Anxiety and depression come in many forms and do not always meet the common stereotypes. This is what can cause many people to feel unable to express how they feel due to the fear of others’ reactions. A person suffering from one or both of these disorders doesn’t need to hear: “You can’t be depressed–you were smiling yesterday!” or: “You just need to let it go and get over it.” These comments not only result in increased feelings of isolation but can also cause that person to internalize their issues, which will only exacerbate the situation. They also reveal a lack of education on the subject, and knowledge is crucial to becoming an ally to those who suffer from these disorders.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-V) as “persistent high levels of anxiety and excessive worry that cause significant distress or impairment for a period of six months or more.” This anxiety can present itself in many ways. Perhaps the person’s mind is constantly flipping through a series of “what-ifs,” or maybe this person has angry outbursts of emotions followed by other intense emotions. Another category of anxiety is social anxiety disorder which is likely more common in 18 to 25-year-olds. Social Anxiety Disorder may present as being overly alert in social settings and constant watch for cues of disapproval. People suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder may also stay on the outskirts of social groups, avoid eye contact or barely speak. These are a small sampling of symptoms, and each person may experience anxiety differently.
It is important to distinguish that depression and mood are quite separate. The most common type of depression is Major Depressive Disorder. People with depression can be happy. They may even be happy the majority of the time, and similarly, people without depression can have a day feeling sad or depressed. Depression does not mean that you must be in a depressive episode each and every day. Additionally, it does not mean you must want to stay in bed all the time. The DSM-V characterizes Major Depressive Disorder as the occurrence of at least one depressive episode that lasts a minimum of two weeks. Depressive episodes are signified by the presence of four symptoms which could include changes in appetite, changes in sleeping patterns, low energy, feelings of guilt, difficulty concentration or thoughts of suicide. The last symptom makes this disorder so dangerous, and that’s why it is so vital that anyone struggling seeks help immediately.
Managing one or both of these disorders is no easy task, but thankfully our society has come so far that there are now ample resources available. If you are suffering from anxiety and/or depression, it is important to find what brings you joy. Happy moments, no matter how brief they may be, are the best medicine in combating these disorders. Anxiety and depression do not define you–they are merely a part of you, and that is okay.
So how do you find your joy? Well, what do you like to do? Maybe you paint or cook or do yoga. That’s perfect. Self-care is a term that is thrown around so commonly now that it seems like there is a right way and a wrong way, but as long as you are nourishing your body, mind, soul or joy, you are doing it right. If it brings you joy to paint flowers or rainbows or even the darker images in your mind, that it okay. You can practice self-care by preparing a big salad full of quinoa or salmon or if love the smell of brownies in the oven. If your mind finds peace running up a mountain and back down, or relaxing with your pet on a rainy Sunday, then you’re also doing it right. Self-care takes many forms and sometimes it includes doing the unpleasant, but important, like homework. These necessary activities put your body in motion and refocus your mind, which can help pull you out of a negative spiral. Even if you hate that assignment or that class or your job, find joy in the fact that you accomplished what you set out to do.
Understanding what is happening within your mind is the first step to combating it. These disorders are no reflection of who you are as a person. They’re the complex chemistry of your brain. Do not give them more power or give in, and do not let them steal your joy. The second step to combating these disorders is finding help. Help could come as an activity mentioned above or from a doctor. There is no shame in getting help. Those who love you will not try to shame you and will be happy to see you trying to get better. So find help and take back your joy.