STRESS - ANXIETY - DEPRESSION
WHAT IS STRESS, ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION?
'Adverse Mental Health' Symptoms and Illnesses.
Stress is a physical or emotional feeling of pressure, that can be caused by an event or triggered by thinking that makes an individual feel nervous, angry or frustrated. Stress is how the human body reacts to challenges, helping a person to work towards deadlines, to participate in competitive activities, and in some cases, prepare to face or avoid danger.
Short-term stress is known as acute stress, which comes and goes quickly. Acute stress can be felt frequently by the human body and is generally managed well by people. Examples of acute stress include, studying for an exam, slamming the brakes of a car or playing competitive sport.
Long-term stress is known as chronic stress. Examples of chronic stress could include lasting unhappy relationships or consistent financial problems. Chronic stress, if unmanaged, can be harmful to health, as it can affect the immune system, lead to cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and develop into anxiety or depression. (*6)
Stress affects everyone in different degrees, however, the physical symptoms are the same. Cortisol is the ‘stress hormone’ which elevates in our bodies when we feel anxious, worried, fearful, uncertain and stressed. Cortisol has many negative side-effects including increasing blood sugar levels, suppressing the immune system and decreasing bone formation (to name a few), all of which could lead to physical deterioration in the long term, if unmanaged. When cortisol is flooded in the front part of our brain, called the pre-frontal cortex, it is difficult for people to think, remember and emotionally and rationally respond to circumstances.
One of the common symptoms of stress is FEAR. Fear is also experienced when suffering from anxiety and depression. When an individual feels fear, regardless of if the fear is real (like a physical or emotional threat) or perceived (like feeling afraid of ‘what might happen’ before anything actually happens), the psychological impact triggers the evolutionary survival mode: fight, flight or freeze response, which is shown physically through a racing heart, quick breathing, panic or anxiety, tense muscles, clouded mind and/or the urge to ‘run’ (literally or metaphorically). When a person is experiencing the fight, flight or freeze response, their ability to think clearly, control their emotions and make decisions is greatly compromised. Learning to manage stress and fear, before it develops into more severe symptoms of anxiety and depression is an essential skill for all people, giving them the ability to be in control of what they think, how they feel and what they do.
All people experience stress fairly frequently, but when the ‘stressor’ has passed (for example, the exam or interview is over), the stress feeling goes away. If a person is still feeling stress after the ‘stressor’ has gone, then what they are experiencing is anxiety.
Anxiety goes beyond feeling stressed, as the stress pressure feelings remain after the ‘stressor’ has gone away. For example, slamming the brakes in a car to avoid an accident, where the ‘stressor’ has passed (there was no accident), but the anxious feelings remain for days or weeks, with consistent thoughts of ‘what could have been’. Anxiety is the most common diagnosed ‘adverse mental health’ condition in Australia.
All people face challenges throughout their life, from children through to adults, however, some people struggle with anxiety interfering with their life, where feelings of sadness, worry, fear or overwhelm last for many weeks.
These feelings are coupled with physical symptoms such as a racing heart, quick breathing, tense muscles, vomiting or nausea, shaking hands, difficulty concentrating or trouble sleeping.
Anxiety may cause irrational thinking that is negative and repetitive, such as ‘I’m going crazy’ or “I can’t do this anymore’ or other intrusive thoughts and upsetting dreams, often making the anxiety feel worse. The combination of these symptoms impacts a person’s thinking, behaviour, interactions with friends and family, school work, employment and social engagements, usually causing them to withdraw from normal life activities, losing confidence in communicating with others (avoiding eye contact) and experience difficulty making decisions. If you are experiencing anxiety of this nature, then it is important to ask for help and get the support you need to manage the anxiety and get well.
1 in 6 young Australians will experience anxiety during their youth. (*7)
1 in 3 women will experience anxiety at some stage during their life. (*7)
1 in 5 men will experience anxiety at some stage during their life. (*7)
There are many different types of anxiety that a person can experience, which include:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – anxious or worried most days about normal life situations. (*8)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – obsessive thoughts and fears that lead to compulsive rituals, such as frequent hand washing from fear of germs. (*8)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – frequent flashbacks or upsetting dreams regarding a past traumatic event, such as war, abuse or natural disaster. (*8)
Social Phobia – fear of being criticised, judged or humiliated, such as public speaking. (*8)
Panic Disorder – intense fear or anxiety feelings that happen without danger being present. (*8)
Specific Phobias – fear of specific things, such as injections, blood, heights, etc. (*8)
In some cases, individuals can experience multiple types of anxiety, individually or simultaneously.
If a person’s level of anxiety is serious, it is probable that they also may be suffering from depression.
Depression is defined by the World Health Organisation as “persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities.”(*9) Depression affects how a person thinks, feels and acts, as the sad feelings influence the decisions they make, especially if the depression lasts for a long time (weeks, months or years).
Depression symptoms can include persistent feelings of sadness, stress and anxiety, irritability, feeling misunderstood, angry, frustrated, negative or worthless. Some people experience weight gain or weight loss, sleep disturbances or feeling tired all the time, headaches and muscle pain.
In order to try and manage the depression, some people withdraw from family and friends, stop going out altogether, stop doing work like study and their job, and some use substances to mask the feelings and ‘escape’. These symptoms may cause problems in managing day-to-day life activities, resulting in a change in relationships with family and friends, poor attendance at school or work and in extreme cases, a person may feel like life isn’t worth living.
Depression usually causes negative thinking and negative self-talk, such as “I’m a failure”, “I’m worthless”, “I can’t deal with this anymore”, and so on, which results in negative feelings about everything and in-turn, negative behaviour.
This cycle of negativity may increase the feelings of sadness, change your appetite or make you feel tired all the time, causing you to further lose interest in the activities that you normally do such as study, work, spending time with friends and family. These activities all become too stressful to manage. You may worry about how your depression is impacting your relationships, your school and work performance, and are fearful of people judging you for being depressed, keeping you locked in the cycle.
But there is help to recover from depression and get out of the cycle!
People who suffer from depression can recover with the right treatment and support. There are many strategies that are effective for breaking the depression cycle which include psychological treatments and practical steps such as talking to someone you trust and getting support, working with a counsellor or psychologist, eating healthy and exercising, and using effective stress management techniques. If you are experiencing depression, then it is important to ask for help and get the support you need to recover and get well.