Depression and anxiety can often be mistaken for one another, but they are two very different mental health conditions. This article explains the differences between them and provides 10 tips for easing the symptoms.
Anxiety and depression are grouped under internalising disorders. Although many symptoms overlap between the two, there are distinct differences.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety can fall into a number of categories such as general anxiety disorder, phobias, stress, panic and adjustment disorders. While symptoms differ from person to person, general characteristics of anxiety may be difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, palpitations, trembling, sweating, insomnia, fatigue, irritability and restlessness.
Anxiety can also present physically with headaches, dissociation, nausea, muscle aches and dizziness.
What causes anxiety?
While experiencing some level of anxiety is normal and keeps us safe, ongoing anxiety can turn into a disorder that disrupts normal life and needs specific attention to repair.
Anxiety can strike at any age. Potential triggers may be lifestyle changes, trauma – recent or past, burnout, hormonal changes post-birth, the death of someone close or parenting issues.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that displays as persistent feelings of sadness. Some symptoms may overlap with anxiety such as fatigue, butterflies in the stomach, sleep difficulties, headaches and an inability to concentrate.
Unlike those with anxiety on high alert, those experiencing depression may lack energy and appetites may change – resulting in weight loss or gain. When depression hits, a person can find it hard to leave the house and find even the most minor of achievements difficult. Many report finding it impossible to socialise or withdrawing from the people closest.
What causes depression?
Depression is complex. It’s impossible to generalise the causes. For some, it might be a chemical imbalance in the brain with no apparent triggers. For others, it may be genetic or result from ongoing stress and depressed mood. Depression can also be caused by a combination of many factors.
The figures are rising for people suffering from anxiety and depression, especially teens and young adults. Some studies cite social media as a possible cause. Another possible reason for the increase is that we know more in our modern world and mental health is less taboo making it easier to talk about and receive a diagnosis.
How to cure anxiety and depression
While medication exists to ease the day-to-day symptoms, curing both anxiety and depression is far more complex and dependant on the individual’s experience.
Regardless, here are 10 lifestyle tips that may support your healing journey of depression and anxiety.
- Ground yourself in the present
Find a comfortable spot under the trees and examine how you feel. Try to use logic as you ponder solutions to your worries. Studies show that sitting under a forest canopy or walking through a forest reduces stress and anxiety levels compared to walking in an urban area. Trees are also known to exude compounds that have a calming effect when we step into a forest and breathe in the air. They can even help natural human killer (NK) cell activity to protect you from disease.
- Get active
While exercise might feel like the last thing you want to do, aim for walks in nature or near the ocean for the best results. Those living with anxiety or depression may benefit from a calming pet to walk.
- Break tasks down into smaller milestones
When tackling tasks, create a small list of no more than five, and attack them one by one – crossing off as you go. Concise lists can reduce the overwhelm of how much you have to do and give you a greater sense of accomplishment.
- Rationalise runaway thoughts
If you have an exam, a presentation or even a doctor’s appointment, try to be aware of your thoughts and avoid the worst-case scenarios such as failing or a poor diagnosis.
Instead, focus on the positives such as how well you prepared or how healthy you are.
- Focus on posture
When we are afraid, anxious or depressed, we tend to subconsciously protect our vital organs – the heart, lungs and stomach by hunching over. It may be fine for a short period until the perceived danger passes. However, adopting this position for long periods means you won’t breathe correctly, leading to headaches, shoulder pain and long-term postural problems.
- Deep breathing
Adopting a regular deep breathing practice helps to regulate the nervous system and lessen the feelings of anxiety or sadness.
Straighten your shoulders, lengthen your neck, draw in your stomach, place your hands on your stomach and concentrate on filling your body with breath right down to your belly. Focus on the breath flowing in and out of your body.
Let any other thoughts float in and out of your consciousness – don’t hold onto them – all you want to feel is your life-sustaining breath as you detach from everyday worries.
- Prioritise sleep
Create a healthy night-time routine and remove anything you don’t need or consider beautiful in your bedroom.
Make sure your bedding is in neutral colours. Use a calming lavender spray on your linen. Do not use a laptop or smartphone before going to sleep. Instead, practice meditation in the Savasana yoga pose – lying flat on your back, with no pillow, and relaxing your body in stages from the toes upward before going to sleep. The Savasana pose is known to calm the mind, reduce anxiety, help lower blood pressure and assist the functioning of the immune and digestive systems.
- Eat a balanced diet
Eating a balanced diet filled with natural, whole foods will support a healthy body and mind.
Avoid eating in front of the computer, TV or when using your phone. Instead, sit down with your meal and focus on gratitude for the flavours. Take note of the colours and textures. Chew thoroughly to give your stomach time to signal your brain when you are full, so you avoid over-eating.
- Talk about it
Finding someone who will listen closely to your worries instead of someone keen to give advice may help. As you talk, you will find that putting your fears into words can ease your load. Once you have started talking to one person, it becomes less scary to seek professional help.
- Identify triggers
Anxiety and depression are both complex disorders, but they are also significant messengers. By meditating and listening to your heart, you will start to peel back the layers of your symptoms and identifying the triggers to help heal past traumas and come to a place of peace with every part of your body and mind.
Remember, if you’re living with anxiety or depression, you’re not alone. Millions of people across the globe experience anxiety or depression. Persist with your healing until you find an approach that works for you. Complete healing from depression and anxiety takes time, but once you start the journey, the load will lift, and a beautiful, fulfilled life awaits.