A quick google search of “anxiety” brings up the following definition:
“Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview.” – NHS England
A quick google search of “depression” brings up this definition:
“Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.” – NIMH
Of course, both definitions are extremely loose and very broadly skim the severity and complexities of both illnesses. By their own rights, depression and anxiety can have very mild to extremely severe symptoms and consequences for the sufferer.
We are fortunate to live in an era where mental health is becoming more frequent in conversation, and understanding of these illnesses is expanding in the general public.
But what is it like to suffer both illnesses at the same time? We so often hear that people are diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and this can conjure up the idea that the depression aspect of the person’s mental health operates in a different way to the anxiety side of their mental health. But the truth is that the two work together as an evil, chalk and cheese duo.
- Anxiety makes you worry and overthink the most simple of situations. A simple trip into the town centre can take hours of planning, with each step meticulously planned. Leave the house at 12:35pm, make sure you’ve got your keys, bank card, phone and headphones. Draw out £10 at the cash machine, get the 12:50pm bus. Get into town for 1:15pm, meet friend at 15:25pm. Depression can make you feel like a failure and worthless for no reason, or for the smallest thing going wrong. Missed your bus and had to text your friend to say you’ll be late? You’re a failure, stay at home and don’t bother going now. There’s no point.
- Depression is often completely unexplained and comes out of nowhere. This means that you can feel very low for a few hours, days or weeks. The more frequently this happens, the more you become aware of it and can understand when you’re starting to slip or become more withdrawn. However, having anxiety means that you overthink and over analyse why you’re depressed. How can I be sad? I was literally fine yesterday. Nothing has even happened to make me feel like this. What is wrong with me? Maybe I’m broken, maybe my brain is defective. I shouldn’t feel like this, I don’t want to feel like this. Maybe if I try I can just get over it. Or maybe it’ll get worse, maybe I’ll never be happy again. (Side note, this can also happen when you’re feeling happy or non-depressed. There are times when anxiety can make you question why you’re feeling happy, or why you’re not stressed about anything. This follows the same principle; overthinking your mental state and wanting an explanation, or jumping to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with you)
- Fear of failure. Depression causes withdrawal and lack of enjoyment in most things. Anxiety attempts to predict the future and assumes that you’re never going to be successful because you’re always going to be withdrawing from things. This further accelerates the desire to withdraw and resign from things.
- Anxiety throws your central nervous system into overdrive. Depression wants to sit in the same place and not move an inch. The very basis of anxiety goes back to pre-historic times when our ancestors would be on edge and wary of being mauled to death by a wild animal. Therefore, when necessary, their central nervous system would kick into action and propel them out of the cave with the scary animals. In 2018, our biggest fear isn’t a sabre tooth tiger – it’s waiting for a message back, finances, sitting exams, planning events, talking in front of a large crowd – or simply living a good life. This means that anxiety and central nervous activation is almost none stop, which is bad enough in itself, but this is made even stronger by the resistance of depression. Imagine if cavemen had no motivation to run away from the predators? Imagine if cavemen thought that they were better off dead than running away? Their body would eventually go into survival mode and cause them to run away, despite what their emotions were. Anxiety always tries to defeat the depression, meaning that you can be in a state of intense despair, yet still on edge and worrying, wanting to get up and move and be running away or dealing with your fears.
You may have gotten this far into the post and be wondering how on earth anyone is expected to get better. Unfortunately, both illnesses are very difficult to completely eradicate. Unlike physical health, mental health can’t be completely and 100% cured. There’s research into the biological basis of mental illnesses (the chemicals in your brain, of which are supported with medication such as anti-depressives or benzodiazepams). There’s also a psychological basis of mental illness (the stuff that happens to you in your life, e/g parents divorce, loss of a job etc) and these things cannot be controlled very easily. This means that nobody is immune or completely safe from developing a mental illness. Someone with a perfect cocktail of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) may encounter a very difficult situation in life, which can cause a mental illness to develop. Someone with a very easy and perfect life may have an unfortunate brain chemistry and develop a mental illness.
The good news is, that every situation is unique, and getting to know your own brains and your own symptoms is the most important step to recovering.
Therapy in the form of medication is often an option recommended to help initially, however therapy in terms of behavioural support, or counselling is a good option for long-term coping mechanisms. There is a range of lifestyle methods which can help someone to understand and cope with their mental illness, and finding out the methods which work best for you and coincide with your stressors/triggers takes time and a lot of trial and error.
If you do feel like you need support in managing your mental health, and learning to cope with the ups and downs, the first port of call would be your GP. However, simple things that could help in the meantime are:
- Self-help books (I recommend ones written as a novel rather than those targetted at the health/wellness sector)
- Turning off notifications on your phone
- Having a handful of friends who you feel comfortable sharing things with, and just ranting any irrational stressors out to
- Writing about it *aka me writing this blog post*
- High-intensity exercise, such as swimming or running, as this can give an outlet for the pent-up anxiety
- Reading about other people’s stories, and learning that you’re not alone
Thank you for reading, I hope this has helped in some way.
Do not hesitate to speak to someone about how you are feeling
Conversation is the most important thing.