Having lived and worked in Dayton, Ohio, a short documentary entitled “The Epidemic” made there last year caught my eye. According to data compiled by the website Arrestrecords.com, Dayton ranked as the national leader for overdoses and deaths due to opioid use.
“Deaths of despair,” is the way one expert described the heart-rending trend that has seen spikes across all racial and socio-economic statuses
“We have to find a better way to deal with pain in this country,” actor and host Peter Sarsgaard told us at a National Press Club panel discussion. This health epidemic has a strong link to mental and emotional pain. We need a better way to deal with that, indeed.
I reached out to my esteemed friend, Lloyda Williamson, M.D., with the question. Williamson is a physician who is board certified in child, adolescent and adult psychiatry, and the Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences for Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. Following is her prescription for dealing with the pain in everyday life.
“Pain medications certainly have their place for addressing acute medical problems. Chronic medical problems should be assessed for appropriate pain management treatments. Some individuals experience temporary relief from emotional pain by taking pain medications. However, pain medications are never an appropriate solution for stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems.
For people with depression and anxiety, various everyday stressors make it worse. For many people, these stressors are accumulating because of our overscheduled lives. Without adequate relaxation and rest we can have physical symptoms. Instead of giving appropriate attention when our body signals that we need to slow down, we push through the physical warnings and self-medicate with caffeine, food, alcohol or other medications such as pain medications. The following is a brief list of some things that we can do to manage emotional pain and stress:
1. Develop healthy habits such as adequate rest at night, well-balanced meals, regular physical activity, limiting or eliminating caffeine intake.
2. Limit negative things that affect your environment. Reconsider constantly watching or listening to the news, being around negative people, your excessive workload without adequate breaks, constant time pressures, and physical work demands without rest. Setting limits on the negativity allows you to set your own agenda and focus, instead of letting negative things take over your life.
3. Practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing—that allows the abdominal diaphragm to expand, rather than a just chest expansion. This method of breathing often slows elevated breathing and heart rate when your anxiety is high. Progressive muscle relaxation involves a series of repeated contraction and relaxation of muscle groups in your body. This helps relieve the muscle tension that often develops. Utilize visualization techniques and imagery to maintain a mental picture of a calming scene
4. Practice thankfulness. Often when people are depressed, anxious, and overwhelmed they focus on their problems constantly. However, every situation could always be worse. Thus, there are some things for which they can be thankful. Make a list of those things, and reflect on them throughout the day.
5. Surround yourself with positive influences such as encouraging people, inspiring music, a nature walk.
6. Learn how to manage your thoughts and be intentional about what you choose to think about, instead of passively letting thoughts determine the direction of your mood.
7. Schedule quiet time daily, to calm down from the constant rushing in life.
8. Spend time reading the Bible and spiritually uplifting books. Claim God’s promises by placing your name in them as you read them.
9. Pray and ask God to send the Holy Spirit to make you aware of negative thought patterns. Ask God to help you turn those thoughts over to Him, and help you to choose to focus on past answered prayers and blessings. Claim them for yourself again in the future.
10. If anxiety and depression are causing serious interference with your daily life at home or work, seek professional help from a Pastor or a mental health professional.”