What actually is depression and anxiety?

The terms ‘Depression’ and ‘Anxiety’ are passed around without many people completely understanding what they mean. I think that it’s essential to explain the definitions in a little bit more detail to allow you to understand the conditions and how your mind works. When you learn the fascinating little wires of your brain and why you feel the way that you do, I believe that you can create a civil relationship with your mind and work alongside it to become stronger instead of allowing it to overpower you. I’m no medical expert in these areas so the explanations are basic Google research answers but it can make things just that little bit easier to comprehend.

I never understood what Depression was until I began to experience it myself. To be honest, I thought it was just a term that people used as an excuse. Wow, was I wrong. Depression is basically a feeling of intense sadness, worthlessness and hopelessness and it’s more intense and lasts much longer than just a bad mood. Symptoms and emotions vary from person to person, so it’s imperative to remember that there is not one specific list for diagnosis. You might think that because Depression happens in your mind, it can’t affect you physically but it can. The mind sends signals to our body to work properly so it’s more than likely going to influence your body too. The NHS list of symptoms for Depression looks similar to this:

PSYCHOLOGICAL

  • Anxiety/Worrying regularly
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or suicide
  • Low confidence and self esteem
  • Feeling tearful
  • Feelings of hopeless and helplessness
  • No motivation/interest in things
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • No enjoyment in life
  • Feeling guilt ridden
  • Continuous low mood/sadness
  • Feeling irritable and intolerant of others

PHYSICAL

  • Changes in speech (talking quicker or slower)
  • Change in appetite and weight
  • Constipation
  • Unexplainable aches and pains
  • Lack of energy
  • Low interest in Sex (loss of libido)
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Changes in menstrual cycle

SOCIAL

  • Not doing well at work
  • Avoiding contact with friends/taking part in fewer social activities
  • Neglecting hobbies and interests
  • Difficulties in home and family life

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms and haven’t been diagnosed, then now is the time to go and see your GP. Don’t be afraid or think that you’re going crazy, it’s much more common than you think and you can be treated through things such as counselling and medicine. There are many different treatments so you can decide what works best for you. You also may have symptoms that aren’t on the list that you experience too, and that’s completely normal. As I said, everybody’s experience is different. The brief overall reason why scientists suspect that we suffer with Depression, is because we have lower levels of serotonin in our brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter which is responsible for our joy and happiness. I’m not going to get into the science of the brain but that’s just the part that’s handy to know.

Some people describe Depression as something that can come and go, others say that they can experience it once and then never again but that’s not how I see it. I have this weird analogy that having Depression is like dyeing your hair. It sounds weird I know, but bare with me.  Say you had naturally blonde hair and decided to dye it brunette. It would look amazing, but your blonde roots would eventually grow back through, so you accept the fact that your natural hair colour isn’t brunette but you learn to maintain your roots by continuing to dye them. This is the same as Depression, you accept that you have Depression but you learn to understand the bad days by trying different techniques to keep hopeful and positive.

In some cases, it can be quite difficult to go to the GP or admit that you’re feeling depressed because you might feel ashamed or that you’re ‘just being stupid’. If people around you are telling you to ‘snap out of your bad mood’ or that ‘there are people that have it much worse off than you do’, it can make you start to question if what you are feeling is worthy of a diagnosis. Don’t let these shallow comments second guess yourself. We live in a society where phrases such as ‘I’m so depressed that they haven’t got my favourite ice cream in the shop’ or ‘this TV programme is so depressing’ are thrown about so casually that it almost patronizes and undermines people that have to genuinely live with the condition. It can make you question if anybody will take you seriously. Never let anybody question the way that you feel or tell you that the way that you’re feeling is stupid or wrong.

Anxiety usually comes hand in hand with Depression but this isn’t always the case. Anxiety is basically a feeling of unease, worry and fear. Similar to Depression, living with Anxiety can feel different for each person. For me, it’s like constantly having the nervous butterflies that you get when you’re worried about something. Your body goes into the ‘fight or flight response’, which is your body releasing adrenalin to help you physically prepare for danger. This is something our bodies do automatically when we feel fear which enhances the anxious thoughts and feelings.

Everybody feels anxious at times, but an example of it becoming a mental health problem, would be if you find that you’re worrying intensely and for a longer period, having panic attacks or experiencing other symptoms of Anxiety.  The ‘Mind’ Mental health charity list of Anxiety symptoms looks similar to this:

PSYCHOLOGICAL

  • Feeling nervous and on edge
  • Having a sense of dread
  • Fearing the worst
  • Feeling like the world is slowing down/speeding up
  • Feeling like other people know that you’re anxious when they look at you
  • A busy mind full of thoughts
  • Dwelling on situations
  • Feeling restless/not being able to concentrate
  • Feeling numb

PHYSICAL

  • Headaches/tense muscles
  • Light headed
  • Dizzy Spells
  • Sweating/hot flushes
  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Faster breathing
  • Pins and needles
  • Churning in the pit of your stomach
  • Needing the toilet more/less frequently
  • Experiencing panic attacks

Again, if you haven’t been diagnosed but think that you may have Anxiety, book an appointment with your GP. Everything can become a bit of a chore when living with Anxiety because your fears can become embedded in situations or places. When this happens, it can feel more comfortable to stay indoors where you feel safe away from danger. If this is the case, it’s beneficial to visit your Doctor as the treatment will allow you to live with it in a better way. Just know that anything can be sorted and if you feel like you are experiencing these feelings then

IT’S OKAY TO TALK. YOU NEED TO TALK.

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