More often than not, constant stress leads to its more debilitating ally: anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 31% of Americans will have anxiety disorders at a certain point in their lives. Also, adults and teen women are at a far higher risk as compared to men.
Anxiety disorders arise from an intricate set of causative agents, including:
- Brain Chemistry
- Life Events
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What’s the Difference Between Anxiety & Depression?
Briefly, anxiety entails an excessive feeling of worry, whereas depression applies to extreme feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness. What’s more, subjects can have both conditions (anxiety and depression) concurrently.
Feeling out of control over a situation can cause stress, anxiety, or else depression. Yet, recognizing their differences can help you make the right diagnosis and lead to the correct treatment.
So, how can you diagnose these medical disorders? Well, let’s find out.
Diagnosing Stress Disorders
Stress describes a feeling of physical tension or an emotional response to an event. It can stem from any situation or thought that elicits a sense of frustration, anger, or nervousness. Stress is your body’s response to a challenge or demand.
Once your mind gets these threatening signals, it releases a flood of chemicals that may overwhelm the rational—a more evolved part of your brain referred to as the prefrontal cortex.
Next, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine stimulate the amygdala—a considerably primal part of your brain designed to prepare your body’s “flight or fight” reaction when you’re facing adversity.
Another biological process that takes place involves a blend of nerve and hormonal cues that trigger your adrenal glands to discharge two hormones; adrenaline and cortisol.
As a result, your heart rate may increase, while your breathing rhythm becomes shallower to prep your body to react to a situation.
Typically, this makes it a challenge to reflect with relaxed emotions, measured logic, and restraint the prefrontal cortex offers.
In the past, this complex process was considerably beneficial to our lives. But today, the presence of daily stressors serves to threaten the intricate balance of our mental health.
When stress continues uninterrupted for long periods, it no longer serves its initially intended biological purpose of alerting you. Instead, its function becomes corrupted (chronic), a situation that is relatively difficult to turn around.
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Chest pain
- Grinding of teeth
Without treatment, chronic stress can potentially increase a subject’s likelihood of developing high blood pressure (BP), heart conditions, diabetes, and weight issues (obesity).
Experts also consider chronic stress as a causative agent of autoimmune diseases—linking it to a weakened immune system that leaves you more vulnerable to opportunistic infections such as colds, among others.
Anxiety and stress have identical physical and biological attributes. But here are the differences;
- Stress-induced neurotransmitters and hormones mostly will stay ramped up, and the subject’s mind gets stuck in repetitive worrying
- Panic-driven thought loops
Anxiety is a normal reaction to a situation when you feel pressured, or to some extent, fearful due to unknown elements or perceived danger.
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But the condition becomes a clinical concern when the feeling fails to subside even when the threat dissipates and subsequently begins to interfere with your daily functioning and interactions.
Discerning the context is critical. A physician will conduct a thorough evaluation of the patient’s existing environment and current circumstances to interpret better their feelings and experiences based on their reality.
Depression Signs, Symptoms & Causes
Unlike stress and anxiety, there’s far less information available relating to the causes, symptoms, and drivers of depression.
- Multifaceted interaction of social, psychological, or even biological factors
- Adverse life events, including grief, trauma, loss of livelihood, health concerns
Its debilitating impact on people can lead to loss of ability to function in many areas of their lives, in particular work and relationships.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading cause of disability globally. Similarly, the disorder is detrimental mainly when it contributes to suicidal thoughts or planning.
- Weight loss or gain
- Physical pain
Mentally, the condition manifests itself in the following manner:
- Persistent Sadness
- Feeling of Hopelessness
- Heightened Anxiety
- Mental Paralysis
Where the subject tends to feel like a burden, they’re also less likely to engage or reach out to others and may end up withdrawing socially.
Individuals with depressive conditions can also have ruminative episodes alongside feelings of guilt, leading to an impaired ability to think, concentrate, or form memories.
Over time, researchers have moved away from only considering depression as a biochemical imbalance of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
As such, the understanding shifts to a more complex view of the condition that includes considering changes in electrical activity in the brain involving the interactions between neurons and nerve cells. This assessment is because depression reduces the ability of neurons to interact with each other.
Due to the disparities in thinking, treatment for depression differs on an individual basis and may involve a blend of medication and therapy.
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As with many other conditions, certified medics tailor stress, anxiety, and depression treatments to a specific diagnosis. Meaning the physician designs the treatment plan to help the subject manage and limit the symptoms of each of the above disorders, and often simultaneously.
Overall, stress, anxiety, and depression list among the most common human experiences. Regardless of your experience with these feelings or disorders, one thing you should know is you can seek professional help. You’re not alone.