| Family Reflections |

Out of the Darkness

Today, there is so much help available for emotional ailments


Human beings have always been stressed — and have always looked for solutions for their emotional suffering. Traditional botanical medicine has been used forever to ease wrought-up emotional states. And people discovered long ago that lifestyle changes can make a big difference to the quality of their emotional world, and have altered their practices surrounding sleep, exercise, socialization, purposeful living, spiritual practices, and relaxation. In addition, people have always found comfort and solutions from talking out their problems, and many have written down their thoughts and feelings in journals for the purpose of clarification and/or emotional release.

It was discovered in more recent history that certain medicines can positively affect emotional states (the first official antidepressant medication was released to the public in the 1950s). Other physical forms of mental health treatment have also been developed, such as electric convulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), and direct current stimulation (DMS).

How to Feel Better

Today, both the old and new interventions are available for someone who wants to feel better emotionally. Many people naturally follow a route to treatment beginning with “self-help” interventions and moving along as necessary.

Let’s look at Avital’s story to see how this approach was played out:

Avital, 29 years old, had been married to her husband Oren for six years. They had three boys, aged four, two, and eight months. Avital held down a full-time job to pay the bills while Oren was trying to build his software business.

The business kept Oren busy day and night, so that almost all the domestic responsibilities fell on Avital. As the baby still woke up several times a night, Avital’s sleep suffered and she found that this, along with her endless responsibilities, left her exhausted, irritable, and moody most of the time. Avital snapped a lot and said things she didn’t mean. She felt helpless and out of control.

One night, after a particularly awful fight, Oren told Avital that she needed to get help if she wanted the marriage to continue. Alarmed, Avital made an appointment to see her family doctor.

The doctor told Avital that she needed to cut down her work hours, sleep train her baby, and enlist some hired help. Relieved to learn that all she needed was a little R&R, Avital changed her work schedule to part-time, no longer got up for her baby, and arranged for cleaning help twice a week. For a little while, she felt like a new woman!

However, Avital couldn’t afford the cleaning help on her part-time work schedule and in fact, could no longer afford most of the family’s bills. She began berating Oren, ordering him to get a job and drop his business idea. The marriage was teetering once again and Oren’s parents generously agreed to pay for the couple to get counseling. In addition, Avital enrolled in a marriage course.

Counseling brought about changes: Oren agreed to step up to the plate financially and carry more of the shared burdens of family life. However, even with all this, Avital did not “bounce back” to herself. Out of crisis at last, she began to suffer from post-traumatic stress. She had gone through so much and had felt so abandoned and betrayed. She sought her own counseling but after more than a year of it, still felt chronically sad and despairing.

Her counselor recommended a trial of antidepressant medication. Avital, tired of being unhappy, agreed. A few months later, she was starting to feel like her old self again — happy, hopeful, and calm. The marriage settled down, Oren’s business began to prosper and life finally became “normal.” Avital decided to remain on medication, wanting to maintain her state of emotional wellness.

We see that Avital tried lifestyle changes, counseling, and self-help to improve her mood, moving on to medication when these initial strategies failed to provide her with sufficient relief. We are fortunate these days to have so many options for well-being.

The majority of people will manage their stress successfully with self-help strategies. Others, dealing with more intense internal or external challenges, will benefit from self-help plus professional counseling. Still others will benefit from the addition of physical interventions to help elevate and stabilize positive mood.

Whichever way we get there, tending to our personal emotional well-being is an essential aspect of building a healthy family.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 667)

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