What Is High-Functioning Depression?
The Dangers of High-Functioning Depression in Men
As the holidays approach, they usher in feelings of gratitude. It is a time where men sit down with family and friends in celebration of their achievements and share their aspirations for the year to come.
But, for some, the holidays are bittersweet and melancholy. For some, life’s manageable challenges morph into overpowering uncertainties on how to meet future challenges. As these feelings persist, life’s luster begins to dull and man’s natural passion for life dwindles.
Weighed down by these feelings, getting out of bed becomes more difficult with each passing day as if everything has become three times harder than it should be.
If you can relate, then it may be worth your time to consider if there is an underlying issue.
RELATED: How to Spot Depression in Men
Persistent Depressive Disorder
Dysthymia is a mild, but long-lasting type of depression. Also called “persistent depressive disorder, it is estimated that 4% of the world’s population experiences dysthymia but may be unaware of it.
Often mistaken for a person being in a “blue mood”, the symptoms are easily dismissed, which is where the danger lies. Dysthymia is a low-grade type of depressive order that is more “high-functioning” than other types of depression so the individual is often unaware of the symptoms.
“Dysthymia is an affliction that affects millions of men, especially around the holidays. But since it goes unnoticed, it’s even more insidious than the soul-numbing effects of mainstream depression, which can be easily noticed and identified,” reports Dr. Bethany Cook, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works in the field of depression.
“The condition can also be made worse by environmental triggers and physical conditions. Pollution, lack of sunlight, poor nutrition, and lack of movement can all be contributing factors that can cause a person to spiral further into the rabbit hole of dysthymia,” Cook adds.
Left untreated, there are six primary symptoms that begin to bubble over:
- Relationship difficulties
- Struggle with simple tasks or work at the job
- Creation of self-imposed career difficulties
- Inability to self-motivate
- Low energy and fatigue
- Unjustified and unexplained negative outlook on life
Fortunately, there are actionable steps an individual can take to reverse course and fend off its effects. Cognitive Behavior Theory (CBT) states that a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected. If a person changes one of the three, the other two are forced to shift course as well. Countless studies support this hypothesis; CBT interventions and techniques have been shown to significantly improve a person’s mental health, especially dysthymia.
But first, it’s important to understand how you arrived at your current state and the road to positive resiliency.
Grit: The Past’s Prescription
A problem is that society’s response to men’s mental health struggles is entirely narcissistic. Instead of empathizing and attempting to help, men are shamed for appearing “weak”. This “cultural gaslighting” makes men’s health concerns negated or diminished by responding as if it was their fault.
Cook goes on to report that “there seems to be common societal and cultural stigmas that keep most men from seeking help.” Some of these include:
- A “real man” is the strong silent type
- A “real man” doesn’t need help
- Only “babies” complain about feelings
- Mental health problems are not real
- Did your wife make you go to therapy?
“The only feeling society allows men to have without judging or shaming them is anger. The problem is anger is a superficial emotion that hides what someone is really experiencing,” says Cook.
This emotional teetering on the edge of hope and hopelessness from dysthymia is made worse by the gloomy winter months. In most parts of North America, the winter season brings the frigid cold that keeps men inside and isolated. This makes important social interaction difficult, if not impossible.
Worse, the lack of sunlight translates into a lack of vitamin D which regulates moods and circadian rhythms for sleep quality. This vitamin D deficiency can lead to a negative spiral of moodiness and insomnia if left untreated over long periods of time. This can lead to even greater negative consequences of untreated dysthymia.
Unregulated Blood Sugar
Poor diet is another potential trigger to spin into a negative spiral of dysthymia.
As the effects of dysthymia start to darken the person’s positive moods and feelings of motivation and empowerment begin to decline. This can lead a person to seek out comfort foods that are like pouring gasoline on a fire.
As these foods enter the bloodstream, they can cause spikes in blood sugar as the body breaks them down. While they give temporary relief from the low-quality feelings caused by dysthymia, the blood sugar crash that follows can compound the gray feelings an individual is experiencing and make them feel much darker.
Taking Back Control
“The first thing you have to do is identify the triggers that are starting off your feelings of helplessness and hopelessness,” explains Dr. Cook. “Once you’ve identified potential ‘leaks’ then you can get to work to plug them.”
Start with your diet by trading in processed food for a more balanced meal. As your blood sugar balances out then your moods should follow as well.
To counteract lack of sunlight, start taking vitamin D supplements at 10,000 IU then notice your moods. Consider scaling up to 50,000 IU by adding an additional 5,000 IU to 10,000 every two weeks till your outlook begins to improve.
Start exercising daily. Start out walking a couple of thousands of steps and build up to 10,000 steps daily. The body needs a certain amount of movement each day to optimize its health and 10,000 steps daily is the minimum to help it. Not everyone can get to a gym but if you can’t go outside or to a gym then consider getting a treadmill.
Also, get outside as much as you can, especially when the sun does appear. Sunlight helps your body sync its circadian rhythms which is vital for sleep. Plus, as soon as sunlight hits your skin then your body starts producing melatonin, which aids in sleep. The most important thing you can do to fight off dysthymia is getting quality rest and sleep each night.
For stress, do a personal inventory for triggers and areas of stress in your life. If your co-workers start drama, then look to limit your time with them. If you and your roommate are no longer compatible then it might be better for you both to make other arrangements. If you and your spouse or partner are fighting a lot then consider getting counseling to get past it. Bottom line: stress is an enemy to positive well-being so be vigilant about it and stop it at its source.
For men experiencing dysthymia, it can be easy to fall into negative thoughts and feelings.
Dr. Cook explains that, “A warning sign that you could slip into a dysthymic episode is if you are feeling unfulfilled, irritable, and ‘over it’, in more than one of the main areas of your life. It’s beyond difficult to find joy or happiness in life when everywhere you turn you feel or experience disappointment and frustration.”
With dysthymia, the condition can be confirmed by two years of persistent symptoms which makes it critical that you develop self-awareness about the symptoms. If not, then the danger is that maybe you’ve been experiencing these types of negative feelings for so long that they’ve become “familiar friends” and you risk personifying them as part of your identity.
By being aware of the warning signs and taking action, you will be in a better position to elevate your life experience and build a more powerful future.
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