Depression and Anxiety Guide
Hardly anyone feels deliriously happy all the time. Fluctuations in mood are natural and normal. However, if periods of low mood are prolonged and persistent then it may indicate clinical depression. Back to Top of your health online page
Feelings of sadness or depressed mood are natural reactions to loss or unhappy events. However, in the case of clinical depression the feelings of sadness and lowered mood are disproportionate and prolonged. Usually the depressed mood will be accompanied by feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, lack of self-worth, pessimism and self-criticism. In more severe cases suicidal thoughts and thoughts of self-harm may also be present. These psychological symptoms influence the central nervous system and may cause the patient to display a variety of physical symptoms as well. The most common physical symptoms being; fatigue, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, headaches, body aches and diminished sex drive.
Depression and anxiety quite often, but not always, go hand in hand. Anxiety is a natural response to stresses. Just like depression, however, it becomes a problem when the intensity and duration of this response is out of proportion to the stimulus. For instance, it is quite normal to feel anxious when confronted with a dangerous or daunting task or even when placed in certain stressful social situations.
However, in a case of anxiety disorder the feeling of anxiousness may prevail well after the stressful stimulus has been removed. The feeling of anxiety may reach such proportions and become so pervasive that it interferes in the person's ability to perform normal daily functions. The physical symptoms of anxiety may include sweaty palms, sweating in general, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, dizziness, diarrhea, blushing, nausea or dry mouth. Anxiety disorders may present as specific phobias where the anxiety is triggered by a particular event, situation or thing. For instance arachnophobia, which is an irrational and excessive fear of spiders. On the other hand anxiety may be less specific and present itself as a generalized anxiety disorder. In this case the anxiety is not related to anything specific but is a state of tension and chronic worry even though there is no apparent or proximate cause.
Sufferers of both depression and anxiety have a tendency to withdraw and consequently an inclination to self-medicate. This can lead to abuse of alcohol and other substances. Needless to say this does not help their situation and can well lead to a rapid downward spiral into total loss of control.
There are many treatments for depression and anxiety and the treatment regimen must be customized to the individual circumstances. However, the broad categories of treatment include:
1. Medication - Research has indicated that depression is often accompanied by changes in the chemical balance in the brain. These chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine affect the neurological messages transmitted by the brain and the receptors of these messages and can directly influence mood. Many modern medications for depression such as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRI's for short) attempt to correct this chemical imbalance and can provide fast relief from nervousness, anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness etc.
2. Psychological and cognitive therapies - These strategies aim to influence the patient's behavior and thought processes and their response to external stimuli
3. Strategies for coping - Stress is a part of normal daily life. Teaching patients skills to cope and react to these stresses in a positive manner can help to deal with anxiety and depression.
4. Alternative treatments and therapies - Herbal remedies such as St John's Wort are commonly recommended for mild depression.
While depression and anxiety may appear to a third party to be a totally unrealistic and irrational response, it is very real to the patient. Support of family and/or a wider social network coupled with appropriate and timely medical help is vital to stop its progression.
The good news is that most depression and anxiety can be treated effectively if the patient seeks help.
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