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Anxiety and Depression—Where Do You Fall on the Continuum?

In honor of National Anxiety and Depression Week this month, Dr. Lauren Hazzouri offers her advice for managing your mood, decreasing your symptoms and getting help when you need it.


From Lauren: Research tells us there are an estimated 40 million adults who suffer from an anxiety disorder (women are 60% more likely to be diagnosed than men), and 14.8 million people who suffer from major depression (women are diagnosed at twice the rate of men). Anxiety and depression do not always occur together, but nearly half of those who suffer from anxiety also meet criteria for a depressive disorder.

It’s important to note, not all of us who experience sadness, lack of motivation, nervousness and fear come anywhere close to meeting the criteria for a depressive disorder, anxiety disorder or both.

In the spirit of National Anxiety and Depression Week this month, let’s get specific and educate ourselves on the extremely prevalent and, at times, debilitating symptoms that can keep us from making the most of our days.

Anxiety and Depression—Where Do You Fall on the Continuum?

Anxiety can be a very adaptive response that helps us when we are in danger, motivates us when we are preparing to give a speech and serves as a warning sign when it’s time to take action. Everyone experiences anxiety. It’s only when the feelings of intense fear and dread are overwhelming and keep us from tackling everyday tasks that we have crossed over into troubled territory.

The same is true of depression. Most people feel sad at times. The loss of a loved one, a stressful job, family discord and the daily grind can all leave us feeling down and out, but some of us experience these feelings with no identifiable trigger. When your mood begins to affect the way you think, feel and perform your daily activities—sleeping, eating, exercising, working—it’s time to address the problem.

Whether you’re experiencing one or many of the symptoms below, there’s hope! For both normal, yet uncomfortable symptoms and more severe cases, there are evidence-based solutions that have been proven to be effective.

Do you struggle with anxiety?

Do you experience the following symptoms consistently or to a significant degree:
• Feelings of apprehension or dread
• Feeling tense and jumpy
• Restlessness or irritability
• Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger
• A pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
• Sweating, tremors and twitches
• Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
• Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea

Do you struggle with depression?

Do you experience the following symptoms consistently or to a significant degree:
• A persistently sad, anxious or “empty” mood
• Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
• Irritability
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
• Decreased energy or fatigue
• Moving or talking more slowly
• Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening or oversleeping
• Appetite and/or weight changes
• Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts


Here’s what to do.

If your symptoms are maladaptive, that means they’re getting in your way on an almost daily basis. If that’s the case, you should:

Call the doctor

Your primary care physician can be a great resource. Many of us have a long-term relationship with our family docs, and many of them have teamed up with psychologists to offer an integrated health care experience for you. If they don’t have a psychologist who can assess your symptoms in the office, they can likely refer you to someone to get the help you need.

Jump into the (evidence-based!) solution

In taking the leap from problem to solution, it’s important that you get the standard of care that you deserve. Use the American Psychological Association database to find a clinician who specializes in evidence-based treatments. Many mental health professionals prescribe to different philosophies on how to reduce symptoms. It’s critical that you work with someone who uses well-researched treatments that are proven effective for your identified problem. Interview potential clinicians! All mental health professionals are open to answering your questions prior to you making an appointment, and psychologists are dedicated to verifying the effects of their treatments.

If your symptoms are normative, but get you off your game from time to time, you should:

Get resilient

Small lifestyle changes can make a big difference in treating anxiety and depression. Eating nutritiously, exercising regularly and sleeping right are part of an integrated approach to treatment. Often times, lifestyle changes alone can have a significant impact on symptoms of depression and anxiety. It’s time—get your body working for you, rather than against you to squash the fear and beat the blues.

Manage that stinkin’ thinkin’

Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behavior. Each of us has many thoughts, up to 70,000 per day! The goal is to get so familiar with your thoughts that you can instantly recognize the irrational thoughts—those making you feel down, scared or worried. Once you know which thought patterns cause the unwanted feelings, you can change them! If you change how you think, you can change how you feel and how you behave.

Take two (minutes to relax!)

Taking a couple of minutes to stop, breathe and get present can reduce stress, increase mood and decrease anxiety in an instant. Focus your attention on your breathing, exhale slowly. Scan your body for tension. Loosen the cramped body parts, letting go of anything you’re holding too tightly. Recall a good memory, favorite place or event. Continue to breathe, exhaling slowly. Repeat as needed.

Make a gratitude list

Studies show that gratitude can increase happiness and decrease depression. Perception is everything, and it’s hard to feel down and out when we are purposefully focusing on what we have vs. what we don’t. Write down the things you’re thankful for every night before bed. In light of your blessings, it will be hard to end the day on a negative note.

Using these tools to manage your mood and decrease your anxiety are beneficial whether your symptoms are adaptive or maladaptive. If adaptive, incorporating these skill-sets will make you more resilient to daily stressors, keep your nervous energy at bay and allow you to get the most out of your day. If maladaptive, be sure to seek professional help. You deserve to crush life—and feel like you while you’re doing it!

For more from Dr. Lauren Hazzouri, read her recent columns on the site or visit her online at DrLaurenHazzouri.com.

Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump
Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo

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