It might be cliché to say it, but life is tough.
Remove pandemics, economic strife, and global conflicts from the equation, and we still face the human condition.
Consider something like the negativity bias, wherein negative information triggers a surge in activity in our brains. Thus, human behaviours are more dramatically impacted by the “bad” things in life, whether it be an experience or information we’ve consumed.
As per the title of this blog, we’re not here to discuss the negativity bias. I only bring it up to make a point—humans are wired to experience misery in some form.
In part, the above notion explains why in 2016 alone, 16.2 million Americans suffered one major depressive episode. Furthermore, anxiety disorders are even more prevalent across the U.S., with 40 million adults afflicted by this mental health condition.
Yes, anxiety and depression are two different disorders. However, they tend to go hand in hand, commonly occurring together.
More specifically, anxiety might be a symptom of chronic depression. At the same time, depression can stem from dealing with ongoing anxiety.
Alternatively, the two can exist without one another. Still, there’s no denying the caustic link between the two mental illnesses.
Given the nature and vast reach of anxiety and depression, it’s become more vital than ever to learn coping mechanisms that help us overcome these issues.
First Things First: Destigmatize Yourself
Before delving into self-care and various treatment methods, it’s worth exploring mental illness through the public eye.
We’ve come far as a society from the darker days of the mid-20th century. In these more primitive times, those who have mental illness were “othered,” treated as outcasts, and frequently institutionalized.
Even as attitudes grew less judgmental, there was still the sense that these matters were kept 100% private within families.
As we’ve shifted into the third decade of the 21st century, the conversation surrounding mental health has dramatically changed. Perhaps, we can attribute this monumentally positive shift to the entertainment industry.
I can’t help but think of one specific television show, the Sopranos, which revolutionized how many Americans view mental health. After all, if a fearsome, murderous mob boss can suffer from panic attacks and face manic depressive episodes, couldn’t we all?
I do digress. My point is that western society has made many positive strides regarding the stigmatization of anxiety and depression. We’ve evolved from a time when mental health ailments were discussed in hushed tones amongst family members and covert psychiatric sessions.
Yet, despite these many positive changes in the mental health sphere, there still appears to be some stigma attached to depression and anxiety. Old habits die hard.
Provided you fear this stigma while struggling with mental illness, know that the public discourse is firmly in your favour. There will always be people slow to learn and accept that we aren’t all perfect, and that almost everybody struggles. But if you choose to face your issues head-on, most people will be on your side.
Know What You’re Dealing With
The fact is, we can’t overcome anxiety and depression when unaware that we’re experiencing either condition.
We must know the definitions of these conditions and the symptoms that accompany them.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety disorders generally lead to an ongoing, visceral, and inescapable fear about run-of-the-mill situations. Symptoms can manifest themselves as continual episodes where those suffering are overwhelmed with intense terror that builds into a panic attack.
The six kinds of anxiety disorders are separation anxiety disorder, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), panic disorder, agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety disorder.
I’d be remiss to ignore how anxiety doesn’t have to be something felt over every day, “normal” occurrences. It’s often something you’ll feel when you’re facing any manner of trials, tribulations, or a meaningful life event, for instance.
What Are the symptoms of anxiety?
Symptoms most associated with anxiety and its related disorders include tense, nervous, or restless feelings. On top of that is being overcome with a sense of impending doom. Also, there’s rapid breathing (i.e., hyperventilation) and a racing heart rate.
Those facing an anxiety episode might be overly sweaty, trembly, or excessively tired and weak.
Moreover, those with anxiety regularly struggle with concentration. These individuals are unable to keep their mind on anything other than their primary concern(s).
What causes anxiety?
As mentioned before, anxiety often triggered by a significant event in our lives (e.g., wedding, job interview, court case). Alternatively, the condition might stem from a series of stressful scenarios. For instance, continual issues at work with your boss could flare up somebody’s anxiety.
Other health issues that might make us face our mortality and the financial struggles that come with them are other anxiety triggers.
There are physical catalysts, too, including skipped meals, specific medications (e.g., birth control), or drinking too much caffeine.
Lastly, and quite prominently, anxiety can result from other underlying mental health problems.
What is depression?
When depressed, people are glum and disinterested. This adversely impacts their feelings, thoughts, and behaviours.
It’s a mental health affliction that doesn’t only take a psychological and emotional toll. We can feel depression physically, too. For instance, being depressed can manifest itself as bodily pain or digestive problems.
There are nine common kinds of depression:
- major depression
- persistent depression
- manic depression (aka bipolar disorder)
- depressive psychosis
- perinatal depression
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- seasonal depression
- situational depression
What are the symptoms of depression?
Realistically, the symptoms of depression require their thorough deep dive. Therefore, I’ll discuss the most common issues that flare-up, which start with a hopeless outlook on life.
Someone might feel worthless or a strong sense of self-loathing. Furthermore, inappropriate guilt is a symptom often associated with depression.
Feelings that we’re to blame for everything horrible that’s happened and that our existence is pointless also stems from depression.
What are the causes of depression?
Again, narrowing down this answer in the confines of a blog is a tall order. The root causes of depression are highly complex and have been rigorously studied and written about by scholars.
On a more general basis, here are some root causes of depression:
- Genetic vulnerability
- Severe life stressors
- Chemical imbalances
- Other medical conditions
Successfully Managing Anxiety and Depression
I mentioned The Sopranos earlier in this blog, which brings me to an example I wish to discuss from the show:
Tony Soprano often referred to the fact that his “therapy wasn’t working,” because his panic attacks persisted despite his continual psychiatric appointments and use of Prozac.
His psychiatrist, Dr Melfi, refuted the TV mob boss’s claims by correctly pointing out that the attacks’ severity and frequency had lessened.
The point here is that depending on what levels of anxiety and depression we’re dealing with, we need to be realistic about defining success.
With that said, let’s look into some coping techniques that have helped many overcome their stress and anxiety:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Anxiety disorders are most successfully remedied through CBT.
The nuts and bolts of CBT are as follows:
- Focuses on the patient’s beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts on how these mechanisms are associated with the way they behave.
- By performing various techniques (e.g., square breathing), patients change their behaviours and attitudes through altering/improving their cognitive processes.
CBT – without any medications – is 50% to 75% effective in helping patients deal with their anxiety and depression.
I’ll talk about prescriptions (e.g., antidepressants) later. But I should point out that combining medications with CBT is seen as the most effective treatment of anxiety and depression.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
IPT focuses on a patient’s relationships, with the idea that these are the root of their mental illness.
The idea of IPT is to improve a patient’s interpersonal functioning (how they manage their relationships) and boost their social support system.
Beyond that, therapists use techniques such as role-playing while honing into the most pressing relationship problem.
This form of therapy is a short-term treatment method deemed effective by many experts for treating milder issues.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy primarily delves into a patient’s unconscious psyche. The end goal is to neutralize psychic tensions.
This form of therapy can be used for the short term (up to 25 sessions) and long-term (around two years).
The American Psychological Association states that patients continue to benefit and improve after treatments are complete.
(Side note: These three therapies I’ve mentioned are the more commonly successful treatments used for overcoming anxiety and depression. Regardless, these aren’t the only options when seeking out professional treatment. Perform your research if none of the above three options speaks to you.)
Eating a Healthy Diet
We’ve all heard the phrase, “you are what you eat.”
Many medical experts seem to believe that the above notion rings true with anxiety and depression.
More specifically, consuming a diet of fast food and hard liquor tends to weigh on one’s mental health.
Conversely, there’s reason to believe that a nutritious diet can mitigate anxiety and depression symptoms. Though, there’s no specific eating plan that outright “cures” or offsets mental illness. Instead, eating healthy food functions best as part of a comprehensive treatment plant.
For instance, it’s believed that complex carbs (e.g., whole grains, fruits, vegetables) send serotonin to our brains. Plus, a protein-rich food (e.g., tuna and chicken) increase overall alertness. Lastly, a steady diet of antioxidants helps reduce cell damage, which takes a toll on our cognitive functions.
No, there’s no need to become an Olympic athlete or marathon runner to cure depression or anxiety.
All that’s needed is some consistent physical activity, in which case, research suggests the risk for depression is lowered by 20% to 30%.
Something crucial to consider is the need to strike the perfect balance. Exercise can be extremely stressful, and overdoing it can have the reverse effect on mental health. Namely, partaking in workouts more than 23-times per month can worsen depression and anxiety – especially when subjecting oneself to 90-minute-plus sessions.
All the same, finding time to exercise (in moderation) can be a massive boon to our overall mental health. Moreover, inactivity (or laziness) has strong links to depression and feelings of guilt.
Antidepressants aren’t for everyone but have proven to improve symptoms in around 20% of patients.
For immediate anxiety symptom relief, doctors tend to prescribe Benzodiazepines. Also called tranquillizers, they start offsetting significant episodes (e.g., panic attacks) within 30 minutes to an hour.
With antidepressants, it’s more of a long-term commitment. It regularly takes a while to find the right medication. There’s also an array of side effects (e.g., weight gain, insomnia), depending on the patient.
Anti-anxiety meds are meant for immediate relief and won’t quell any long-term issues.
These prescription treatments can only be ascertained through a medical doctor.
Finding the Perfect Treatment Regime
I can’t sit here and say that you’ll overcome your anxiety because you started therapy or began training for a marathon. Nor will I spout a steady stream of inspirational anxiety and depression quotes without substance.
After all, mental illnesses aren’t like a virus, where they run their course once the doctor prescribes some antibiotics.
Some people might exercise the perfect amount, eat a nutritious diet, have six-pack abs, and still have continual panic attacks. In which case, they should continue with their physically active lifestyle while looking into therapy.
Even then, some people are afflicted to the point that they can’t get out of bed in the mornings. The chances are that this kind of person won’t be so willing to start a rigorous exercise regime. However, they could potentially be coaxed into undergoing some therapy to help them take those first steps toward improved mental health.
There isn’t a specific blueprint—provided you’re dealing with depression and anxiety, the most you can do is keep trying to overcome those afflictions.
When one treatment doesn’t work, try another. If a specific kind of food makes you sick and sad, stop eating it. You must continually adapt and learn to be fully present and aware when it comes to your mental health.
I’ll finish my blog on this parting note: keep talking about your depression and anxiety while facing them head-on. Taking such an approach will drastically increase your chances of overcoming these issues in the long run.