Life Changes

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Extreme life changes such as illness, a death of a loved one, career change or even breakups, can lead to an avalanche of stress and mental health issues.

These issues can linger and change overall behaviors to the point that it erases the desire to interact with others, therefore hindering the person’s ability to reach out to much needed support systems.

Roxanne Pacheco, a licenced therapist and certified trauma professional based out of the Rio Grande Valley, shared some tips on how to deal with consequences of such changes, both for those experiencing the change and those around them.

We All Experience Loss

The first thing to understand is that everyone at one point or another throughout our lives will experience loss.

“Whether there was a loss of a job, a loss of your identity, the loss of a child or of a parent. There is so many ways to look at it,” Pacheco said. “But ultimately it goes down to the core that something in you is missing. Something has been displaced and you are left with the consequences of it, which usually manifest in depression or anxiety.”

Whatever the core issue is, if it goes unacknowledged and untreated, symptoms of depression and anxiety will continue to arise and even worsen.

These symptoms can range from excessive crying, loss of interest in what you previously enjoyed doing, isolation, changes of eating habits, and ultimately suicidal thoughts, as a way to escape the problem.

Acknowledge your Emotions

The second lesson is learning to acknowledge and treat these emotional wounds properly.

“Emotional wounds are no different than physical wounds,” Pacheco said. “When we get a physical wound, we know that we have to leave the area open in order for healing to take place. The body knows how to immediately invest our physical resources in that place. And emotionally speaking, it’s the same thing.”

The more we try to run away from the issue or ignore it, the greater the symptoms become because these are a coping mechanism, Pacheco said. But if we allow ourselves to heal, those symptoms are no longer necessary.

“Most people tend to say, ‘You are depressed,’ or ‘You are anxious.’ However, the way I put it to my patients is, ‘You have symptoms of depression or anxiety, but that’s not who you are,’” she said.

Reach Out to your Support Systems

Another important aspect is understanding that support systems are important.

Those dealing with emotional traumas or wounds shy away from seeking help out of not wanting to appear “crazy” or “damaged” to others. But Pacheco said its important to understand that when the core issues are dealt with it correctly and fully, these symptoms will not last forever.

“Nobody wants to be told that there’s something wrong with you, especially if that will shame you into feeling worse than you already feel,” she said.

Becoming easily irritable acts as two things: an early symptom and a cause of isolation. Most people become reactive rather than responsive to loved ones expressing concern, causing further distance.

So for those trying to help a friend or loved one, the lesson is: Don’t give up. If the person seems different or estranged, these are symptoms of the core issue.

And for those dealing with the emotional wound, the lesson is not being afraid to seek help — as hard as that sounds.

Know your Options

So what should you look for when seeking help?

A holistic approach to the core issue is important, Pacheco said. In her practice, she uses preventive medicine and natural solutions rather than immediately prescribing medications.

“Medication is a Band Aid that will mask the symptoms. That’s all it does,” she said. “But the pain is still there … there’s a lot of other things that can be done.”

Sometimes simple practices make a huge difference, she said. For example she encourages individuals to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight a day — maybe not directly under the sun but in a space where their body will absorb the light. This as a way to help their body release the mood-boosting hormone known as serotonin.

Something as simple as watching videos of puppies or babies, and laughing, helps our body release chemicals like endorphins, which make us feel better.

A holistic approach means you find ways to not only mask the symptoms but to combat the root of the issue with constant exercises and awareness.

Our bodies are built to react to chemical imbalances, she said. So it’s also important to understand that anxiety and stress can cause physical pain and other health issues that could worsen if left untreated.

“That connection of mind and body is crucial for people to be aware of, because they seek help when they are already physically sick and what they don’t recognize is that they’ve been emotionally sick for a long time,” Pacheco said.

For any questions, Pacheco can be reached at (956) 446-0236 or at rpachecolcsw@gmail.com.