“What is depression like? It’s like drowning, except everyone around you is breathing” (Anon)

Like joy, happiness, fun and pleasure are part of the experiences of all human beings, so also are moments of sadness, pain, anxiety and fear. In small doses, negative feelings are quite manageable and bouncing back is a real possibility for most. In certain circumstances where no apparent answers are blatantly obvious, however, some people struggle to manage rising levels of anxiety and fear. They start feeling overcome by a lack of real solutions or a limited number of options and depression is often the result.

Anxiety is characterised by extreme worry that persists over time. Struggling to control worry, many people constantly anticipate disaster or agonise over issues like relationships, money, health, work and the future. This leads to depression and may be worsened through loss of employment, the death of a loved one, a natural disaster or a traumatic experience. Depression is inherently toxic and sucks people into deep, dark holes where loved ones find it more difficult to relate to them and assure them of their care. Unfortunately, people who suffer from depression can’t simply get over it, cheer up or take a walk and feel better. It’s a little more complicated than that – feelings of despair and disconnectedness push one down, overwhelming one’s system and making it tough to find motivation and energy to swim back to the surface.

Sarah Cocchimiglio (Better Help) illustrates the chemical influences within our bodies during times of stress by noting the “evolutionary culture changes” in human beings over time: “From time to time, everyone experiences anxiety in varying magnitudes and manifestations. When faced with a stressful situation, our brains release a series of chemicals that affect the mind and body. It’s a normal part of life in small doses. Unfortunately, people who suffer from an anxiety disorder have far more anxiety than their current circumstances require and may feel like they’re drowning in panic. Once upon a time, this was the body’s natural reaction to serious danger. It was a crucial tool that helped us survive as a species and can also be useful today, but in the modern world, most people are no longer faced with concrete threats of death or serious injury. However, many people still experience extreme levels of anxiety, feeling as if they’re under serious threat without provocation. Sometimes normal events can even provoke an anxiety attack that feels like drowning in your own body”.

In the past, human beings needed to exert large amounts of energy to find food and avoid threats. As we’ve evolved, however, we’ve been able to shift our focus toward convenience instead of effort. This means that, on average, people are less active and eat more calories than they need, so they have extra energy–and anxiety–to burn. While normal levels of anxiety can improve your focus, encourage a call to action, or inspire motivation, constant anxiety can become overwhelming, interfering in your daily life and relationships. While most people experience these sorts of feelings during times of particular stress, those with anxiety disorders experience them at a distressing level and find it difficult to calm down.

Our brains take sensory information from the environment around us and filter the various aspects of any form of stimulation, sorting through that which is relevant and focusing our attention where it matters most. The strains and stresses of life, however, reduce the effectiveness of this filtering. This leaves us feeling overwhelmed, faced with an intense sensory experience that changes the way we interact with our environment or makes us want to withdraw. Cocchimiglio further notes: “Stimulation is part of what gives life its colour, but overstimulation can have detrimental physical and psychological effects. The brain’s natural response is to become alert; our muscles tighten into knots, and we may find ourselves constantly on edge. Our bodies weren’t meant to feel this pressure all the time, so many people succumb to anxiety and depression as a result”.

Given the number of factors that affect these conditions, there’s no way to prevent depression and anxiety with absolute certainty. However, there are some lifestyle choices and safeguards that can decrease your likelihood of experiencing symptoms, including the following:

  1. Self-care – develop the right habits, for example, eating healthily, getting sufficient exercise, sleeping well and spending time focusing on leisure activities and hobbies.
  2. Nurture positive relationships – develop meaningful, deep and caring relationships. Connectedness and a sense of belonging are important elements of a wholesome life.
  3. Appoint a mentor – have an older/wiser person on hand to speak into your life on a regular basis. Using coaching skills, the mentor can assist in terms of guidance and problem-solving.
  4. Budget effectively – money mismanagement negatively impacts your psyche and causes extra worry. Live within your means.
  5. Develop yourself spiritually – exercise your faith and involve yourself in community, serving others.
  6. Grow your mental ability – keep your mind active and alert. Doing puzzles, teasers and playing games increase develop your thinking skills and reading teases the mind, opening up new possibilities.
  7. Seek medical care – if serious symptoms start manifesting, seek the help of medical professionals. Depression is an illness. Any chemical imbalances must be rectified.

There is no need to drown in depression – even if feeling down there is hope, particularly if you have made all the right lifestyle decisions to bolster your psyche. In need, seek professional counsel.

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