Signs and Symptoms

Last blog, we got a little glimpse into what wilderness therapy is and the types of populations we aim to serve.

The following reviews the signs and symptoms of common mental health concerns and follows up with some tips to manage these struggles:

Depression : Most people feel sad or depressed at times, especially after suffering a loss, dealing with life’s struggles, or a hit to their self-esteem.  Typically, people bounce back fairly quickly, but when feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and extreme sadness keep you from functioning normally, there may be something more serious going on.

According to the DSM-IV, if you experience at least five of the following nine symptoms, you may have depression.

  • a depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
  • fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
  • markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day
  • recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
  • a sense of restlessness or being slowed down
  • significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)

Anxiety : Many people with depression also experience some degree of anxiety, anxiety that goes beyond the typical tension we experience when we face life’s challenges.  For people with an anxiety disorder, the overwhelming worry and fear is constant – with obsessive thoughts, feelings of panic, trouble sleeping, heart palpitations, cold or sweaty hands.

Too much anxiety can be disabling, but a little anxiety is part of life – sometimes it’s even a motivating factor! For millions of people, worry disrupts everyday life, restricting it to some degree or even overshadowing it entirely.  An estimated 15 percent of Americans suffer from one or another of the anxiety disorders. These include generalized anxiety, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and flat-out panic attacks. As a group, anxiety disorders constitute the most common disorder in the country.

At least 5 percent of American adults experience panic attacks.  Often, panic attacks come out of the blue, for no apparent reason. Or they can come on when a person is coping with extreme stress.  Either way panic attacks can last for several minutes.

Stress : Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life. But when you’re unable to cope well with the stress in your life, your mind and body may pay the price.  Both personal problems and social/job issues can cause a person a significant amount of stress. Some common stressors include: chronic health problems, emotional problems, relationships, major life issues, family issues, conflicts with your beliefs or values, your surroundings, your job, and your social situation.

Managing stress can be difficult for some and easier for others.  If you want to reduce stress, try setting a goal. Here are three steps that help in setting a stress-reducing goal:

1. Find out what creates stress for you.  Write in a journal- think about triggering events, your coping strategies, how you react and record it.

2. Think about why you want to reduce stress.  The reason you want to reduce stress comes from you- and it is important! Maybe you want to enjoy life more, or protect your health.  Whatever your reason, try to find it.

3. Set a goal to reduce the stress.  Set short-term and long-term goals and start small. If you start small and make the changes needed, it will be a lot easier to accomplish your long-term goals.

Setting goals to reduce stress as a way of taking control of your life is only one way of  making yourself a happier and healthier person all around.  Obvious effects of high stress, such as mental health problems and physical health problems, can lead to problems in your future.  On the flipside, even though you have high marks for physical health,  your mental or spiritual health may be lacking.

There are various ways to nurture your mind, body, and spirit to hold a calm and balanced energy.

1. Exercise: reduces stress by increasing endorphins (your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters) and improves mood and self-esteem.  Keep moving (no matter the activity) daily tensions seem to melt away and your mind focuses only on your body’s movement.

Choose something you love to do, whether it be running, hiking, swimming, walking , biking, surfing, organized sports, etc. Don’t force yourself into an activity just for the sheer exercise – enjoy it! Make sure you consult a doctor before starting any new exercise regimen to make sure your body can handle it.  Start out slow and work up your fitness level gradually (after all, we learned to crawl before we walked, right?). And lastly, keep it consistent.  Pick the same time each day, so it becomes a regular part of your day.  If you need help, find a buddy.  Commit to each other (and yourself) and to an activity.

2. Yoga: Is a great alternative to high-cardio exercise.  If you have never done yoga, try it out! Yoga can improve your flexibility, strength, and posture .  Lower blood pressue, improved breathing, calmness, increased concentration and elevated mood are some of the benefits of Yoga.

3. Meditation and relaxation: Relaxation techniques are an essential part of your quest for stress management.  Relaxation isn’t just about peace of mind or enjoying a hobby. Relaxation is a process that decreases the wear and tear on your mind and body from the challenges and hassles of daily life.  In general, relaxation techniques involve refocusing your attention to something calming and increasing awareness of your body.  t doesn’t matter which relaxation technique you choose. What matters is that you try to practice relaxation regularly to reap the benefits.

The most important message you can take from this information is this: take a little time for yourself.  Find out what’s not working and make small changes – for your mind, body, and spirit. Check in with yourself on a regular basis.  Keep your body moving!

Information provided by: HealthWise, WebMD,

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