According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression is increasing globally. The number went from 416 million in 1990 to 615 million as of 2013. Feeling a little down from time to time is a normal occurrence. And anxiety is a normal response to stress at work or our daily lives sometimes, but constant feelings of depression or anxiety can be a red flag of a mental health disorder.
Sometimes referred to as 'first cousins,' depression and anxiety are different conditions but often occur together. Some researchers believe early trauma causes subtle changes in brain function that account for symptoms of depression and anxiety. The key brain regions involved in the stress response may be altered at the chemical or cellular level, including fluctuations in the concentration of neurotransmitters or damage to nerve cells.
Causes of Anxiety
Financial worries, added responsibilities at work, or other major life events can cause certain levels of temporary anxiety, but some people are more prone to developing anxiety disorders than others. Children or adults who have experienced traumatic events or endured abuse of any kind have increased the risk of developing anxiety disorders.
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
- A constant sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating
- Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Difficulty controlling worry
In addition to emotional risk factors, several medical conditions can cause anxiety. They include:
- Heart disease
- Thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism
- Respiratory disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma
- Chronic pain
- Rare tumors that produce certain fight-or-flight hormones
- Drug misuse or withdrawal
- Withdrawal from alcohol or other medications
- Side-effects of certain medications
If you experience a sudden occurrence of lasting anxiety that seems unrelated to life events, it could be a sign of a more serious medical condition, and you should speak with your doctor.
Causes of Depression
Symptoms of depression can range from moderate to severe enough to impede day-to-day activities such as work, school, social events, or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally sad without really knowing why.
To say a chemical imbalance causes depression doesn't capture the complexity of the situation. Research suggests there are several possible causes for depression, including genetics, faulty mood regulation by the brain, stressful life events, medications, and other medical problems. Often several of these forces collide to bring on depression.
One of the goals of gene research is to pinpoint how biology makes certain people vulnerable to depression. For example, several genes influence the stress response, which makes people more or less likely to become depressed in response to trouble.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Memory difficulties or personality changes
- Physical aches or pain
- Fatigue, loss of appetite
- Problems sleeping or sleeping too much
- Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
- Suicidal thoughts
If you feel depressed, make an appointment to see your doctor or mental health professional as soon as you can. If you're feeling suicidal, there are resources available to help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Finding Solutions for Mental Health
If you're experiencing prolonged symptoms of anxiety or depression, part of practicing self-care is speaking to a medical professional about it. If you're reluctant to seek treatment, talk to a friend or loved one, a faith leader, or someone else you trust.
In addition to seeking treatment, there are natural things you can do to better your chances of recovery. They include:
- Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and olive oil
- Raising endorphin levels through exercise
- Herbs such as St. John's Wort, ginseng, lavender, or chamomile
- Spending time with animals
It's essential to speak to a doctor before using any herbal remedy or supplement. Making lifestyle changes, such as improving sleep habits, increasing social support, or using stress-reduction techniques, may also help. If you have anxiety or depression, avoid alcohol, smoking, and recreational drugs. They can make both conditions worse and interfere with treatment.