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Everyone gets a little down in the dumps once in a while. A feeling of sadness might take over us for no reason at all, but it doesn’t stay for long or stop us from getting on with our day. It’s the same with worry. We might panic before an important presentation or a job interview, but the feeling usually passes after the event is over.
Depression and anxiety, on the other hand, are different. These are serious medical conditions that tend to worsen if they are not diagnosed and managed. Depending on their severity, they can affect your ability to perform and enjoy a number of regular activities, including work, eat, sleep, socialise, and have healthy relationships. Feeling depressed or anxious can also make a person not look forward to the future, and may even make them want to end their life.
Anxiety and depression – the differences
Many people confuse symptoms of depression with those of anxiety, but there are differences between the two. According to Dr Tan Hwee Sim, specialist in psychiatry and consultant at Raffles Counselling Centre, depression mainly shows up as a low mood, sadness, or a loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Other symptoms may include sleep and appetite changes, poor concentration, lethargy, slow movements, negative thoughts, and suicidal thoughts.
The core symptom of anxiety, on the other hand, is nervousness, excessive fear or excessive worrying. Dr Tan says that there are different sub-types of anxiety, each with its own characteristic symptoms. These include:
• Generalised anxiety disorder: Excessive, uncontrollable worrying
• Social phobia: Fear of social scrutiny
• Panic disorder: Recurrent panic attacks
• Specific phobias: Fear of an object or situation
• Post-traumatic stress disorder: Flashbacks and nightmares from trauma
• Obsessive compulsive disorder: Compulsions and obsessions
“Sometimes there can be an overlap in the additional symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders, such as sleep disturbances, poor concentration, low energy, and irritability or agitation,” adds Dr Tan.
How to cope
Although depression and anxiety are not the same, Dr Tan says that both conditions respond well to these coping strategies.
Do something that you enjoy: When you’re feeling down or anxious, it can be hard to motivate yourself to do anything. But Dr Tan suggests doing one thing a day that you like or that you find relaxing. Make a list of everything that makes you feel good or puts a smile on your face, and check off one item a day if you can. Even a simple activity like listening to music or curling up with a good book in your favourite chair can do wonders for your mood.
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Express your feelings: Write down all the negative thoughts that cross your mind. Dr Tan says that this exercise can help you determine what triggers your anxiety or depression as well as figure out which thoughts make you feel worse.
Seek support: If you find it difficult to write down your feelings, talk to someone you trust and tell them how you are feeling. In addition to being a listening ear, they can also share their opinions about your situation.
Keep active: Regular exercise helps stimulate your body’s production of “feel good” chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins, says Dr Tan. You don’t even have to do anything too strenuous to enjoy these benefits. Swimming, yoga, power walking and dancing are all fun and effective ways to boost your heart rate and keep those “feel good” chemicals flowing through your body.
Change the way you think: Learn to identify and change unhelpful thought patterns, such as magnifying problems and blowing them out of proportion, which could make you prone to depression and anxiety. If you find it difficult to modifying your thinking, see a mental health professional for help.
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When should you seek medical help for depression or anxiety?
Unfortunately, because there is such a strong stigma attached to mental health issues, many sufferers avoid getting help for depression and anxiety. But there’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. These are very real conditions that can affect your quality of life.
Dr Tan suggests seeing your medical professional if you experience symptoms of depression or anxiety for more than two weeks, and especially if the symptoms are causing distress or affecting how you function socially or occupationally.