Anxiety and Depression: When our “What ifs” Get the Best of Us
Anxiety and depression often go hand and hand. It is easy to get stuck on a hamster wheel of “what ifs” which can eventually become so overwhelming that it’s hard to function like normal. So, how do we cope when worries become so heavy that we can’t get out of bed? How do we find purpose when hopelessness takes us into a palace so dark we can’t really see the light at the end. Before we can cope, we have to first understand what anxiety and depression are.
What is Anxiety?
A quick google search defines anxiety as, “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Let’s look at that last part, “an uncertain outcome.” Anxiety often has us worried for seemingly no reason. If someone is experiencing generalized anxiety, they may have trouble concentrating because they’re so worried, they may not be able to control their worries or nervous thoughts, and they may even feel irritable or grumpy. Anxiety can also be felt in the body as muscle tension. For some, anxiety may also be accompanied by panic attacks which include an overwhelming feeling of impending doom, almost like you might die. Panic attacks include more physical symptoms like shortness of breath, racing heart, sweating, crying, a tingling sensation in arms or fingers, chills and even trembling. They often subside as quickly as they begin and may or may not have a specific trigger.
Though it can be debilitating for some, anxiety is not uncommon. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that up to 19% of adults in the United States suffer from some form of anxiety. Thankfully, anxiety can be treated and doesn’t have to be something you suffer from in silence.
What is Depression?
Similar to anxiety, depression affects our feelings, thoughts, and actions. People who are experiencing depression may feel sad or down, may lose interest in doing things, have challenges sleeping, see changes in their appetite, may have difficulty focusing or concentrating, and in some severe cases may have recurring thoughts of death and dying or neglect basic self care. Depression may or may not have a specific trigger such as a major life event, trauma, or may even be seasonal for some. There are also varying levels of severity. One person may have a general feeling of sadness with fatigue and trouble sleeping, while another person may lack the motivation to even get out of bed. If you are experiencing depression, know that it is never too late to seek help and get better.
How are Anxiety and Depression Treated?
Thankfully, there are resources available to help people get better. Regular therapy can help people explore their symptoms, develop coping skills, and process their feelings. This may include meeting with a therapist individually on a weekly basis or attending support groups. Some people may opt for medication as an additional form of treatment. Antidepressant medications essentially help our brains balance out the chemicals we need to feel okay and allow us to feel like ourselves again. While some may choose one option over the other, some people may choose a combination of both therapy and medication. Whatever is most effective for you is the best option for you to choose.
What Can I Do on My Own?
Not ready to jump into therapy or unsure about medication? There are some exercises that can be done on your own to help with focusing and managing emotions.
Grounding- Excellent for when you’re feeling anxious, use the 5,4,3,2,1 exercise to identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
Deep Breathing- Having a moment where you may be overwhelmed? Focus on taking long, steady, deep breaths followed by a slow, controlled exhale. Repeat for about one minute at a time to help with calming down.
Gratitude Journal- Feeling down? Spend 5 minutes at the beginning or end of each day to write down at least three to five things you are grateful for. This shifts our focus to what is going well.
No matter what you may be going through, ask for help. Therapists are trained to create a safe, non judgemental space for anyone to share what they are going through and nothing, literally nothing, is off limits. Don’t let the “what ifs” take over. The best time to ask for help is right now.