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What Is Dysthymic Disorder?

Dysthymia, or dysthymic disorder, is a form of chronic depression characterized by its relentless endurance: people with dysthymia live in an ongoing state of near-constant or constant depression, for all or most of nearly every day, for two years or longer.

The main factor that distinguishes dysthymia from major depression is the severity of symptoms. While the sadness, fatigue and other negative feelings that are part of major depression are serious enough to noticeably impact the depressed individual’s ability to fully participate in their life, people with dysthymia can function normally but feel chronically down and unwell.

Because dysthymia symptoms are generally milder than those associated with major depression, some experts argue that there has been a clinical underestimation of the debilitating effects of this condition and the extent to which it can affect the quality of life of its sufferers.

How Exercise Can Help

Scientists are unsure what the exact relationship is between mood disorders and physical activity, but the positive effect that regular exercise can have on depression symptoms is undeniable. It’s very likely that a big part of the benefit is that exercise causes the release of endorphins, a kind of feel-good chemical in the brain.

Moreover, people who have lived with dysthymia are likely to also experience at least one bout of major depression at some point in their lives.

Treatment Options for Dysthymia

Like other kinds of depression, basic treatment for dysthymia commonly consists of psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a kind of psychotherapy in which the patient learns to identify their negative thought patterns and then works actively to restructure them. This therapeutic strategy has proven successful in helping dysthymia sufferers to manage their symptoms because it provides them with a sustainable means of modifying their distorted thinking over time.

Depression and Nutrition: Carbohydrates

Many researchers believe there is a link between serotonin imbalance and mood disorders. Meals that are rich in carbohydrates such as pasta, breads or fruit can have a relaxing effect because they facilitate tryptophan’s entrance into the brain, where it is used to make serotonin. Balance carbohydrate consumption with exercise to further increase neurotransmitter production and avoid unwanted weight gain.

Antidepressants are usually prescribed, but because dysthymia is a chronic condition, their positive effects must be carefully weighed against any experienced side effects to achieve the maximum benefit for the patient.

Lifestyle factors that have been found to have a positive impact in managing dysthymia include getting regular aerobic exercise, having a strong, supportive network of family and friends, and avoiding excessive (or, possibly, any) intake of alcohol — this last not just because alcohol is a well-known depressant, but because some people with dysthymia turn to alcohol dependence and/or abuse in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms, however temporary and ultimately counter-productive the effect may be.

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