ANXIETY & DEPRESSION

         

Anxiety and depression are not emotions, but they are so intertwined with our emotions and emotional life that they we must discuss 

Anxiety often accompanies depression. Anxiety and depression share a common genetic architecture. In both cases, the brain’s circuitry gets rewired with specific disconnections that create a brain lacking in its ability to make the best choices.  Stressful situations cause our brain can lose connections between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of our brain. Also affected is our amygdala, making our threat detection center overactive, perceiving threats where none exist.

These perceived threats can come from childhood experiences such as trauma, neglect, or overprotective parenting, which alters our brain’s architecture and predisposes us to an anxious disposition. There can be a genetic predisposition to anxiety or depression, but these conditions more commonly come from our environment and experiences. As a result, we learn to be afraid.

                                                                                     Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, uneasiness, or dread. Unfortunately, anxiety is a part of life we have all experienced. Anxiety can help avoid danger, increase motivation, and inform us when something is not quite right—but anxiety can also get out of control and become chronic. When this occurs, our brain loses control and we suffer physical, mental, and emotional consequences.

“Anxiety” and “worry” are sometimes used interchangeably. For our purposes, we will discuss anxiety as excessive, persistent worry that extensively affects emotional, mental, and physical health.

Symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness

  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts or worries

  • Repeating thoughts or flashbacks of traumatic experiences

  • Nightmares or problems sleeping

  • Fatique

  • An inability to be still and calm

  • Nausea

  • Muscle tension

  • Dizziness

  • Ritualistic behaviors, such as repeated hand washing

  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet

  • Shortness of breath

  • Palpitations

  • Dry mouth

  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

                                        Anxiety Versus Fear

Anxiety is a state of fear that may not be related to the present situation and is more related to the past or future. Fear is about a situation that scares us temporarily at the moment. Anxiety is a constant state of uneasiness at various levels that perceives circumstances will not change.

Why do we fear the future? Is it our memories of the past that contribute to our fear of the future? Anxiety leads to changes in our brain architecture due to stress, creating a perspective of feeling threatened. We respond to threats with our stress response system HPA axis, with increases cortisol levels and provokes subsequent physical changes that become cyclical and habitual.

Different Types of Anxiety:

  • Feelings of excessive worry or stress lead to a perception of threat even when none is present.

  • Panic disorders such as panic attacks are characterized by a sudden feeling of panic and fear with no discernable warning or rational source.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is rooted in feelings of fear or anxiety, which compel a sufferer to perform specific ritualized actions.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may result in severe feelings of panic or fear in people who have experienced something traumatic in their past.

  • Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, can manifest as fear of being judged or embarrassed; in any case, the source of anxiety remains any or all social situations.

  • Specific phobias are fears disproportional to the source of threat and can be associated with virtually any source or stimulus.

 

Overcoming anxiety requires a strong and committed effort for a significant period. The key is to address our emotional imbalances at the root, learning to identify problematic feelings and thought patterns so we can change how we respond. The process is to accept ourselves as the wonderful person we are, even with our anxiety or out-of-balance emotions and self-defeating behaviors. Following acceptance is working on becoming more aware of our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Progressive incremental behaviors will become part of our growth towards improving our emotional life. We will discuss these steps later in the book. So relax, take a breath, and keep learning.

                                                Depression

Depression is difficult to explain, and we should avoid a simplistic answer. Many aspects of our life can contribute to a state of depression. However, one thing is for sure: no matter what the cause(s), rumination and avoidance maintain depression. Therefore, the most realistic and practical way of thinking about depression is in terms of our habits.

The causes of depression can be complicated. What we should not do is define depression simply as a chemical imbalance in our brains. Even if our brain has a chemical imbalance, that is not the primary cause of our depression. Instead, our habits—specifically rumination and avoidance—make us depressed. Depression is a severe illness that steals our life through time lost and decreased quality of life. If you’re depressed, this book will help, but you must also contact a medical professional and ask for help.

Signs of Depression: 

Rumination

When we are depressed, we tend to ruminate. Rumination is dwelling on negative thought patterns. We compulsively dwell on and magnify negative thoughts of loss, failure, and other self-defeating thoughts through rumination.

      **Rumination is the mental habit of persistent negative judgments about oneself, especially one’s perceived past failings and mistakes. Rumination increases activity in our brain's stress response system; our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), which controls our fight or flight response. Rumination causes our brain and body to be flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Evidence suggests that a main driver of clinical depression is the brain's excessive use of our stress response and the release of cortisol.

Avoidance

We need to take care not to avoid opportunities because we feel tired or a little nervous, as such experiences are likely to be ultimately rewarding and worthwhile.

     **Avoidance is the second significant contributor to depression. Avoidance is the habit of not taking advantage of opportunities that are beneficial because they are difficult and scary to us. Avoidance robs us of meaningful and rewarding experiences. We will avoid these opportunities even though they would be beneficial in the long run.

 

  • Not exercising or going for a walk

  • Not doing things because you feel anxious or nervous or a little tired.

  • Skipping functions you would normally participate in, family meetings, activities with friends.

  • Not leaving the house            

  • Not making that phone call

  • Haven’t eaten better foods

  • Not getting up in the morning

 

Inactivity

The primary feature of a major depressive episode is at least two or more weeks spent in depression, with a lack of pleasure in any activities. If you are experiencing this symptom, get off the couch and out of the house. Go for a walk. Moderate exercise (for example, walking 20-40 minutes three times per week) is effective in improving long-term outcomes for people who are depressed.

 

Poor sleep habits

Sleep disturbance is a symptom of and a contributor to depression. Therefore, it’s essential to work hard to develop good sleep habits. Prepare for sleep by turning off the television and electronics. Breathe, stretch, or meditate to prepare for sleep.

Social isolation

When life is overwhelming, we can turn inward and get depressed. Meaningful social support is exactly what is needed in this situation. Learn to use the people around us for help. Social support acts to buffer against our vulnerabilities and depression. We need to spend time with friends and family.

Poor diet

Diets high in processed foods, refined grains, sugar, and beer correlate with increased rates of depression and anxiety. We need to eat better. Decrease sugars and bad carbs. Decrease alcohol, and eat more vegetables and fruits.

 

**When we are depressed it can be difficult to perform the most basic activity like getting out of bed, making food, talking with friends and family, or going to work or school. When we are depressed the things that normally give us purpose and meaning in life no longer interest us. From a logical perspective this does not make sense yet there it is. Our challenge therefore is to regain our ability to enjoy these activities again. We know this to be true yet our depression resists our every effort.

 

We will address our avoidance issues and provide methods for moving forward and reducing avoidance.

Depression Versus Sadness

Essentially, sadness is a short-term emotion stemming from a sense of loss. At the same time, depression is a state of mind associated with persistent sadness, out-of-control thinking, irrationality, and confusion. The effects of this state include continued loss of interest, increased avoidance, and rumination that leads to significant impairment of daily life. Sadness can lead to depression, which is both more prolonged and more profound in its negative effect emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Additional Symptoms of Depression:

  • Prolonged feelings of sadness or feeling down in the dumps

  • Uncontrollable negative thoughts

  • Confusion

  • Feeling slowed down or tired or feeling restless, and unable to sit still

  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, like nothing, will ever get better

  • Irritability

  • Problems concentrating, focusing, thinking positively, remembering, or making decisions

  • Feelings of anxiety

  • Unexplained aches and pains

  • Numbness or emotionally emptiness

  • Thoughts of death or suicide (if this is the case, you should seek help immediately)

Causes and Risk Factors for Depression:

  • Loneliness

  • Lack of social support

  • Recent stressful life experiences

  • Family history of depression

  • Marital or relationship problems

  • Financial strain

  • Early childhood trauma or abuse

  • Alcohol or drug abuse

  • Unemployment or underemployment

  • Health problems

  • Lack of self-esteem

  • Lack of confidence

                                          Beating Depression

There is substantial research showing the changes in our brain from stress, anxiety, and depression. The more important question is; what causes these changes to occur?

Like sadness, depression is described as a sense of loss—a sense that our life is not what we want but missing what we need. Thoughts and emotions that contribute to depression may include feelings of failure, sadness, a lack of self-worth, unloved or unappreciated, a lack of supportive relationships, and a distorted perspective due to excessive stress. The causes of what leads us to feel these ways are the actual culprits of our depression; what goes on in our brain from depression allows our depression to continue. Our social and cultural beliefs and experiential and learned patterns of feeling and thinking all contribute to the causes of our depression and anxiety.

Depression can be relentless; it is a black hole sucking all positive thoughts into darkness. Once depression becomes chronic, it is nearly impossible to fix on our own. After all, we have limited control over our thoughts. Genetics and brain chemistry contribute to our depression, but social, psychological, cultural, and structural factors are also at play. In short, paying significant attention to the causes of our depression in a society pervasive with loneliness and social isolation is beneficial.

**The chronic stress manifested in trying to keep up with the American Dream often lacks purpose, leading to deep-rooted shame and regret.

While this sounds like a lot to contend with, change is possible. Give yourself a break. Don’t feel upset because you are depressed or anxious. Acceptance is the first step. We will discuss measures for reducing depression later in the book. Keep moving forward, inch by inch; if necessary, seek professional help, but always move forward.

One of these symptoms may be due to stress, but several at once indicate a likely case of depression. Whether you have one of these symptoms or several, it would be a good idea to get a professional opinion. It is essential to understand that to improve our emotional life; we must first establish a baseline of functioning that allows us to process new information. With depression, we must first get minimal control over our anxiety and depression before we can move forward towards reducing and improving our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

I would enjoy speaking with you. Schedule a consultation and let's discuss your emotional goals and learn how to stop the anxiety, and depression.  Invest in your life.  Keep learning.

Louis Scotti