In this brief guide, we will try and convey the ways in which you can explain anxiety and depression, their symptoms, how they can co-occur and some personal experiences from anxiety and depression sufferers.
How to explain anxiety and depression
You may be wondering how to explain anxiety and depression to someone you love, a friend or someone you know. Depression and anxiety each have their own symptomatology and challenges. And it is already difficult to live with one of them, it is not uncommon to experience the two of them simultaneously.
Both mental illnesses can be managed through therapy, medication or both. “But while treatment makes it entirely possible to live a healthy, fulfilling life, that doesn’t make the experience any less valid or challenging at times (huffpost.com).”
People are more prone to believe something is true if there is scientific evidence to back it up, so you can start with some facts and statistics about anxiety or depression, such as “322 million people worldwide live with depression (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).” or “According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 13 people suffer from anxiety worldwide”. This will give them a sense of the manifestation of these mental disorders as being more common than they might think.
We will see some examples of people living with both anxiety and depression, to understand a bit more what it feels like.
What is anxiety?
“Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Anxious feelings are a normal reaction to a situation where a person feels under pressure – for example, meeting work deadlines, sitting exams or speaking in front of a group of people (www.beyondblue.org.au).”
For some people, anxiety can manifest for no apparent reason or continue after the event has passed. This is considered a very serious and disabling condition that can’t be easily controlled, making it very hard to cope.
Everyone at some point has experienced anxiety but for some is just part of their lives that don’t even recognize they are having an anxious episode. Anxiety becomes a mental health illness when it is an irrational and pervasive fear or worry that affects your normal way of living.
How do you know when someone has anxiety?
Some of the physical and physiological symptoms include:
- Hot and cold flushes
- Faster heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Chest pain or tightened chest
- Snowballing worries
- Obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior
- Difficulties concentrating or focusing
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Sweating, trembling or shaking
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or about to faint
- Have trouble sleeping
Emotional symptoms can include:
- Catastrophizing or constantly feeling the worst
- An irrational fear
- The extreme state of being tense
- Jumpiness or easily startled
- Feelings of dread
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Fear towards a particular object, situation, person or event
Behavioral symptoms can include:
- Avoiding or withdrawing from the feared object or situation
- Not being assertive
- Difficulties making decisions
- Easily startled
What is depression?
“Depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, goes beyond sadness to a state of prolonged despondency and seemingly futile helplessness. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition, more commonly known as DSM-5 which is the guideline published by the American Psychiatric Association, explains that a diagnosis of depression requires the experience of five (5) or more symptoms in the same 2-week period (Steps Recovery Centers).”
Symptoms are outlined as:
- Depressed mood for the majority of the day
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Significant weight change/change in appetite
- The decline of the thought process
- Lethargy/flagging physical activity
- Constant fatigue
- Lack of concentration/Indecisiveness
- Suicidal ideation
Moreover, we advise you to start off by answering this question. This gives the person a broad concept of what depression means. Then, you can add the difference between feeling depressed and feeling sad since most people tend to think it is the same thing when it is actually not.
When you are experiencing a bad day you can feel sad, so it is a situational type of feeling that tends to fade over time and fluctuates depending on the context. However, depression is considered a mood disorder that involves persistent sadness and feelings of hopelessness, with a loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed.
According to Medical News Today, “Major life events, such as bereavement or the loss of a job, can lead to depression. However, doctors only consider feelings of grief to be part of depression if they persist.”
In addition, depression is a persistent problem, not temporary as it is the case of sadness, consisting of episodes during which the symptoms last for at least 2 weeks. Depression can last for several weeks, months, or years.
How does it feel like?
For most people, as we have discussed, depression is a synonym of “feeling sad” or down. In contrast, depression may feel like there is no actual pleasure or interest in life, concentrating or focusing becomes very challenging, feeling of hopelessness, low/absent self-esteem, difficulties going to sleep or too much sleeping, food is not appetizing anymore or food may be used to comfort or as a coping tool and perceived ache and pain may be present.
Causes of depression
There is still an ongoing debate about the causes of depression. However, there are plenty of potential causes identified and many factors associated such as:
- Genetic features: it is said that depression and other mood disorders can run in families.
- Neurotransmitter imbalance (serotonin)
- Environmental triggers: these are usually life events or major changes that are perceived as stressful such as a divorce, death of someone close, losing your job or having financial problems.
- Psychological (personality traits, temperament) and social factors
- Having bipolar disorder
- Hormonal changes: low mood and depression are often associated with pregnancy, menopause and premenstrual disorders.
- Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, anxiety, long-term pain, and heart disease, can make someone more vulnerable to developing depression.
- Some medications: There are some known medicines that can increase your risk for depression, such as high blood pressure medications, steroids, and some cancer drugs.
How does Depression differ from Anxiety?
Even though anxiety and depression can co-occur, they are totally different. “Rather than feeling anxious and nervous, feelings of gloom and melancholy overwhelm. Feeling sad or down after experiencing a loss or disappointment is an emotion that everyone feels at one time or another. But when low mood and sadness are severe and lasts for long periods of time, it could be due to depression (Bridges to Recovery).”
Additionally, it is important to consider the signs of high-functioning anxiety and depression. Some people may be holding their jobs, appear as stable, go to school or university and have healthy relationships, experiencing disruptions in their daily life activities without them being too obvious. Also, they may be very good at hiding depression and anxiety making excuses such as avoiding to attend to social gatherings because they have too much stress from work or they may be sleeping more or less.
Living with anxiety and depression, real-life experiences
Here are some experiences shared from people living with anxiety and depression, you can find them all in the huffpost.com:
“I usually don’t experience one without the other. One moment I’m facing a cycle of racing, urgent thoughts and emotions and the next, I’m facing a vast void of nothingness. My anxious mind tells me that something is wrong with me and that I have to fix myself to save myself. My depressed mind tells me not to bother because nothing matters anyway. It’s like there are two parts of me fighting with one another ― but nobody wins.” ―Olivia LaBarre, 28, a practitioner with Reiki Healing Works in Brooklyn
“You’re continually trying to serve two masters and rarely finding any peace inside your own head. At times, it feels like no matter what you do, you just can’t win: Depression makes it hard to get out of bed some mornings, while anxiety keeps you worrying about the ever-growing to-do list piling up around you as you lay in bed. Depression whispers that you’re worthless and that nothing really matters; anxiety screams that you’re not keeping up, or that something awful is about to happen and that everything, even the smallest of decisions, matters immensely.” ―Perman
Why is this blog about “how to explain anxiety and depression” important?
How to explain anxiety and depression to someone close to you or someone that wants to understand, doesn’t have to be something tedious or frustrating. There are several ways, either telling them about your experience and what you feel having the illness or with a few scientific facts, visual aids, interviews, videos or any other source that can help you make your point and bring awareness about how real and disabling anxiety and depression can become.
Additionally, you can talk about the most common symptoms for each illness and demystify some of the most common causes. This can give them the ability to recognize the symptoms in others and also themselves, having more empathy towards your personal experience either with depression, anxiety or both.
Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to explain anxiety and depression
Why do people suffer from anxiety?
People can suffer from anxiety after a major life event or event a smaller stressful situation. For instance, the death of someone close, work stress or worrying excessively about finances. Additionally, people that have certain personality traits are more vulnerable to developing anxiety disorders.
Is anxiety and depression a disability?
Yes, anxiety and depression can be considered a disability since they can make it very difficult to work or earn a living.
What does it feel like to have anxiety?
Some people describe having anxiety similar to having a heart attack, some also describe it as an “out-of-body” experience and an intense fear of losing control, going crazy or dying.
What is the difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder?
Anxiety is considered a normal sensation and feeling. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time but someone with an anxiety disorder might be anxious several days and weeks at a time, experiencing intense symptoms right before and after the event or situation.
Is anxiety a chemical imbalance?
Anxiety is considered a normal bodily reaction against a possible threat or harmful situation. However, anxiety disorders have been considered to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain (neurotransmitters).