Dysthymia: Persistent Depressive Disorder- What is it and Symptoms

We’ve all been “there”, where we find ourselves more down than usual, we don’t feel like doing anything and have a constant feeling of apathy. In most cases we’re able to find a solution to our situation and little by little return to our normal selves. But, what if we never return to normal? What happens if the feelings of sadness and the apathy don’t go away? If this state doesn’t improve over time, you might be suffering from dysthymia. In this article we’ll discuss what dysthymia is, its symptoms, causes, and advice on how to overcome it. 


What is dysthymia?

What is dysthymia? Dysthymia, now called Persistent Depressive Disorder, is a mild form of depression. It’s usually categorized as a chronic disorder, however it’s important to distinguish between the psychological and medical term “chronic”, which here refers to a long-term disorder, not an “incurable” or “untreatable” disorder.

Symptoms of dysthymia How to detect it?

People with dysthymia often describe themselves as “sad” or “down in the dumps.” Adults with dysthymia may have many of the following symptoms:

  • Decrease in appetite or overactive appetite  (food anxieties)
  • Insomnia or excessive sleepiness
  • Low energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Problems concentrating and difficulty making decisions
  • Feelings of despair
  • Guilt
  • Avoiding social relationships

In order to diagnose this depressive disorder, symptoms need to be present for at least 2 years; although symptoms can cease for a few months and then return again.

In children, the principle symptoms of dysthymia are:

  • Irritability
  • Poor school performance
  • Lack of social skills
  • Pessimism

Symptoms of dysthymia in children have to be present for 1 year in order to be diagnosed as a persistant depressive disorder.

If a persistant depressive disorder is left untreatred, it could lead to depression, which causes more serious health risks. This is why an early diagnosis is so important, and why is is important to know the symptoms of dysthymia.

Remember that feeling sad is normal, and having a few “blue” days isn’t cause for concern. It’s normal to feel annoyed or upset sometimes, especially if you’re going through a hard time in your life. This depressive disorder starts to become pathological when the feelings of unhappiness and sadness don’t go away, even when everything seems to be fine, and these feelings interfere in our daily activities.

Causes of dysthymia

Psychological disorders do not have one sole cause. However, it seems that dysthymia is connected to serotonin, a type of neurotransmitter in charge of emotions and moral judgement. As with all disorders, dysthymia is also influenced by stressful life events, learning processes, and personality.

Dysthymia is usually more frequently found in women, people who have a family member with depression or dysthymia, and in people who have suffered a stressful event.


The cause of dysthymia is not well known

Ways to prevent and treat symptoms of dysthymia

How can you overcome dysthymia? This Persistent Depressive Disorder should be treated by a professional. They can carry out a neuropsychological evaluation. Testing cognitive functions is a preventative measure and is critical in early detection of dysthymia and other psychological disorders. Find out here which professional you should go to: Psychiatrist or Psychologist.

However, until you find the right professional help there are things those suffering with dysthymia can do to feel better.

1. Physical exercise helps improve our mental state

Physical exercise doesn’t only improve our physical health but also contributes to our mental health. It doesn’t have to be intense physical exercise. There are many types of exericse, all of which provide us with numerous health benefits. Walking, dancing, practicing yoga, swimming, and any other exercise you can think of will help you feeling better! If you can get out and exercise outside, even better.

Not sure how how to start exercising? Check out our tips.

2. Drugs and alcohol worsen dysthymia symptoms

Although it might feel like drugs and alcohol help dim the symptoms of depression, drugs actually exacerbate the problem over time, making dythymia or anxiety worse. Remember that drugs and alcohol also have a number of different health risks related to the body and mind. Check out the effects of drugs on the brain.

3. Nurture your social relationships

One of the best predictors of recovery in diverse types of psychological problems is your social network and the support system you have. This is why it’s so important to surround yourself with people who love and appreciate you, that support you and who are positive. Distance yourself from negative people that make you question and feel bad about yourself.

Socializing is also important for us to feel better. Social relationships improve our self-esteem and our mood.

4. Good sleep is fundamental in dealing with dysthymia

Quality of sleep influences our mood and the state of our mind. It’s important to maintain a healthy sleep routine, to always go to bed and wake up at the same time. To combat insomnia eliminate all sources of stimulus that could disturb sleep (light, sound, electronic devices…). Try to relax before going to bed. Practice mindful meditation, listen to music, take a relaxing bath…

5. Eat healthy food

Most of us understand the consequences of an unhealthy diet on our body, but we forget how diet influences our brain. The truth is that eating well doesn’t only affect our bodies, but our brains can benefit from a healthy diet as well! A balanced diet can help us look and feel better, which might help improve the symptoms of a persistant depressive disorder.

6. Raise your self-esteem

Low self-esteem is a common factor in many psychological problems, this is why it’s important to maintain an optimal level of self-esteem. Write down your achievements (or ask someone to do it for you), and confront uncomfortable situation to help increase your self-esteem.

7. Keeping stress under control helps combat the symptoms of dysthymia

Stress can worsen the symptoms of dysthymia. Thus it’s very important to learn how to manage stressful situations. Learn how to relax when you get stressed out. There are many relaxation techniques that you can use. Practicing yoga and meditation can also help with stress.

8. Make time

It’s important to continue doing the things you love to do. If you’ve shied away from your favorite hobbies, try to get back into them! Play chess for 15 minutes, or start crafting once a week. The worst thing you can do is to stop doing what makes you happy. Find time. If you like to read, cook, knit, sports, movies…keep doing them. Don’t forget about your interests.

It’s also a good idea to indulge every once in a while. Take a relaxing bath, read your favorite book, or whatever you need to do. What’s important is that you make time for yourself, at least once a week.


How to improve dysthymia

Any questions? I’d be happy to help! 🙂

This post was originally written in Spanish by Andrea García Cerdán, psychologist

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