Halloween: Dealing with Ghosts from the Past

Although present day Halloween activities revolve around trick-or-treating and costume parties, historically masks were worn to placate the evil spirits. You may not be frightened by pumpkins carved into eerie faces nor believe inwitches and goblins. But when is the last time you thought seriously about the “ghosts” that have been haunting you far too long?

The negative feelings that you may be experiencing – from time to time or perhaps more regularly – could be due to normal unhappiness, stress from overload, situational sadness, or even clinical depression. When there is no obvious trigger for emotional symptoms, they are often minimized, ignored or dismissed. But did you know that 1 in 4 people suffer from depression at some time in their life? Close to 50% don’t receive treatment yet, in the past few years, there has been a marked increase in the use of antidepressants – 120 million prescriptions were filled in 2005.

If you have had feelings of extreme sadness, helplessness or hopelessness for more than two weeks, you should consider scheduling an appointment with you family practitioner or internist. After discussing your symptoms, you will most likely be referred to a specialist. Psychiatrists are medical experts who are trained to evaluate clinical depression. This can take some time, especially if anti-depressants are indicated. There may be a process of trial and error while you are being regulated on the appropriate medication and proper dosage with the least side effects.

In the meantime, there are several non-medical actions you can take as you begin to better understand and cope with your moods. After reading the following suggestions about self care and social support, implement the ones that best fit your personal situation:

1. Honor your body by focusing on what makes you feel physically and emotionally better – pay attention to your exercise routine, what you eat, your sleeping habits and what gives you pleasure. Reduce the situations that cause stress and increase the ones that make you feel more relaxed or alive.

2. Create a balance between caring for the well being of others and nurturing your personal needs. Make time each day to nourish yourself – you may even need to make a schedule until this becomes a routine that is factored into your daily life.

3. Knowledge is power. Gather information about ways to deal with how you are feeling- explore Internet search engines or the self-help section of bookstores. Talk with friends and family whose opinions you respect.

4. Gratitude is a powerful emotion. Use it to your advantage. Tell those who are important to you what you think of them. Watch their reaction and see how that makes you feel. Practice what you have learned in the past about being resilient. Release tension through humor and watch yourself begin to bounce back.

5. Support is a valuable tool. Find a class or workshop through your local university extension program or mental health center. Join an ongoing group or attend a weekend retreat to share concerns, problem-solve and gain new perspective.

A therapist or a coach can be a sounding board, validate your perceptions, support your ideas and help you follow through with your plans.

It can be difficult to maintain a sense of optimism when emotional circumstances are complicated and painful. Focus your thoughts on what you can accomplish rather than on what you cannot. Recognize the insight and skills that are already an integral part of you. And notice how your character strengths support what you do and who you are.

Beginning to talk about depression can increase awareness, reduce the stigma and mitigate symptoms. Think about exorcising your “demons,” once and for all. Don’t disguise yourself in costume, no matter what time of the year. This Halloween, take off your mask and commit to feeling more positive about yourself.

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