Energy Drains: Stress, Mood and Illness
To increase energy and stay healthy it is important to understand the relationship between stress levels, mood, and our immune system. Researchers have found an abundance of evidence that positive emotions can enhance the immune system, while negative emotions can suppress and compromise it. Stress can over activate the immune system, prompting increased surges of neurochemicals adrenaline and cortisol, which have many different effects on the nervous and immune systems. In the short term, they benefit us with heightened awareness, sense of urgency and increased energy but, when prolonged, the effects can be damaging. They wear down the immune system draining our energy and making us more likely to become sick or unwell. Therefore, managing stress helps increase our energy and stabilize mood. Unmanaged stress often results in depression.
The word depression is actually just an umbrella term for a number of different disorders of mood, ranging from major depression to dysthymia, which is a chronic low-level mood. Depression symptoms may include everything from hopelessness and fatigue to physical pain. Symptoms may vary from person to person.
It is most important, however, to note the symptoms and cycles of mood in order to identify and understand not only the type of mood disorder, but the internal conditions (such as thoughts, feelings, and health status) as well as the external conditions (such as people, events, weather) which impact the development of mood states. We often miss such details and can get blindsided by mood shifts. Understanding cycles and the conditions that impact them and keep them going is immensely important to be able to prevent difficulties and to gain back some control of mood.
What is Problematic about Mood Problems?
When we think of mood problems, we often think of low energy, negative thinking, sadness, and tendency to isolate. However, mood problems are not just “mental” or “emotional.” According to a September report from the World Health Organization the amount of damage untreated mood disorders causes takes a greater toll on health than chronic angina, arthritis, asthma, or diabetes. A growing body of research also indicates that mood disorders trigger certain diseases: chronic pain, acid reflux, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, and other problems. Mood disorders wreak havoc on the entire body by throwing the stress response out of whack. Mood issues are not just about being “down” or feeling unmotivated; they can, indeed, be very physical and need to be taken seriously.
People who are seeking counseling are often looking for relief from mood problems. They are trying to regain or boost their mental, emotional, and physical energy. For the person suffering the energy loss, it can feel that the mood shifted all of a sudden or gradually became worse until they could take no more and sought help. However, it generally becomes more clear that there had been stress building over the course of time, whether that be from physical illness, major change, loss, or unresolved difficulties from the past. We can often identify that the mood issue had been operating in cycles; however, they easily go unnoticed. For instance, a person may experience depression after getting a new job or home. Even though it may be needed or wanted change, it is still change and change takes energy to accommodate, hence the dip in mood. As we move deeper into autumn perhaps we may be more aware of fatigue as sunlight decreases and we prepare for the solitude of winter. Our bodies are rallying to accommodate this major change.
Strategies to Increase Energy and Stabilize Mood
Keeping a pulse on our stress level is always a wise idea. Many of us don’t really know our baseline stress level; therefore we don’t really know where we are and what is manageable for us so we keep doing more. For example, all of a sudden we can find ourselves triggered into anger by an erratic driver on the road and wonder how we went flew off the handle. This is what often happens when stress piles up. We become reactive and, at times, out of control. We can decline quickly.
Many stresses cannot be avoided altogether, but we can support our bodies in being more resilient, as well as reorganize some of our routines to minimize mood and energy problems.To help our bodies, it is important to:
- Get adequate sleep each night. During seasonal change, more sleep is often needed to sustain the shift. Adding an extra half an hour can be of benefit to you.
- Decrease sugar and carbohydrate intake. When mood declines you may notice increased food cravings, especially for sweets and carbs as the body is looking for that spike in energy. Focus on eating a balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables.
- Move your body. Make sure that you are getting some physical exercise daily; a walk, time at the gym, working outside.
- Take your supplements, including probiotic, Vitamins B, C, D, and fish oil.
- Attend meditation, yoga, or tai chi classes – especially if you are anxiety-prone or get overwhelmed easily.
Creative thinking is important in learning to help you and may lead to stress-reducing methods, such as delegating work or deleting less important items from your to-do lists. Then you can look for ways to improve your coping ability, such as learning a new, useful skill or spending more time unwinding each day.
Cognitive therapy or skills-based counseling can be helpful in learning how to control the mind and work through thoughts that fuel depression and drain energy. But, working with the mind and body together is necessary in improving or resolving mood issues. After all, the mind and body dwell in the same organism.
To maintain a healthy mind and body, it’s important to engage in the effort to review and assess yourself – and, if need be, consult a professional to help.