Whether your goal is to address an anxiety or depressive disorder in yourself or to be ready to help someone else struggling with these common mental health problems, it’s important for everyone to recognize the tell-tale symptoms.
It’s also important to understand that chronic stress is often the culprit that leads to either excessive anxiety, clinical depression, or a see-saw back and forth between the two.
Living continually overstressed makes it difficult, if not impossible, to control your emotions. That, in turn, may develop into a number of different mental health disorders.
Sometimes, the root cause of stress may be psychological abuse received from others – such as is highlighted in this intriguing article on “gaslighting”: 50 Shades Of Gaslighting: Disturbing Signs An Abuser Is Twisting Your Reality.
Other times, the source of stress may be more complex or may be found in deeply ingrained habits of responding poorly to life’s challenges – or in taking on too much all at once till you stress yourself out.
But whatever the cause or the cure, we want to focus here on the “diagnosis” and the connection of anxiety and depression with high-stress levels.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety, or “worry,” is natural in some situations and in milder, temporary forms are no cause for a clinical diagnosis. But when signs and patterns begin to emerge that anxiety is severe, constant or frequent, and unreasonable in nature, there is cause for concern.
Around one in five US adults are thought to suffer from an anxiety disorder, of varying levels of severity, and this is the most common type of mental health disorder.
Most commonly, anxiety disorders arise out of a combination of genetics and high-stress life events like physical or emotional trauma, abuse, the loss of a loved one, or a debilitating physical condition. Here are the main types and symptoms:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which afflicts around 7 million people in the US. It involves excessive, constant, and unreasonable worrying over even the smallest daily occurrences.
- Panic Disorder, which affects some six million and is a bit more serious. It reveals itself through sporadic “panic attacks” and by the continual fear such an attack will hit you. Panic attacks may include a raised heart rate, trembling, dizziness, body temperature changes, difficulty breathing, chest pain, sweating, and a fear of dying or of losing one’s mind.
- Social Anxiety Disorder. This disorder affects around 15 million in the US. It is defined as excessive worry stemming from social interaction or the fear of social interaction. Symptoms include extreme nervousness, blushing, sweating, trembling, muscle twitching, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, feeling detached/alone in a crowd, and a loss of self-control.
- Phobic Disorders, one or the other of which some 20 million US adults suffer from. Common phobias include: fear people are watching you or following you, fear of specific animals, fear of modern transportation, and fear of water or heights – but the list of possible phobias is near-endless. Phobias are fears that have become irrational, excessive, and dominant in one’s thinking and life.
Symptoms of Depression
Despite our high-tech, modern way of life (or perhaps, in some cases, because of it), depression is at an all-time high in the US and in the whole Western World. Suicide and attempted suicide are also epidemic.
Stress from the loss of a loved one, breaking up with a dating partner, chronic pain, illness, or disability, sleeping disorders, and substance abuse and dependence can all cause depression. There also seems to be a genetic factor, and hormones and chemical imbalances may also play a role.
Any depressive disorder may have symptoms like irritability, self-isolation, difficulty focusing, insomnia, changes in appetite and weight, feelings of guilt and helplessness, lack of pleasure in life, and suicidal thoughts.
“Major depressive disorders” afflict about 7% of the US population at any given point in time, while “persistent” (2 years or longer) depressive disorder is less common but generally more serious.
Being on the lookout for signs of anxiety and depression in yourself and others is the first step to working to correct them. And recognizing the huge role stress plays in these disorders is instructive and helpful because it indicates we can reduce or eliminate such disorders by targeting the underlying stress often causing them.