Anxiety and depression disorders come in different intensities, meaning that some people experience mild symptoms, while others may experience more moderate symptoms, and some other people may be suffering severely from debilitating anxiety and depression that affect their everyday life and inhibit their overall functioning.
Are all anxious and depressive feelings considered disorders?
It is a part of the normal human experience to occasionally experience feelings of anxiety and sadness when put in certain situations. One of those common situations may involve the nights before important exams or having an argument with a friend for example. This mild level of anxiety and depression can be maintained and one can learn simple methods of coping with it. These instances don't seem to heavily affect their ability to function. Mild anxiety is also usually caused by rational fear or worry. In the exam example, it would make sense that the person will have a slightly anxious feeling about the exam’s level of difficulty due to it being an actual real possibility. It is also very reasonable to be unhappy for a while when one is put in saddening situations. However, some people experience more frequent and more severe levels of anxiety and depression that seem to be triggered by situations that would be very unlikely to occur, or that can accompany a person without any trigger at all. This means that their symptoms are caused by certain maladaptive and irrational thoughts and assumptions (also known as cognitive errors).
Circling back to the exam situation. A person who frequently experiences intense anxiety symptoms will be extremely anxious before their exam because, according to their cognitive errors, they believe that they’re not going to perform effectively and they will subsequently fail the exam, and once they fail, they will never be able to succeed in life and they will become worthless. Realistically speaking, the chances of this happening are evidently very low since one bad grade, which is the worst possible scenario in this case, will not determine how much or how little a person will succeed in the future. Some people may experience very severe and excessive symptoms to the point where it prevents them from being able to interact with those around them or can even prevent them from leaving the house. When experiencing such levels of anxiety, for instance, they may engage in what is called safety behaviours, which means that they fear that they may face something or someone that would trigger their anxiety, and therefore they believe that it’s safer for them to stay isolated at home. This scenario is common among people who experience social anxiety and/or specific phobias. Avoidance is believed to be the only way they can deal with their anxiety, so they build their whole lives accordingly. This leads them to miss out on numerous activities and events due to their intense fears.
How to move from there?
Luckily, there are several ways to treat anxiety and depressive disorders, depending on the level of severity of the symptoms as well as the subtype of disorder that is being dealt with. Anxiety disorders involve several types such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, social anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Depression can also be classified in terms of types such as major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), psychotic depression, postpartum depression, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. In general, mild anxiety and depression can easily be treated through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) alone, which can help clients recognize and restructure their thinking patterns and behaviour. With CBT, clients learn how to pinpoint when they are engaging in cognitive errors and/or safety behaviours and with the help of a mental health professional, they’re taught how they can alter these maladaptive thoughts and behaviours. Therapists could also teach clients suffering from anxiety how they can cope with their symptoms by using relaxation techniques. By achieving physical relaxation, it helps to reach psychological relaxation. These techniques are very beneficial, especially for those who experience panic disorder.
One of the most effective forms of treatment for social anxiety and mainly specific phobias is exposure therapy, which can be through systematic desensitization, flooding, or modelling.
With systematic desensitization, the client is gradually exposed to the object or situation that they fear so that with time, they can see that there is no threat or danger. Flooding directly exposes the client to the worst possible scenario, or the situation/object that they fear the most. The idea behind flooding is that once the client actually experiences the situation or stimulus that causes their anxiety, and they see that nothing bad happened to them, they will be able to overcome their phobia. With modelling, the therapist is the one who confronts the feared object and the client simply observes them.
For people who experience very frequent and severe symptoms of anxiety and depression, antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs may be recommended. In this case, a combination of both medication and therapy would be considered an effective treatment. Whether you or someone you know is struggling with either anxiety or depression, know that there is help out there for you and that you don’t need to suffer alone. With the right tools, you can always learn new ways to cope with your difficulties.