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Anxiety and Depression: Why are they so Widespread? And What’s the Difference?

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Anxiety and depression. Those two loaded terms that hold so much weight and spark so many emotions in modern society. Most of us claim to suffer from at least one from time to time. But what actually constitutes “anxiety” or “depression”?

What strikes the difference between feeling down sometimes or having depressive episodes? And can you really suffer from both anxiety and depression simultaneously?

Depression: Fuelled by Your Own High Standards

Depression is defined by the NHS as:

 Lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful.”

Apart from the symptoms of hopelessness and fatigue, depression is also defined by psychologists as the feeling that you are “failing your own standards or expectations of yourself”.  Depression is ultimately a damaged sense of self-worth. Life events such as losing your job or ending a relationship can trigger it or it could come about for no apparent reason at all. Both are just as valid. Either way, depression is essentially a void of energy and motivation as a result of a deep feeling of inadequacy, disappointment, and reactionary apathy.

Anxiety: Fuelled by the (Perceived) High Standards of Others

Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined as:

A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome or strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen.”

In contrast to depression, anxiety stems from the fear of failing others’ expectations. Think never-ending work demands, fear of failing and disappointing your parents, teachers, or manager. Obsessive fears about your health, how you should look, what you should be achieving in your life, etc. If this sounds worryingly like your own inner voice, then you may be prone to anxiety.

Everyone has symptoms of anxiety at some point in their life. During uncertain and largely unsettling times like these, feeling anxious about the health of you and your loved ones, or about your job security, for example, is pretty understandable. Anxiety can be manifested via various symptoms. These include a racing heart-beat, breaking into a cold sweat, or feeling nauseous with nerves. And yet, they all stem from the triggering of our “fight-or-flight” neurophysical response.

Our automatic response to perceived danger is completely healthy and normal but it is not designed to be sparked constantly, only from time to time. If your body is on high alert much of the time, this is where the excess adrenaline and cortisol in your system can take a toll on both your body and mind. This jittery jumpiness that may help you run away from a predator, but it is rather distracting when the “danger” your body wants to run from is your work deadlines or an interview…

Can you really have both anxiety and depression?

Well, if depression essentially boils down to being understimulated, but anxiety boils down to being overstimulated, why is it that so many people claim to suffer from both? Even the NHS website states that those with depression are likely at risk of anxiety, and vice versa. So what’s the connection?

Many who suffer from depression as a result of past trauma, or an obsessive personality type making them set unrealistic expectations for themselves, are by nature likely to suffer from anxiety at the same time. This is because both disorders can stem from one’s neurotic tendencies, making them place a harmful amount of value on meeting the expectations both of themselves and of others.

As such, although two separate disorders, for many people, the distinction between depression and anxiety is not so black-and-white. We may worry obsessively that we are letting ourselves down, just as much as that we are letting down others in both our personal and professional lives.

There may be occasions when we can barely bring ourselves to get out of bed and face the day, our fears weighing us down and making us feel compelled to block everything out. Other times we may wake up, our heart already racing, and our fears manifesting in jitters and compulsions. Two different symptoms that stem from the same core issue: our inner fear.

You could say that some people are too “up,” some are too “down,” but many simply have a broken meter! They are “up” one minute and “down” the next. Overall, although most people feel they sway more one direction than the other when it comes to anxiety and depression, we are all capable of falling into both of these polar opposite and yet equally harmful mental states.

Are we the Anxious and Depressed Generation?

Indeed, today it seems that every one of us has some sort of mental health concern. Which is both comforting and concerning at once! Perhaps we have simply become more aware of the various issues and how to identify them both in ourselves and others.

We have realised that no one is perfect, and thus no one’s mind is 100% without challenges. Or perhaps, our modern lifestyle is simply the ideal breeding ground for mental health problems. Most likely, the current spike in mental health cases is down to a combination of both these factors.

According to Psychology Today, there are three main reasons why modern life leads to anxiety and depression in so many of us:

1. Our relationships and community ties are weaker. We are at a cultural crossroads when it comes to our views on romantic relationships, marriage, and all forms of collective identities. We are thankfully moving away from restrictive and formerly damaging attitudes towards marriage. And our increasingly globalised and technological lifestyles (for the time being, more isolated than ever before), in the midst of this progress, we are feeling lonelier and more confused than ever.

2. We’re more focused on goals and external validation. Whether it’s over our social status, finances, looks, or overall self-image, this obsession with self-development has been proven to be correlated with anxiety and depression. We feel we can always do better somehow – which is great – but also laced with the insecurity that we are not good enough as we are.

3. Our expectations are too high. We are fed the idea that we can be whatever we want, as long as we try hard enough. As inspiring as this is, if we take it too literally, then any setback or failure results in a huge blow to our feelings of self-worth. We believe that we are to blame. When in reality, a few failed attempts along our road to greatness are inevitable! I know, try telling that to our depressed and anxious inner voices…

Anxiety and Depression: The Bottom Line

Overall, whether you feel a little anxious or depressed from time to time, or are currently battling what feels like an insurmountable wall of inner turmoil and anguish – you are not alone! It’s time we spoke openly about how and why both anxiety and depression are becoming everyday household terms. And a worryingly growing amount of individuals are battling these (treatable)  inner demons.

Learning about where both of these issues stem from – both scientifically and for you, personally -as well as learning how to take adequate care of yourself and seek support are crucial when it comes to overcoming either anxiety, depression, or a combination of the two.

Do you suffer from anxiety and/or depression? Which one do you struggle with the most and how do you cope with it? We would love to start an open discussion about these issues. If you do too please feel free to let us know your personal thoughts in the comments!

Roxanna. Xx

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