Highs and lows are a natural and inevitable part of life, but when these episodes of heightened stress or sadness last multiple days, weeks or even months it could be a sign of anxiety and/or depression. Anxiety and depression are extremely common, affecting 1 in 6 Australians at any given point in time, and although they are separate illnesses many people experience them simultaneously.
It is completely normal and expected to experience anxiety when making big decisions or during important events, but when anxiety starts to impact daily activities it can feel overwhelming. Anxiety comes in many forms but the most common types are generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Anxiety presents itself both physically and mentally, with physical symptoms including:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Accelerated heart rate
- Bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Difficulties falling asleep or unsatisfying sleep
And mental symptoms including:
- Irritability and a feeling of being on edge
- Fear or worries interrupting daily tasks
- A feeling of general dread
In more extreme cases such as with OCD, a person may use rituals and behaviours to help ease feelings of fear or anxiety, even if it interrupts parts of their day (eg. a phobia of germs resulting in someone constantly washing their hands).
Depression is characterised by feeling down, low or sad for extended periods of time. Although periods of sadness are normal, depression can impact how people live their everyday lives. Much like anxiety, depression also has physical and mental symptoms.
Some of the physical ways in which depression presents itself are:
- Feelings of sluggishness and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Unexplained cramps, bodily pain or stomach/intestinal issues
- Fluctuation in weight and/or appetite
Some of the emotional symptoms of depression include:
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Lasting feelings of sadness or emptiness
- Feelings of pessimism and hopelessness
- Irritability and restlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Suicide attempts
Research suggests that the reason why anxiety and depression often occur simultaneously is because it’s possible they are caused by similar factors. An article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2020 identified three overlapping factors that can influence anxiety and depression. These are:
Genetics: Especially in regards to anxiety, researchers have found that if someone has a family history of depression or anxiety they themselves are more likely to develop either in their lifetime.
Environment: Experiencing trauma, difficulties in the workplace, relationships or social isolation are major contributors to overwhelming feelings of anxiety or depression. Research has also found that people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are particularly vulnerable to also developing depression.
Chronic Pain: Research has established a link between chronic pain or illnesses such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome to higher levels of psychological distress resulting in higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Anxiety and depression management
Despite differing symptoms, treatment for anxiety and depression is actually quite similar. The most effective treatments use a combination of talk therapy, lifestyle changes and possibly medication. Research stipulates that some of the ways that anxiety and depression can be managed include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT helps people challenge negative thoughts and create healthy coping mechanisms to reduce stress
- Exercise: Exercises causes the brain to release endorphins which improve one’s sense of wellbeing, and provides a distraction from negative thoughts.
- Create a daily routine: Daily routine provides a sense of control and enables people to create time in their day specifically to practice self care techniques.
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as meditation help slow down racing thoughts, and calms both the mind and body which helps people let go of negative thoughts and feelings.
- Medication: Antidepressants, mood stabilisers and anti anxiety medication are often prescribed with CBT to achieve the best results, especially in more severe cases of anxiety and depression. Natural medicines can also be prescribed to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression - including medicinal cannabis.
Anxiety and depression can be debilitating illnesses that severely impact a person’s quality of life. Although feeling down or stressed is normal, if symptoms last longer than a week or two, consult your doctor so you can start working together to find the treatment plan that’s right for you. If you’re interested in medicinal cannabis as a treatment for anxiety or depression, please check out our information page on each condition or book a telehealth consultation with one of our registered practitioners.