self-compassion, acknowledging the struggle, rather than beating yourself up for going through a hard time, can help, especially when you can connect with a common humanity (“Life is different for all of us right now.”) Treat yourself with the same kindness you would offer a close friend or family member to ease the unpleasant feelings. 

Other coping strategies include seeking out social interactions, even if they might be less satisfying through a virtual platform, and breaking out of the daily routine by creating some novelty. Try learning a language, experimenting with new recipes, or practicing a different exercise routine. If you have trouble pushing yourself to do anything right now, keep in mind a lesson psychologists have learned from behavioral activation for depression: just doing something – anything, in fact –can pull you out of the doldrums, even if nothing sparks your immediate interest. 

That said, although your current feelings of ennui may be nearly universal, they still could signal the onset of depression. If you have had a history of depression, you may be more vulnerable than someone with no previous episodes. Be on the alert for warning signs: constant rumination, feelings of hopelessness, extreme changes in sleep and appetite, and persistent thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Please seek help if those symptoms persist or worsen. 

If you are just weary from the daily dreariness and not clinically depressed, you might try observing your emotions through the lens of mindfulness. A common approach in meditation is to view your thoughts and feelings as transient, like clouds in the sky or a stormy weather pattern: they change from moment to moment.

I had the opportunity to practice observing my response to an actual meteorological event recently when I woke to a heavy snowfall. My first reaction was irritation at the inconvenience of it. “I won’t be able to walk the dogs without worrying about being pulled over on the ice.” “We’ll have to dig out the cars.” “It’s so annoying.”

But instead of continuing to wish it were different and getting upset about a situation I had no power to change, I decided instead to work on accepting the state of affairs. While I drank my coffee, I gazed out the window at the wooded path behind my house and noticed how peaceful it looked. I bundled up, took the dogs for a walk, and let them enjoy sniffing and digging in the soft mounds of snow. I laughed out loud watching Roland drag a shovel down the stairs and across the yard like a prized game specimen. I stopped my internal grumbling, and my mood lifted.

And, then, much to my surprise, the sun came out, it warmed up, and the snow melted. Of course, the puddles will freeze tonight when the temperature drops. And tomorrow, we will begin, again.




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Posted in Acceptance and Mindfulness, Cognitive-behavior Therapy, COVID-19 Mental Health, Depression, mindfulness |

Social Media Use Linked to Depression

By Lynne Gots, posted on May 22nd, 2016.

Stuck inside the last couple of days due to the relentless rain and an enforced period of recovery from extensive oral surgery, I’ve whiled away the time on my iPad. I’m finally tired of solving on-line crossword puzzles, researching recipes for soup, binge-watching entire Netflix series, and looking on Facebook at the amazing trips my friends have been taking. Lying around  isn’t my strong suit, and it’s got me feeling a little down (plus, the dreary weather doesn’t help—how can anyone live cheerfully in Seattle?).

So I searched online for ideas I could use in a blog post, and I came upon a recently published study—certainly not the first, but perhaps the largest and most comprehensive—linking social-media use to depression in young adults. The University of Pittsburgh researchers found a correlation between the amount of time spent on a broad range of social media outlets and depression. Among the 1,787 US subjects ages 19 through 32 sampled, participants who checked social media most frequently throughout the week and those who spent the most total time on social media throughout the day had 2.7 times and 1.7 times the rate of depression, respectively.

My first thought, as any well-trained student of research methodology would wonder, was “Is the depression a cause or consequence of social media use?”

The researchers addressed this question. They speculated that “people who already are depressed” may be “turning to social media to fill a void.” But they also pointed out that exposure to social media might cause depression by contributing to envy towards others who appear to be happier and more successful. It also could increase the risk of so-called “Internet addiction” and cypher-bullying, both of which have been linked to depression. And there could be an interactive effect, with people prone to depression withdrawing and spending more time on social media and then feeling more depressed as a result.

One more possibility particularly hit home for me. Engaging in essentially meaningless activities on social media (and on the Internet, in general) can negatively affect mood by creating a sense of “time wasted.”

Four days of doing nothing have made me feel like a sloth. I’d hoped–unrealistically, l now realize–to clean out closets, plant my garden, and read two professional books I haven’t had time to crack open. Alas, the weather and my physical condition haven’t cooperated.

So I’m writing a blog post. Makes me feel less sluggish and a tad more productive. And tomorrow, if it ever stops raining, I think I’ll feel up to making a trip to the garden center. Anything to get me away from my electronic devices.

 

 

 

 

 




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Posted in Depression |

Robin Williams Reminds Us Depression is No Laughing Matter

By Lynne Gots, posted on August 13th, 2014.

The suicide of comedian Robin Williams this week has left us reeling. Whenever someone so successful takes his own life, we’re reminded that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Even celebrities aren’t immune to its ravages. In fact, being rich and famous may even heighten a sense of despair for someone who seems to have it all.

On TV, in the newspapers, and online, commentators, journalists, and the general public are speculating about what led to Williams’ final expression of hopelessness. Almost certainly, they are wrong. Even those of us in the mental health profession can’t always say what pushes a person over the edge. And we definitely can’t draw any conclusions about the inner torment of someone we know only from his public persona.

Even so, ignorance hasn’t stopped many from weighing in with their opinions, as a Facebook post I saw this morning highlighted. It said,”Pharmaceutical companies are evil.”

I don’t even know where to begin. Is the poster suggesting Williams was taking psychotropic meds, which led to his death? Is she alluding to the Black Box warnings on some antidepressants about the potential side-effect of increased suicidal ideation (usually among teens and young adults)? The only thing we know for sure is that whatever treatment Williams was receiving, it failed.

I doubt similar accusations would be lobbed at Big Pharma if someone with uncontrolled hypertension were to die of a heart attack.

Misconceptions about medications used to treat depression unfortunately keep many people who could benefit from psychopharmacology from taking full advantage of the range of options available to them. I don’t know if Robin Williams was on antidepressants. But he was in and out of therapeutic programs over the years, both for depression and for alcohol and drug abuse. He suffered from a mental illness, and it ultimately killed him.

Let’s stop all the commentary by self-proclaimed experts and simply mourn the loss of a beloved entertainer who brought happiness to millions but couldn’t find it for himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




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Posted in Depression, General, Mental Health and the Media |

This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

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