I swithered with regards to writing this blog. I have sat and worried about offending people, or in case it contradicts my blog ‘You don’t look anxious to me’, but I’ve come to realise that it’s important that people know the difference between depression and just being a bit down, and having an anxiety disorder and just being a little bit anxious.
ANXIETY, OR ANXIETY DISORDER?
Let’s start with anxiety; This is something we all have and deal with probably every day. Everyone in the world has their anxious moments, so what is the difference between feeling a bit anxious and having an anxiety disorder? Well, to put it in the simplest way; one is mild and one is intense. But, wait, how do we know the difference? How do we know that what we’re feeling is the mild version of anxiety or the intense? I think we first need to understand what anxiety is.
Anxiety is an emotional response to the anticipation of something bad happening, so really, it’s the prerequisite to fear. There is a very fine line between anxiety and fear, which is why both feelings can have similar responses i.e. sweating, feeling nauseous, and quickened heart rate. The feeling of being anxious is what gives us a surge of adrenaline in preparation for the ‘fight or flight’ response, in a bid to help us if the bad scenario we’re anticipating happens. During a bout of feeling anxious you will feel a little scared, but when dealing with an anxious situation when you have an anxiety disorder, you feel intense fear, like something catastrophic is going to happen and you have no control to help yourself.
Some situations that will spike anxious feelings in anyone:
- Driving test – Everyone in the world is nervous for this. It is one of the most nerve wracking things we will ever do, and it can cause us to be sleepless the night before, give us a dry mouth, even tremble slightly behind the wheel.
- Operations – Whether it be for ourselves or a loved one. This type of scenario will definitely spike our anxious feelings.
- Exams – We all want to do well and succeed, so being in an exam can cause us to doubt our abilities, and worry that our best will not be good enough.
- Children – Our Children make us anxious every day. From the minute they are born we worry if they cry too much, don’t cry enough, eat too much, don’t eat enough, temperature spikes, temperature drops etc. Then as they get older we worry about them going out to play, will they make friends, will other kids be horrible to them, are they happy, how well will they do in school etc. It’s a constant worry for a parent.
- Work projects – We will all have some sort of task in work that makes us anxious, one that means we’re striving to excel but worry we won’t.
- Flying – Now this won’t affect everyone, but it does affect most. Again, perfectly normal response to the fact you’re sitting in a metal flying object, couple that with the fact humans were never meant to fly! Totally normal to be apprehensive here.
Some situation that will spike intense feelings of anxiety, associated with an anxiety disorder:
- Health – “My left hand is slightly colder than my right. Blood flow must be being supressed somewhere. Could it be I’m having a stroke?”, “I’ve had acid indigestion for a while now, could it be an ulcer? Perhaps even stomach cancer?”, “This headache won’t go away, I think I have a blood clot on the brain”, “My right leg has gone numb and feels funny, I think I’ve got DVT”, “I’m sure my heart just skipped a beat then, it felt kinda funny. What if I have heart disease?”. These thoughts will not stop there, they will spiral out of control, to the point where you cannot contain how you’re feeling.
- Socially – “They’re looking at me. Do they hate how I look? Is what I’m wearing silly? Is my hair sticking up? Is it the way I’m walking? They think I’m ugly.”, “The way they said ‘hello’ was weird. Was it grudged? They don’t like me. What have I done? Did the conversation we have the other day upset them? What could I have said to make them hate me?”, “They didn’t smile as they walked passed. Why? Did they not see me smiling? Maybe I didn’t smile. They will think I’m rude now. Or maybe they did see me smile, but don’t like me so didn’t smile back? Why don’t they like me?”, “I sent that text to them over an hour ago, why haven’t they text back? Have I upset them? Do they not like me?”. You can see the definite pattern here.
- OCD’s – “That glass looks dirty, I can’t drink from that, what if I get ill?” You will then proceed to wash the glass and then rinse it 3 times for good measure. When you go to bed at night, you check the doors are locked, but then you get up to check again as you doubt you did it right the first time. In fact, you may even repeat the process a few more times, just to be sure, as you don’t want someone coming in and killing you in your sleep. Washing your hands twice, as you need to be sure that all the germs are gone, because you don’t want to die! You will also overly wash your hands as you’re too scared of the surfaces you’ve touched, that others have touched, as hey, you might die.
- Overthinking & not feeling good enough – “They didn’t seem very happy with me today, I don’t think what I did was good enough. Maybe I could have tried harder? Perhaps I should have done it another way? What if it’s me they just don’t like and whatever I do isn’t good enough? Or maybe it’s just that I’m no good, I’m not up to it?” These thoughts can spiral out of control and have you debating 101 different scenarios of how you could have done things.
- Insomnia – Because we’re thinking about thinking, then overthinking the thinking about thinking, we tend not to sleep much. Our minds are racing all the time and there are just not enough hours in the day for the level of over analysing that we do.
As you can see we have a rational sense of anxiousness in the first list, where everyone in the world may experience these feelings from time to time. When it’s mild, it’s something that someone can bounce back from easily and something that they will not dwell on or over analyse. Someone with an anxiety disorder, will also be anxious about these things, but they will let it tear them up inside, they will not just bounce back from it, and they will over analyse every situation. Usually to the point where they feel crippling fear and end up sweating, trembling, feeling sick, or actually being sick, getting short of breath, unable to focus, becoming depersonalised, and it may well lead onto a full-blown panic attack. We then have the second list to contend with, one where it’s completely not rational, yet we will let it consume us every single day, again to the point of feeling fear, and this can completely inhibit us from leading what is deemed a ‘normal’ life. We can look perfectly normal on the outside, but on the inside, we’re screaming. You can read more about ‘High functioning anxiety’ in my recent blog, where I explain more about what it is to try and live a ‘normal’ life, whilst contending with the above.
FEELING DOWN, OR DEPRESSED?
There are a lot of people out there that will throw around the statement “I’m feeling depressed”, without actually understanding what it means to be depressed. The feeling of being depressed, is a feeling of intense sadness, loneliness and hopelessness. You feel like you’re in the worst possible position in your life, and it will never change. You are incapable of seeing the positives in your life, or the light at the end of the tunnel.
Everyone in life has days or periods where they feel sad, down, and even like they can’t be bothered, but this is not depression. This is just a normal response to things in life not going as you hoped or planned. Perhaps you didn’t get the job you wanted, you’ve recently broken up with someone you love, you’ve had big changes in your life out with your control, these are all things that we get sad about. Whilst you feel sad in these situations, you’re still able to enjoy your life and see a light at the end of the tunnel. You know and understand that these feelings won’t last forever and over time, you will get over it.
Depression is like the feeling of sadness magnified. You are not just sad, you are beside yourself with grief. You lose all sense of what is positive in life, you don’t look forward to anything, you cannot have ‘fun’, you lose motivation to do anything for yourself, often losing the want/ability to take good care of yourself, you don’t care for your own well being, tired all the time, sleeping too much, you don’t get excited about things, watching movies that you used to love is just dull now. It is literally like someone has just sucked all the happiness and colour from your life. All you are left with is a bleak, grey, cold and loveless world, that you inhabit all by yourself and that no-one else understands. You may be depressed if you have the following:
- Intense sadness
- Frustrated and irritable mood all the time. Complete lack of tolerance of others.
- Significant changes in weight – either weight loss due to being unable to eat, or weight gain through comfort eating.
- Decrease/no interest in activities you may have been interested in before i.e. playing sports, watching movies, hanging out with friends etc.
- Complete tasks at a slow pace – Due to lack of motivation, tasks that would usually be done quickly, will now take you some time.
- Feeling tired and low on energy – You just feel like you’re in a permanent state of exhaustion, despite how much or how little sleep you get.
- Unable to focus – You are so overwhelmed by how you’re feeling you can find it difficult to concentrate on the task in hand.
- Feeling worthless – You never feel good enough. You have every possible negative thought about yourself and the more you think it, the more you reinforce it.
- Suicide – You can feel so low, to the point of wanting to not be here. You cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel (and there is one, there is always one!), that you believe ending your own life is the only way to be free.
Now this list is not a conclusive list and should not be used for self-diagnosis. I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist, I am just someone who has suffered with both Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression for 10+ years. The lists I have given above are from my own personal experience. I am in a position now where I don’t need medication and I am able to manage my mental illness much better than just a few years ago, however, this doesn’t mean I don’t struggle most days to appear ‘normal’. If you believe that you may be able to relate to more than a few of my examples, then I implore you to seek advice from you G.P, If you read my blog ‘My story of when Anxiety took hold’ you will see that seeking help was the best thing I ever did.
There are many helpful links online these days, here are just a few I have sourced. Again, please do not take these as conclusive, you are always better to seek professional help & advice.