Everything You Need to Know About Stress, Depression and Anxiety
Are stress, depression and axiety the same thing? How are they related? Read all about it in this article.
We hear these three words more and more often. The truth is that these days they’re the most common disorders out there. Stress, depression and anxiety can appear by themselves or together. But it’s important to identify the warning signs for each of these problems because fortunately, you can get help.
How do stress, depression and anxiety affect us?
According to studies, stress, depression and anxiety directly change how we perceive life. They affect our brain and the way we relate to others. They also change our self-esteem, and the enthusiasm and excitement we have when we’re doing an activity or at work.
Among other problems, stress, depression and anxiety can also affect our immune system. And of course, they attack our prefrontal cortex. That’s where we do our most advanced thinking, where we imagine the future, assess strategies to solve problems and make decisions. Also, that area is related to the limbic system, our emotional brain.
Stress: what you need to know
Everybody talks about stress since it can appear out of nowhere, after any activity or thought and make us feel anxious, angry or frustrated. Doctors say that having low levels of stress is a good thing. Therefore, high levels of stress can actually be harmful.
Too much stress predisposes a person to all sorts of physical and psychological diseases. Stress can lead to low blood sugar, overactive tyroids, heart attacks, increased bile secretion or cholesterol in your arteries.
Some of the most common symptoms of stress are:
- Head or abdominal pains
- Difficulty digesting or swallowing food
- Dizzy spells
- Heavy breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heavy sweating
- Sleep disorders
- Impaired sexual performance or nightmares
Sometimes stress appears in the form of phobias or psychological disorders. Research also shows that a diet low in vitamin B12 can produce stress. Furthermore, consuming substances like alcohol, nicotine or thyroids drugs can also have the same affect.
Depression: what you need to know
We could describe this conditions as being sad, unhappy, melancholy, crestfallen or miserable. Sometimes there are reasons to feel that way and other times there aren’t. Certainly, most people experience depression at some point in their lives, most often for short periods of time.
Clinical depression is a disorder that goes on for long periods of time and affects our moods. Because of this, depressed people are irritable and get frustrated. They can even cry about insignificant things.
Depression is classified in terms of its severity: mild, moderate and severe. A psychiatrist can diagnosis the disease in one or more sessions and recommend the correct treatment.
Some of the most common symptoms of depression are:
- Difficulties sleeping
- Changes in appetite (anxious eating at all hours or not being able to eat)
- Weight gain or loss
- Lack of energy
- Feeling useless
- Inappropriate guilt
- Abandoning usual activities
- Desperate feelings
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Low self-esteem is one of the most common symptoms of depression. Another symptom is not enjoying activities that usually make us happy (like being with our families or sexual activities).
For a depressive episode to be considered clinical depression, five or more symptoms have to appear for two consecutive weeks. Atypical depression is suffered by a third of patients. Dysthymia is another kind of mild depression that lasts for two years.
Events that can trigger depression
- Birth (many women suffer from what’s called postpartum depression after having a baby)
- The menstrual cycle (a week before your period, the symptoms disappear when the woman is menstruating)
- Seasons (during the cold months of winter and fall due to the lack of sunlight but disappear in spring and summertime)
Anxiety: what you need to know
Anxiety is an emotional response to one or more stimuli that can be internal or external to the patient. So, that means they can be in the patient’s thoughts, feelings or events that happen in their day to day life. It also has physical aspects, stimulates your peripheral and motor systems and can change your behavior.
Anxiety is related to survival instincts just like fear, anger, happiness or sadness are. Research has confirmed that people put into action quick, adaptive and effective responses to threats or attacks on their physical well-being. Estimates show that more than 20% of the population suffer from an anxiety disorder and many people don’t even know it.
The medical explanation for this problem is that the body activates its adrenergic system, going into alert mode and sending signals to the central nervous system.
- Feelings of drowning
- Loss of control or use of reason
- Excessive sweating
- Rigid or weak muscles
- Negative thoughts
- Problems communicating with others
Anxiety can also cause hypoglycemia or heart arrhythmia and it can turn into a panic disorder. The patient thinks about their own death or that something bad is going to happen to them. Because of this, blood pressure goes up, they have palpitations, they go red in the face or all blood is drained from their face and their chest feels heavy. Furthermore, they swallow air, they lose weight or eat too much, they get dry mouth or dryness in the eyes, and women may suffer from amenorrhea.
Images courtesy of Vic, Gisela Giardino, Joe Penna, Louis Crusoe, Michael Dorokhov and Orin Zebest