Mental Health Perspectives

Everyone feels anxiety in their lives. Whether we’re nervous about a job interview or worrying about a child’s safety, anxiety is a part of life. That fight-or-flight response is what enabled our ancestors to survive and thrive. Unfortunately, today’s hectic modern world is much different than the one in which we originally developed. Rather than worrying about having enough food to eat or being attacked by predators we worry about the many intricacies our complex lives have to offer. This can cause, in some individuals, irrational and debilitating anxieties. When this happens, the individual has an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are often known as the common cold of mental illness. They affect millions of people every year. The overwhelming feelings of anxiety and nervousness can cause a person to stop functioning in our world altogether. As a sufferer of generalized anxiety disorder myself, I have seen firsthand how this illness can become more than a normal case of nervousness and turn in to a disability. There are a number of different varieties of anxiety disorders that have been identified by psychologists, each of which is treatable with either therapy or medication.

For this issue of Mental Health Perspectives, we’ll focus on two of the most common anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

There is no specific rhyme or reason to the intense feelings of worry that sufferers of generalized anxiety disorder face. This persistent anxiety, while sometimes triggered by certain events or circumstances, is often brought on randomly. This illness can not only cause unrelenting feelings of anxiety but also create physical symptoms such as headaches, heart palpitations, exhaustion, and insomnia. Sufferers can find daily life almost unbearable and can even push the inflicted person to take a leave of absence due to disability from work or school.

Coming from personal experience, this illness causes incredible suffering to those afflicted. I have missed many days of work and school because I was so anxious I couldn’t attend. The emotion is overwhelming and one can do nothing but stay home and take a tranquilizing medication in order to calm the anxiety attack. It is a physical feeling that occurs in the chest, almost like someone is gripping onto the heart. It’s an illness that I would never wish on even my worst enemy and yet I battle daily in order to control. Recovery from it can be long and arduous, though fortunately it’s very treatable.

Panic Disorder

Brief, paralyzing bouts of fear and anxiety are the prominent symptoms of a panic disorder. A panic attack is often described by those who experience them like a heart attack. Shaking, dizziness, disorientation, confusion, and intense fear often accompany this feeling. Sufferers often find these attacks to be highly embarrassing when they occur in a public situation.

Though I have not experienced this illness personally, one of my best friends in high school suffered from terrible panic attacks. The first time it happened to her the pain in her chest was so intense that everyone thought she had suffered a heart attack. Upon being rushed to the emergency room they discovered she’d merely had a panic attack, yet this shows how incredibly strong these attacks can be. They are entirely debilitating for the short period of time during which they occur. They last anywhere from ten minutes to a few hours and leave the sufferer feeling exhausted.

These are just two of the many anxiety disorders that afflict millions of Americans on a yearly basis. Those who believe they may be suffering from either of these disorders should seek immediate medical attention. As I mentioned earlier, both are very treatable. Recovery may be difficult but it is most certainly possible.

Importance of Counseling

The world, as we know it, has changed. The stimulants have gone into overdrive, and with that, so have the demands. There is so much happening everywhere―schools and colleges, the workplace, in relationships, in technology … and all this has had an effect on us, our living, and the way we think. It does not come as a surprise then that the stress and tensions in people’s lives have also escalated. With so much happening, and so much to deal with, it is not always possible for one person to do it all. And that is exactly why counseling becomes important.

Why is Counseling Important?

Sometimes it’s beyond one’s scope to be able to handle it all. There are so many things happening at so many levels which demand equal importance that it can get extremely overwhelming to take it all in, and do the best one can. From time to time, one requires assistance to cope with all these factors, and while some problems might be solved with the help of friends and relatives, there are others which are more complicated and may require a professional, or trained specialist to handle them―that is where counseling comes in. Counseling offers a platform whereby a person can speak to a counselor―a trained professional in that field, who will help him find a solution to his problem(s) through varied methods.

Why Does Counseling Work?

The basic crux of counseling remains the same, though the fields might change. The scope of counseling is extremely wide and includes fields, like career counseling, industrial counseling, marriage counseling, school counseling, addiction counseling, and so on. So, a counselor might be hired in educational institutes, medical centers, industries, etc.

When a person is stressed and emotionally involved in something, his reasoning could get blocked, and it might not be possible for him to objectively approach a solution, or the scope of the problem may be so complex and vast, that it is not possible for a person to handle it―that’s where he can seek the help of a professional.

A counselor is a non-judgmental professional who will keep the problems confidential, and that is why people find it a non-threatening approach to adopt for finding relief from their many problems.

How Does Counseling Work?
Counseling is a very wide term and includes several functions within itself. The scope of counseling will change with the nature of the problem. A single approach or method cannot work for all. Depending on the kind of problem or dilemma, the counselor will decide the approach to follow. In that direction, the scope of counseling can be broadly divided into certain functions. Let us understand what these are.

De-stress
To reiterate what was said earlier, when a person has problems and is emotionally involved in something, it could block his reasoning and objectivity, and that’s where a counselor helps. Sometimes a person needs a listening ear so that he can vent and reach a solution. Problems that arise due to family feuds, work pressure, relationship problems in the personal and professional world, and the stress that is born out if these situations could be solved with the help of a counselor. For example, if parents opposing your choice of a partner can lead to a lot of stress, working with a counselor allows you to deal with that stress better.

Resolving a Conflict
Left on his own, a person who is stressed and facing a problem might not really be able to find a solution for himself. He then requires the help of a counselor. The counselor will help him get to the root cause of the problem(s) and understand it better. Along with that, he will also help with the kind of choices that he can look into and help him find a solution. An example of this would be the kind of career to choose―a person might be conflicted and confused about what to take up, and a counselor will help with exactly that.

Providing Solutions
A counselor, depending on the scope of the problem, will either facilitate the process for the person to find a solution by himself, or if the problem is too complex for a person to find a solution on his own, will provide solutions. For example, let’s say a person is interested in studying medicine, but he has either not got through the course or is finding it difficult to cope; in such a situation, the counselor will help by providing him with choices for an alternative or allied career, like physiotherapy or dentistry.

Conducting Tests
A very important section of counseling also involves conducting tests. These include, but are not limited to, aptitude tests, career tests, or stress tests in several industries. The main objectives of conducting these tests is for diagnosing mental illnesses, to understand the interests in order to help with a career choice, and to calculate the aptitude in order to recruit candidates in varied industries. After conducting a test, a counselor will have a session with the subject to talk about the test and provide the right direction to go forward.

Line of Treatment
One of the most important functions that counseling helps with is to approach each problem as unique, and in that way, decide upon the line of treatment. Even though counseling applies in all major fields, the scope of counseling will be different in different areas.

Sometimes a problem is simple, like confusion about the kind of subjects to choose for studying―a vocational counselor will help in this direction. At other times, problems could involve changing the very course of life, like a career to choose. In such a situation, a career counselor will conduct tests and help a student find a career that suits him best after combining his aptitude and interests, as well as after taking counseling sessions with him. Sometimes problems are highly complex and cannot be solved personally―something on the lines of addictions and phobias, which require careful planning of the kind of treatment that has to be used. These cannot be solved in a day or two, and require a combination of several techniques and multiple sessions to provide proper results.

The nature of the problems might be subject to change―like in schools, or addiction centers, but the nature of counseling will always be the same―to help people find a solution to their problems and aid them lead better lives. However, some people are of the opinion that seeking counseling is akin to admitting that one is weak, which is not really the right way to look at it. Counseling helps improve the quality of a person’s life, and that is the know all and end all of it all.

Stress Management Techniques

Stress has become an unavoidable part of modern lifestyle. Stress management, which mainly includes time management, and breathing and relaxation techniques, helps reduce tension. Some simple exercises prevent stress from taking a toll on the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of a person. Instead of erupting in a fierce debate over ‘life and stress’, it is better to learn various types of exercises for stress management.

Exercise and Stress Management

Relaxation Exercises

These are breathing exercises. Normally while breathing, you use only a small fraction of your lungs, providing insufficient oxygen to the lungs. Slow and rhythmic breathing allows you to draw copious amount of oxygen into the lungs, which then is supplied to the blood. Basic breathing techniques can help drive away anxiety and various disorders like high blood pressure or cardiovascular diseases. Breathing is the link between your mind and body. If you opt for various ways of rhythmic breathing like anulom vilom pranayama, or bhramari pranayama, you can notice the difference in your state of mind, within a few days. What’s more, these exercises are not even time-consuming!
Yoga

Yoga exercises involve various postures and holding your body in those postures for a while. Breathing control is an important aspect of these exercises. They help in increasing the rate of body metabolism and level of energy. The most amazing fact about these exercises is that they bring about a spiritual awakening and a holistic change in the functioning of your body. Kids can pick up yoga techniques quickly and they are among the best stress management exercises for them.

Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic exercises are usually long in duration but low in intensity, offering the required oxygen to the body. Adults as well as children enjoy doing these exercises which include walking, jogging, swimming, biking, ballroom dancing, etc. They can be done with or without equipment. As kids too are stressed most of the time, it would be better if they follow some of the relaxation exercises that are designed for children.

Cardiovascular Exercises

Treadmill workouts or any type of cardiovascular exercises of your own choice can help relieve stress. Your physical as well as mental health can be improved with the help of regular work outs. Remember, the warmup and cooling down exercises should be done religiously.

Laughter Yoga

Laughter yoga is a very easy way of driving away stress. All you are supposed to do is laugh! If you join a laughter club, you will learn various ways of laughing. Laughing with other club members can be a totally different experience. With a new outlook, you will start enjoying your life. The relaxation of facial and body muscles will offer you lots of energy.

Meditation

Doctors can prescribe pills as stress relievers but the natural way of achieving stress relief is to meditate. There are various types of meditation techniques like Buddhist meditation, Zen meditation, Vipassana meditation, etc., and you can choose the one you like.

Hypnotism

If you are interested in hypnotism, you can learn the technique of self-hypnosis which can help relieve stress.
It is essential to learn the techniques of yoga and meditation. They work as stress relievers and can help you overcome all the difficulties.

High Cholesterol is Linked With Stress

Gender, age, family history, weight, diet, and lifestyle are the main factors which influence cholesterol levels in your body. Of these, you cannot change your age, gender, and family history, but you can control your weight, and you can lead a stress-free lifestyle. Studies have shown that excessive psychological stress leads to an increase in cholesterol levels.

► Normal Cholesterol Levels
◑ Cholesterol, the waxy steroid metabolite, is present in each and every cell of your body. It is synthesized in the liver. Your body needs cholesterol for producing various hormones and bile juice. It is also essential for synthesizing vitamin D.
◑ Cholesterol present in the cell membranes helps increase cell permeability. Your body produces cholesterol, so you need not actually ingest cholesterol through food. Being waxy in nature, cholesterol does not dissolve in blood or water. When it gets accumulated in blood arteries, in the form of plaque, it leads to interrupted blood supply to organs, including the heart and brain. Thus, excessive accumulation of cholesterol increases the chances of death due to heart attack or stroke.
◑ There exist two types of cholesterol, Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol, and High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol.

◑ You are supposed to increase HDL levels and lower LDL levels. High HDL levels help lower LDL levels naturally. According to The American Heart Association (AHA), normal total blood cholesterol levels should be less than 200 mg/dL. Cholesterol levels are said to be ‘borderline high’ when they are in the range of 200 – 239 mg/dL. Cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dL are referred to as high blood cholesterol levels.

► High Cholesterol and Stress
◑ How stress leads to high blood cholesterol levels is still a topic for research. More studies are required to understand the nature of relationship between stress and cholesterol.
◑ It is believed that the body tries to produce more energy to fight stress. In this process of producing more energy from fatty acids and glucose, body requires higher amount of LDL from the liver.

Excessive smoking results complications in health.
◑ People under stress smoke excessively; or drink excessive alcohol. This leads to affected functions of the glands and results in hormonal imbalance and health complications.

Unhealthy food increases bad cholesterol.
◑ People under stress also tend to follow an unhealthy diet. Social withdrawal due to excessive stress leads to emotional eating, binging, increased inactivity; all of which lead to higher cholesterol levels.
◑ Dietary alterations and lifestyle changes help maintain normal weight and cholesterol levels. Not only balanced diet, but regular exercises are essential to enjoy normal cholesterol levels. Exercises promote hormonal balance. They help lower accumulation of cholesterol in the body.
◑ Stressed people should try to stay away from smoking and alcohol abuse. Restricted consumption of alcohol can help increase good cholesterol, but it would not promote removal of bad cholesterol. So, it is better to learn some simple stress relieving techniques.

Fatty food should not be consumed because it increases bad cholesterol LDL.
◑ Stressed people often eat fatty foods like chocolates and sweets. They need to avoid this.

Aerobic exercises helps in lowering stress.
◑ They can join laughter clubs, perform meditation, aerobics, yoga and breathing exercises which help lower stress. They should avoid late night dinners and heavy desserts after dinners. Bad eating and sleeping habits can worsen the condition.

► Diet Control for High Cholesterol
◑ A properly planned diet plan helps lower the levels of cholesterol in blood. Dairy products, fish, meat and poultry that contain a high amount of cholesterol should be avoided. You may include low fat versions of dairy products, lean meat, lean fish in your diet in restricted amount.
◑ Overweight people need to lose weight by following weight loss diets and exercises. A high cholesterol diet plan should include various nutrients that help lower LDL cholesterol and which promote less absorption of cholesterol from food. The diet should include less meat and lots of vegetables and fruits consisting of dietary fiber. Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and also helps lose weight. Capsaicin from hot chili peppers and the vitamin niacin help lower cholesterol levels as well.

◑ If you want to lower cholesterol without medication, you should include foods that help raise HDL cholesterol. Nuts like peanuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios, fiber rich vegetables, fruits, berries, garlic, onion and restricted consumption of flax seed, flax seed oil, avocado oil, olive oil, canola oil, hazelnut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, red wine, etc., can help raise HDL levels.

Jogging helps to release tension and stress.
◑ To lower stress, choose a job where you can enjoy your work. Try to spend at least half an hour outdoors, in the garden, on a jogging track or on the bank of a river, listening to music, read books, play sports, talk to your friends, perform simple exercises like walking, cycling, and swimming. All this will help lower high cholesterol and stress levels. You should consult your physician if you want to opt for cholesterol reducing supplements.