(A Tale of Three Friends)
As the scene unfolds three friends are walking together down an ever darkening forest path. Their fear is apparent as they huddle close together as they walk. “I don’t like this forest its dark and creepy” the young woman says. Not offering much reassurance one of her companions adds, “Of course I don’t know, but I think it’s going to get darker before it gets lighter.” “Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?” the now very concerned young woman asks. Following a brief discussion, the three surmise that there is an imminent threat in the form of four legged predators. Having now worked themselves into a frenzy of fear the three friends proceed down the path chanting, “lions and tigers and bears…oh my!”
As you may have guessed, the above mentioned scene is taken from the film The Wizard of Oz. The lion turned out to be more of a timid pussycat, there were no tigers nor were there any bears. There was no actual threat, only imagined ones. Imagined or not, the sense of dread that accompanies such fear is indeed very real. As a survival mechanism, the human body is programmed to respond to a threat, real or imagined, by releasing a cascade of chemicals into the body preparing it to either run away or engage in self-defense . This physiological response is known as the fight or flight response. Often times our body is doing us a genuine favor by activating this powerful response to danger. For example, when we are driving and someone runs a stop sign the brain perceives the situation as being life threatening and tells the body to activate the flight or flight response. Instantly, the body responds by releasing adrenaline, and other adrenaline like stress hormones, into the bloodstream. Our heart begins to race supplying extra blood to our muscles. To further supply the muscles blood is pulled away from our organs. Our eyes dilate sharpening our vision. These are but a few of the many and profound changes that occur when we experience the flight or flight response. Because these responses are automatic, we cannot control when they will occur. Unfortunately, the brain sometimes triggers this response when there is no real threat. Experiencing the physiological sensations of the flight or fight response, for no apparent reason, can be a truly unsettling experience. According to the National Institute of Mental Health approximately 20% of the population suffers from anxiety disorders as described above. If you believe that you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety please feel free to contact me. Anxiety disorders are one of the areas that I focus on in my practice.
Most of us probably experience a few “down” days every now and then. Personal finances, difficulties at work, health concerns, are examples of daily stressors that may leave us feeling down in the dumps. Generally speaking, the human psyche is surprisingly resilient to such challenges. Often times, negative life events are temporary and once they have passed our lives get back to normal. Other more challenging difficulties may draw upon our personal resources in the form of coping mechanisms. Sometimes, these stressors may exceed the limits of our coping mechanisms leaving us feeling hopeless, empty, or sad. Hopelessness and sadness, along with a loss if interest in pleasurable activities, changes in sleep patterns, changes in appetite, irritability, and difficulty in concentrating are but of a few of the signs of depression. When these signs begin to affect our ability to successfully function at work, school, or in social situations, we may be experiencing clinical depression (aka. major depression / depressive disorder). The first recorded mention of what we now refer to as depression goes back to the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle all spoke of Melancholia The Greek philosopher Epictetus is credited with one of the first explanations of why we get depressed when he noted, “Men are disturbed not by events but by their opinions about them.” Thousands of years later, Shakespeare resonated these same observations when he stated, “Nothing is neither good nor bad…thinking only makes it so.” These conceptualizations as to the nature of depression were amazingly accurate. Today, the most effective treatment for depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is based on these same premises.
If you, a family member, or someone you care about is experiencing depression you are not alone. Depression affects over 19 million Americans and is one of the most frequent reasons that people seek therapy. The good news is that depression responds very favorably to psychotherapy. In treating depression (and anxiety) I employ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has higher than average success rates, is solution focused, and has a low rate of relapse back into depression. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to know a little more about depression and the treatment of depression.