Depression and anxiety are increasingly common signs of psychological suffering in society today. Here we take a look at the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, some possible causes and the common ground they share.
At first sight depression looks like miserableness, a loss of energy and and lack of motivation. There may also be loss of enjoyment in activities previously enjoyed, a feeling of there being no meaning in life, some negative thinking and also disturbed patterns of sleep and appetite. These can all be the result of different causative factors that get clustered together and become classified under the one label of “depression”.
What seems to be overwhelming symptoms is often the result of unfinished business or the outfall of a situation or a crisis which appeared to be impossible. A depressive response can follow any life event including bereavement, work change, trauma, life stage adjustment, marital changes or a persistent difficult situation that has become unmanageable. It can also come from the un-grieved loss of early separation or from a kind of learned helplessness. “Clinical depression is believed to result from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation”(Seligman 1975).
Therapy focuses on increasing self support, relational support, completing unfinished business, identifying unhelpful beliefs and attending to body processes.
At first sight anxiety might look like shallow breathing, increased heart rate, sick feelings in the stomach, palpitations in the chest, increased tension in the body and intolerable feelings of agitation and fear; all in the absence of any real here-and-now threat. It is often set off initially by negative or fearful thinking. It might actually start as a normal response to threat, then the energy builds up and up but doesn’t discharge.
Some types of anxiety have a definite point in time from which they began. Other types seem to have no causative event and are simply being reinforced by persistent negative thinking. Although anxiety is a phenomenon in its own right, it can also be experienced alongside depression. It is worth noting that anxiety may have a physiological cause such as medication, an over-active thyroid, excessive caffeine or other drugs. In some cases, the anxiety emerges as a sign of something deeper as the therapy progresses.
Therapy focuses on managing symptoms, dealing with avoidance, identifying anxious thoughts and beliefs and attending to what is happening in the body.
Anxiety and depression and are both responses to life situations that seems to be unmanageable or overwhelming. The first kind of response is to withdraw, isolate and to stop functioning (a depressive reaction) and the second type of reaction is to over-mobilize, become overly concerned, worried and agitated (an anxious reaction). Both involve negative beliefs or attitudes and a loss of control and/or connection possibly with an accompanying sense of hopelessness. The ability to self-manage and creatively adjust to life may also be affected.
There are many perspectives on understanding depression and anxiety and the above descriptions are just a few that some have found to be helpful.
A “here and now” focus in the therapy room emphasises the present moment as the place from which our decisions are made and that the past does not have to determine our future. This frees us. We can be the creators of the life we truly want.