If you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression you know how frustrating it is and how difficult it is to stay on top of everything you need to know. There is a lot of information out there on the internet and unfortunately it is not all true. There are misconceptions and misinterpretations of the research that can leave you more frustrated and confused than before. This compounds your already difficult time trying to break free of the symptoms that drag you down and consume your days.
When working with clients I like to go over this information right up front as I find it helps with optimism and hopefulness, two emotions that are counter to anxiety and particularly to depression. Having good and correct information allows you to feel in control of your treatment and less like a victim of the “disorder”. If you lose hope or are looking at incorrect information you may give up trying to feel better, thinking that there is nothing you can do.
In addition to researching, you may be heeding advice given by family members who are not quite accurate or that have their own view of things. If yours is a dysfunctional family system this too can be problematic.
The following 5 topics are the ones that cause the most confusion and are the easiest to clarify.
1. Anxiety and Depression are Genetic Based Problems- There is no research evidence that points to this. Temperament can be related to genetics and is typically seen at a very young age. A sensitive or timid temperament can predispose you to developing anxiety or depression but does not cause it. Research is indicating that there may be a genetic link with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
You may think that you are depressed because other family members are depressed. This may be true but not due to genetics. Dysfunctional family members tend to think alike and share traits, coping strategies and beliefs. How they approach the world and problem solving may or may not be healthy. If you are raised in a family with dysfunctional or distorted thinking, you are likely to think that way yourself. Your thinking is related to your emotions and has a lot to do with how you feel, your resilience and your ability to overcome or avoid altogether problems with anxiety and depression. This is where not always heeding the advice of family members can come in handy.
Same with anxiety, if you are raised in a family that is fear based, abusive or chaotic, you may develop anxiety but not because it was passed to you like hair color. Chances are you are not the only one who is anxious in that family system.
2. Anxiety and Depression are Medical Problems-There are medical conditions that can be directly related to anxiety and depression and if you have been suffering a long time it is worth seeing your doctor to rule them out. Depression can come about as a side effect of hypothyroidism, other endocrine disorders, some heart conditions and hormonal imbalances. In fact some of the worst depressions I have seen were women taking birth control pills, implants and injections. Talking to their doctors and switching methods took care of their depressions like magic.
Medical conditions related to anxiety are Hyperthyroidism, Hypoglycemia, Mitral Valve Prolapse, Hypertension, Cushing’s Syndrome, Post Concussion Syndrome and certain mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Your doctor can test for these.
3. Anxiety and Depression are Forms of a Chemical Imbalance-Your brain naturally produces “feel good” chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, and your body also produces stress chemicals such cortisol to use in times of stress and fear. It knows how to use these to your advantage and when to produce them. What happens that typically causes an imbalance is that you are using too much of the stress chemicals over time and they are gobbling up or overpowering your good chemicals. You need your good chemicals to feel good.
This process can happen many times over the life span if not corrected and typically happens if you suffer from both anxiety and depression. So yes, it is a chemical imbalance but no, you were not born that way. Stress and anxiety management and treatment can halt the cycle before you start to feel that overwhelm that starts the downward spiral to depression. At the point you are headed into a depression caused by overwhelm your body is screaming for a break. In the old days you would have been sent to a “rest home”. It worked as your body and brain are screaming for a rest.
Other chemical imbalances can be caused by ingesting too much caffeine, recreational drugs, particularly amphetamines or other stimulants and even over the counter and prescription allergy medications. Alcohol, although technically a depressant, has an odd effect on the brain of causing anxiety the day after consuming too much. If you are using alcohol to calm yourself at night it becomes a vicious cycle of drinking to relax but the next day waking up anxious and looking forward to Happy Hour for that drink, waking up anxious and so on.
If you have been on antidepressant medication for a while and stop taking it, you may experience a temporary increase in your symptoms. At this point you may think you should not have stopped taking it and your depression will be there forever. This process of your brain straightening itself out after medication is normal and can take even up to a month to sort out. You may experience weird sensations for a bit but it will all pass. If getting off medication is your goal and is OK with your doctor then just try to ride this out, don’t go back prematurely out of a belief that this is proof you will never be well without medications. Don’t do it on your own, your doctor will give you a plan for how to come off the medications properly in order to decrease the chance of side effects.
4. Anxiety and Depression Last Forever-Not true. You may be temperamentally predisposed to these conditions but that does not mean that they will appear or that you will suffer forever. Cognitive therapy has been shown to not only treat these conditions but to prevent future relapses. It is all about getting the skills in place to fight them. If you have one of the medical conditions mentioned previously then treating the condition will also help treat accompanying anxiety and depressive symptoms. Thousands of people each year overcome debilitating anxiety and depression problems.
5. Anxiety and Depression are Out of Your Control-There are many things you can do to take control of these problems. I recommend Cognitive treatment by a professional or through self-help to start as again it has the best and fastest success rate. If you are searching for a professional make sure you ask if they are trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This is important. They will take you through such topics as Locus of Control, Attribution Theory, Learned Helplessness and Self-Esteem to mention a few. These are usually the culprits hiding behind emotional conditions. They come about as part of your life from what we call thought distortions.
Hopefully this article was able to clarify questions you may have had regarding anxiety and depression.