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Dealing with Anxiety and Depression During Uncertain Times

Over the last year mental health has taken its toll on South Africans with more than 56% of adults experiencing increased levels of emotional and psychological stress. This trend is currently witnessed on a global scale, as people learn to adjust to new ways of living and working, whilst dealing with the uncertainties that come with a pandemic.

Considering how we are impacted by our psychological and emotional well-being, it is beneficial to understand anxiety and depression, and how to effectively manage such emotions. By doing so, we can learn healthy coping mechanisms and have a better understanding of the common anxieties that are part of our human nature.

Understanding anxiety and depression

According to statistics, 45% of individuals who suffer from a mental health condition will likely meet the diagnostic criteria of two or more conditions. Even though anxiety and depression are independently classified, they can have similar symptoms and treatments.

It is completely normal to experience occasional anxieties, fears, and feelings of nervousness when reacting to certain situations, such as feeling nervous before a company presentation, for example. However, when individuals start to excessively worry and fear specific situations, to the extent that such anxieties intervene with their day-to-day functioning, then an anxiety is diagnosed as a disorder.

The five major anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: consists of chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry, and tension, even when nothing specific is provoking the emotions.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): characterised by intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviours (compulsions).
  • Panic Disorder: involves unexpected and frequent episodes of extreme fear accompanied by physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and heart palpitations.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): usually develops after experiencing a traumatic event, where the individual was under threat or physically harmed.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: characterised by anxiety and extreme self-consciousness when the individual is around other people.

Depression is a mood disorder characterised by intense feelings of sadness and loss of interest in daily activities. Everyone experiences days where they are upset, sad and feel ‘blue’, however depressive feelings tend to last for several days and even weeks.

The main types of depressive disorders include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder: characterised by a low, dark mood, loss of interest, and the individual tends to find little pleasure in life. Suicidal thoughts and feelings of worthlessness are also common.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder: consists of a daily low mood that lasts for up to two years. Individuals can perform daily activities, however, often feel joyless.
  • Bipolar Disorder: this mood disorder consists of both manic and depressive episodes. The individual will go through periods of intense energy, high self-esteem, recklessness, and little need for sleep, followed by a depressive period.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): occurs during seasonal changes in winter and autumn. Individuals who live in countries with little sunlight tend to suffer from this disorder.
  • Perinatal Depression: unique to women, this disorder includes depressive episodes during pregnancy or in the year after delivery (postpartum depression).

Symptoms to look out for

The following symptoms are noticeable in an anxiety disorder: restlessness, difficulty concentrating, panicking, tense muscles, insomnia, teeth grinding, trembling, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, feeling tired and weak, possible stomach problems.

Depressive symptoms may include: sadness, feeling hopeless, frustration, outbursts, loss of interest in activities, physical aches, insomnia or wanting to sleep constantly, reduced appetite, weight loss, anxiety, trouble concentrating, suicidal thoughts.

What are the treatment options?

Both anxiety and depression can be treated. Treatment approaches differ depending on the severity of the disorder, as well as the age of the individual. Attending therapy is often the first step in recognising a disorder. A psychologist can assist with identifying the cause of the disorder, discuss possible treatment options, and work through coping mechanisms. If the disorder is very severe, the individual could be referred to a general practitioner or psychiatrist to get prescription medication, such as antidepressants, antianxiety medications, or mood stabilisers.

How does anxiety and depression manifest?

Numerous factors can cause anxiety and depressive disorders to develop and/or become exaggerated. When individuals face particularly stressful life periods or perhaps experience traumatic events, it can cause the onset of a disorder. Biological factors such as brain chemicals, hormones, and genetically inherited traits often play a role in the development of anxiety and depression. Some personalities may also cope better with life stresses, whilst others are more prone to feeling anxious and depressed.

Tips for managing your mental health at home

In times when levels of uncertainty are high and life stresses seem to keep piling up, it is crucial to make your psychological and emotional wellbeing a priority. Here are a few tips to ensure you stay on top of your mental health:

  • Stay active: the endorphins released when exercising is a great way to boost your mood. Going for a walk or jog around the neighbourhood or joining an online yoga class are great options.
  • Meditate: breathing techniques and practicing relaxation can reduce stress levels and instil a calmer mindset.
  • Change your mindset: humans tend to be very critical and harsh on themselves. Being kinder to your thoughts and thinking positively empowers you to react to situations in a more resilient and proactive manner.
  • Reach out to others: as social creatures, our mental health can severely be affected through isolation. Prioritising conversations, a laugh or even venting with family and friends is necessary to stay connected and lessen the feelings of loneliness.
  • Know when to get help: if you notice that you, or one of your loved ones, are feeling anxious or depressed, deal with the emotions rather than sweeping it under the carpet. Mental health can only be managed and properly dealt with when it is acknowledged and treated.

For more information please contact:

Dr Anben Pillay, Psychiatrist
MBBCH(Wits), MFAMMED(Wits), MCFP (SA), MBA(RBS), FC Psych(SA), MMED(Psych) (Wits)
Ahmed Kathrada Private Hospital
Tel: +27 11 852 0051
Email: pila@mweb.co.za or info@lenmed.co.za

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.