Mental health issues have been near and dear to my heart for many years. I’ve been working in the mental health field in one form or another since the age of 19. I started out at a domestic violence shelter advocating for victims of assault and have worked in many other areas of mental health since that time. I earned my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and then Ph.D. in psychology and have been practicing as a psychologist since 2005.
I’ve seen mental health issues become less stigmatized through the years. However, there continue to be many misconceptions of what anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles entail. Many people even still believe that mental health struggles are a sign of failure, and this is definitely not so.
Depression and anxiety tend to be the most common mental health diagnoses discussed and dealt with by people of all backgrounds.
What are Depression and Anxiety?
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says “Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.” The NIMH also discussed that there are many different types of depression, including Major Depressive Disorder, post-partum depression, and bipolar depression. Symptoms can include sadness, little interest in activities you used to enjoy, hopelessness, worthlessness, and lethargy.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains that Anxiety is common in some form in most people’s lives. However, anxiety can turn into a mental health disorder, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Panic Disorder. Symptoms can include: worry, irritability, muscle tension, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, and physical symptoms of anxiety, such as stomach aches, diarrhea, or headaches.
What Causes Depression and Anxiety?
There are several possible causes for clinically significant anxiety and depression. Here are some of those possibilities.
Depression and anxiety have been linked to genetic factors. Thus, if you have a relative with depression or anxiety you are likely to be at a higher risk for these symptoms than others who do not have these hereditary factors.
Situational factors can also lead to experiencing depressive and anxiety symptoms. Situational factors can include major changes (new job, college graduation, etc…), relationship break-ups, major relationship problems, financial distress, or any other major life events.
One of the leading issues related to developing depression and anxiety is stress. Stress can occur due to constant worry or it can be a symptom of the situational factors listed above. Stress can cause a person to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. Stress can also cause already present symptoms of depression and anxiety to intensify in frequency and duration.
Negative Thought Patterns
Pessimistic self-talk and negative thought patterns can also lead to clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression. Negative thought patterns are just that, the continual cycle of negative thoughts about ourselves and our lives that often send us into negative downward spirals.
Negative thoughts patterns are often that nagging, negative voice in your head. You’re not good enough. No one will ever love you. You are a fake. You are ugly. No one cares about you. You are stupid. And on….and on….and on……
These can often be the most difficult precursors of anxiety and depression to handle because they are internal. A situational factor, such as starting a new job, can lessen when you become comfortable with the new coworkers and new job tasks. However, internal factors often cannot be as easily targeted and improved since they are not concrete circumstances.
Since we can’t control our genetics, we need to focus on what we can control.
We can control what we put into our bodies.
We are able to control what we put into our bodies.
We can control what we eat. We can choose to eat healthy foods that make us feel better and that are better for our bodies.
We can choose to drink more water to make sure we are appropriately hydrated.
We can add more positivity to our lives by surrounding ourselves with positive people who support us and care about us.
We can (often) control what we expose ourselves to.
We can control what we expose ourselves to.
We can leave relationships that are verbally or physically abuse, even if this means it’s necessary to seek the help of others or professional agencies.
We can delegate responsibilities that are too much or too many for us to handle.
We can listen to happier music and music we enjoy.
We can spend time doing the activities we enjoy.
We can control the decisions we make.
We can decrease our stress by taking control of the decision we make.
We must differentiate between wants and needs, focusing on our needs. This allows us to set priorities and focus on what is important in life.
We can choose to make good financial decisions, so we are less stressed about our financial stability.
We can choose to put healthy things in our bodies.
We can choose to be around positive people.
We can choose to take care of our physical and mental health needs.
Specific Types of Treatments
Everyone experiences symptoms of depression and anxiety at times in their lives. However, when those episodes are severe, intense, and/or frequent, it is likely to be beneficial to look into treatment options.
Medication can help your body better manage brain chemicals (ex. serotonin) that can lead to depressive and anxious symptoms. Medication can help brain chemicals work the way they are intended to work. This is especially important when depression has a hereditary component because it is likely that genetically passed on brain chemistry is a cause, or at least a factor, in your depressive or anxious symptoms.
Psychiatrists can prescribe medication for depressive and anxious symptoms. Primary Care Physicians can also prescribe medication for depressive and anxious symptoms, but not all choose to do so because they would prefer a psychiatrist to do this since a psychiatrist specializes in mental health issues.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often the most appropriate therapy to help alleviate depressive and anxious symptoms. CBT is a type of therapy provided by mental health workers, such as psychologists or counselors. This type of therapy allows you to work through your negative thought patterns and other internal struggles (the cognitive aspect) while also making concrete changes in your life and life choices (the behavioral aspect).
Here is an example of what you can expect if you are attending your first appointment with a psychologist or therapist.
Combination of both therapy and medication
Often, it is best to use a combination of medication and therapy to improve your symptoms of depression and anxiety. The medication helps to make the symptoms easier to handle. The therapy teaches you better ways to manage and moderate your symptoms. Additionally, therapy strategies are easier to learn and utilize when you have the medication to help take the edge off your symptoms.
Here are a few more suggestions!
Self-care is often underrated and under-utilized. However, it is extremely important when dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. It is something that can help prevent depressive and anxious symptoms by making life stressors more manageable. Self-care can also help lessen one’s experience of depressive and anxious symptoms because it allows them to take care of themselves and work through their struggles.
You can also increase your ability to manage your depressive and anxious symptoms by reading. You can learn additional strategies for better managing your symptoms, as well as begin to realize that you are not alone in your battle.
Check out the following post that offers great book options for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, others, stressors, and much, much more!
Many people also find the use of essential oils to be beneficial to help with mood and to decrease stress.
My clients seem to have the best results with peppermint and orange scents.
Essential oils can be applied directly to the skin, such as wrists, as long as no allergies are present. The oils can also be placed in diffusers to help spread the aroma around the room. I enjoy using my diffuser in my office with peppermint in it!
Treat Yourself Periodically
Additional stress relief may come in the form of:
- Taking a weekend trip to relax
- Going on a vacation to spend more time with (or away from) your family
- Making a scrapbook to remember the positives in your life
- Decorating for an upcoming holiday you enjoy
- Spending one-on-one time with one of your children
- Going on a date with your spouse or significant other
- And the list can go on forever! The idea is doing something you enjoy and/or spending time with the people you enjoy!
Check out more self-care tips here!
One way that makes these personal treats even better is finding a way to spend less money doing the things you enjoy! Check out the following post listing a wide variety of money-saving ideas to better yourself and your life!
Also, check out my parenting book with tips and tricks for making parenting easier and more enjoyable!