Depression and anxiety are complicated. Everyone experiences them; however, everyone experiences depression and anxiety symptoms differently. For some, they are just temporary emotions, barely recognizing that they experience them at all – maybe they refer to it as nervousness or sadness. For many, it’s more overwhelming and persistent, with real-life, clinical implications. So, how do you explain depression and anxiety to someone who has never struggled with either of them?
How to Explain Depression and Anxiety to Someone Who May Not Get It:
1. You feel it physically.
Anxiety can feel like every cell on in your body is vibrating, vibrating with the need to run. Run from the room, run from the threat, run from your thoughts, run from the overwhelming energy building inside – except you can’t run, you can’t escape it.
This emotional push and pull take a physical toll. When you have anxiety and depression, you can continuously feel tired but can’t sleep due to racing thoughts or agitation in your body. The depression can make you feel so lethargic that it’s hard to move; however, your heart may race and stomach may ache from anxiety. It’s hard to make sense of it yourself when you feel in a constant tug-of-war with yourself.
2. You feel trapped in a vicious loop.
With anxiety and depression, the constant back and forth from opposing physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts can make you feel trapped. You are stuck because the opposing forces feed into each other, and you don’t know how to get out.
Related Reading: What It Means When Depression and Anxiety Team Up
3. A single straw can and will break the camel’s back.
When struggling with anxiety and depression, you are often battling both at the same time, rarely finding a balance between them. When you find relief from one, it only means you feel more burdened by the other. Or, it can feel like there are two monsters screaming louder and louder to be heard, feeding off each other.
Depression makes it hard to get out of bed, and anxiety only reminds you of the ever-increasing to-do list.
Depression makes you feel worthless, and anxiety makes you feel like you aren’t doing enough.
And, when you are already feeling a little anxious or depressed, it’s easy for it to amplify and spiral out of control. Minor things that don’t typically trigger a panic attack or a depressive episode may do so because your system is already primed.
For many, depression and anxiety aren’t just emotions and they aren’t passing, but they are cyclical and complementary, feeding into each other, making it worse. It can feel like you’re out of balance and losing control.
4. Even though anxiety and depression are used to describe emotions that everyone has, it is not an emotion but a disorder for some.
Anxiety and depression are emotions that everyone feels at time in response to stressors. At this occasional frequency, they are a normal, healthy part of life where you can expect the emotions to subside once the stressor has passed. However, for those with anxiety and depression, these emotions don’t subside. They don’t just disappear once the stressor has passed. Instead, they are persistent and build upon each other as more stressors are encountered throughout the day.
5. When in crisis, it’s difficult to think straight and make rational decisions.
Everyone has their own set of coping mechanisms to maintain emotional balance, especially when under stress. And, depending on the level of stress, if these strategies fail, we attempt new ways to cope.
When anxious, depressed, or under extreme stress, your thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations can be so overwhelming; it causes previously effective coping mechanisms to fail. This coping crisis can lead to confusion or more stress, making it impossible to think straight through the experience. Extreme stress, anxiety, or depression can alter your perception and memory, resulting in ineffective decisions or behaviors choices.
6. It’s easy to dismiss anxiety and depression, but you shouldn’t.
If you or a loved one has been struggling with depression and anxiety for a while, it can be easy to begin to dismiss it, even unintentionally. For a loved one, it is difficult to time and time again be supportive. Reactions start emerging: you may feel like the depressed or anxious person is “overreacting,” “being lazy,” “too sensitive,” “should just let it go,” “is looking for attention,” “being a failure” etc.
However, these dismissive thoughts or negative stereotypes often keep those suffering with them from talking about their experiences. It is hard for many to share how they feel, let alone share when it runs the risk of them being seen differently or being abandoned.
Dismissing what someone is struggling with only adds to that person’s feelings of isolation, which can feed depression and anxiety.
7. If your loved one is struggling with depression or anxiety, supporting them doesn’t mean you’re making it too easy, coddling, or enabling.
Yes, your fears may feel valid. If you don’t support someone who is experiencing depression and anxiety to move past these emotions and the issues that cause them, are they ever going to get better? But the key here is support.
Pushing or challenging them can exacerbate an already stressful situation and make them feel worse. Here are some ways you can support someone who has anxiety and depression:
- Depression and anxiety can be lonely experiences, so doing things together can help. It may seem small, but simple things like getting coffee or watching television together leave an impact.
- Stay connected with them by checking in and just letting them know you care.
- When talking about depression or anxiety, try to listen more than talk to understand how the person is truly feeling. Asking open-ended questions, like “how are you feeling today,” and offering reassurances and hope, like, “thank you for sharing,” or, “I am here for you,” can keep communication open.
- Focus on the present and take small steps. Sometimes trying to get someone with anxiety or depression to understand the bigger picture can be overwhelming. Focus on the present and what is in their control right here, right now.
- Being the primary support for someone with anxiety and depression can be challenging, and it’s essential to take care of your own well-being to be available to help them. Find opportunities to relax and have fun. Consider talking with others who are in a similar situation as support networks can be crucial at these times.
8. It’s not a choice
Suffering from anxiety and depression isn’t a choice. What causes the onset of symptoms isn’t always clear. Both are complex mental health disorders, with a multitude of factors contributing to it. Some factors to consider are genetics, chemical imbalance, trauma, socioeconomic status, social support, and lifestyle, to name a few. Whatever the combination of factors that led to the onset of depression and anxiety, it’s never a voluntary decision. For them, it’s not a personal choice to feel, think, or behave this way.
9. There isn’t a quick fix, but it’s treatable.
Anxiety and depression are not pleasant. So many try to resist and fight the sensations, or deny the severity of what they are experiencing. Unfortunately, some choose to alleviate their symptoms by self-medicating instead of pursuing depression and anxiety treatment that is targeted and effective. They may use alcohol, drugs, sex, or other dangerous behaviors to find a quick way to cope with the depression and anxiety symptoms. However, this can lead to addiction and self-destruction. Quick fixes generally only make things worse.
Anxiety and depression are treatable with professional help through medication, depression and anxiety therapy, or even alternative approaches. Treatment plans are tailored to each individual and work towards managing and reducing anxiety and depression symptoms.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you or a loved one is struggling. Schedule an appointment with a mental health provider today. Coming back from depression and anxiety is easier with help and support. You can get to where you want to be.