Although many associate anxiety and depression to a mere over-flow of emotions, these mental conditions go beyond emotional factors. People with mental health problems often feel that social stigma attached to mental illnesses and discrimination they experience affect their healing process in a remarkable way. As a sufferer of an anxiety disorder myself, I am a living testimony. At my worst, I found work, being in long steady relationships, and being socially included in mainstream society to be a huge challenge.
Anxiety and depression are often experienced as a complex set of both emotional and functional challenges. The main root of both mental disorders differs from one person to another. However, general risk factors are often environmental, social, psychological, nutritional, physical, spiritual, genetic, or brain chemistry. Based on my experience, I noticed that a combination of factors triggered my anxiety levels – some more severely than others.
Anxiety and depression are not of the same kind; although they often occur simultaneously. Anxiety and depression – as they would say in the study of medicine – are often comorbid. Comorbidity implies two different illnesses co-existing and affecting the course and prognosis of both. In my case, the memory of experiencing symptoms of depression after my panic disorder is very cloudy in my head; I only remember that it shot me to the ground. I felt helpless, alone, and an inconvenience to the people around me – that is what really brought me down. Many people who have depression have a history of an anxiety disorder in the past. This does not imply that anxiety causes depression; however, there is clear evidence that many people suffer from both disorders synchronously.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is you brain’s alarm system. It tells you to respond, react, and protect yourself. Everyone experiences anxiety to a certain extent; you may feel anxious before a job interview, speaking publicly or getting on a plane. Whatever the trigger is, at some point in one’s life, a hint of anxiety has come and gone. For people battling the disorder however, that feeling of fear, nervousness, worry, and butterflies become a chronic daily experience. When my anxiety was at its peak, I avoided any situation that required me socializing with anyone, or being in the company of people period – the movies, restaurants, night-outs, and even my university. I was wrapped in the comfort of my own shell, and to this day, I regret drowning in a pit of misery, because I now know that although mental illnesses do not have quick fixes, there are still a number of ways to overcome them.
Most people do not recognize their anxiety for what it is, and instead think there is something “wrong” with them. Before being diagnosed with a panic disorder, a million thoughts rushed through my brain – what is wrong with me? What if I have cancer? This is not normal – I was so scared. When the doctors told me that there was nothing wrong with my physical health, I was overwhelmed with relief. They told me that my symptoms – pounding heart, sweating, headaches, stomach upset, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and insomnia – were all symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Once my psychiatrist diagnosed me with panic disorder, I felt like I could finally beat it. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to mental illnesses; I read and learned everything I could about my illness. I cannot say that it always helped as negative experiences of others rooted fear in my heart, but it felt important to understand the monster that was controlling a huge aspect of my life. Apart from physical symptoms, I experienced emotional symptoms as well, including fear, worry, and racing thoughts. These emotions went hand-in-hand in my experience – first, I would worry about something as simple as taking a shower, which would lead to negative thoughts that brought me fear. This may sound exaggerated or dramatic to those who do not have to go through it every day, but it is not. Anxiety is an illness like any other.
What Is Depression?
Sad, empty, and hopeless are common terms used to describe a depressed person. Being depressed does not necessarily affect everyone the same way. For some, being depressed is a short lived feeling, and does not interfere with daily life. However, if feeling depressed seems to be persistent, and lasts for a long duration of time, it becomes a disability.
Depression is a serious mood disorder which affects more than 350 million people around the world. Dr. Janan Elayan, a psychology counselor holding a PhD in Counseling Psychology, shared the horrid symptoms of depression. She said that generally, it is a lowered interest in life. Depression reduces pleasure in day-to-day activities, appetite, energy, and concentration. Research indicates that contributing factors of depression goes above changes in the brain chemistry – including factors such as genetics, hormonal changes, difficult life circumstances, and certain medical conditions. Unlike what many people believe, depression is not a pessimistic approach to life, nor is it all in the head; it is a serious illness.
Looking Past Your Condition
Anxiety and depression do not discriminate. Men and women of any age, status, religion, social and educational backgrounds are susceptible to either one. The problems caused by anxiety and depression are made worse due to the lack of knowledge about these illnesses. Many people do not get proper treatment, let alone acknowledge their disorder. It is important for sufferers and their loved ones to learn facts and understand the diagnosis of these mental problems. The key to overcoming the condition is to keep in mind that you are in control.
Being a victim of an anxiety disorder, I can say that life does not end because of it. There were days when I thought to myself “This is it, this is how my life is going to be from now on,” but I have proven to myself that that is not the case. If you are going through the same thing, or know someone who is, believe that things will get better. Do not let the illness pull you into the dark, flash a light and show it that you will lead the path. Sure, anxiety and depression do not completely go away, but there are a number of coping mechanisms to help you through them. Remember to take the first step, and the rest will follow.
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