Mental Health: Defining Stress, Anxiety & Depression
This crazy fast World we live in these days, even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, can be a confusing, stressful, worrying and traumatic time for many people just on an everyday basis. While the Covid-19 pandemic is first and foremost a severe physical illness, it can also have adverse effects on mental health just like certain aspects of our fast-paced lives whether it be work, parenting or other. For example, the pandemic could heighten stress, anxiety, and depression so in these challenging times, it is vital to look after your mental health.
A word on disrupted routines relevant to Covid-19
Plans and routines are important for our mental health and should not be overlooked. You will have likely built routines throughout your life intentionally or unintentionally. For example, you might get up at the same time every day to go to work, go to a regular café or restaurant for lunch or to the gym after work. Maybe you made plans to go on a Summer holiday or join a social outing with your friends and / or family. Huh, not anymore because the Covid-19 pandemic has likely disrupted those routines and plans.
Everyone is adjusting to drastic changes in lifestyle, and this will affect the mental health of many people. But with some self-care and techniques for coping with difficult situations, everyone can help to maintain their mental health despite the disruption. For example, try to retain as much of a routine as you can. Keep a similar sleeping and waking pattern. If you are working from home, as I am, keep focused as you would be in the workplace by getting dressed and sticking to your daily schedule, that means no sitting at your laptop in your underpants or bra and knickers!. Set aside time each day for exercise, relaxation, learning, connection and reflection. Try to differentiate or celebrate the weekend.
Stress, Anxiety & Depression
It is easy to forgive anyone who gets these 3 mixed up or indeed thinks they are the same thing because they are most definitely linked under the banner of our Mental Health. Broadly speaking some of the following can lead to affects on our Mental Health:
- Worry about your health or the health of your friends or family.
- Financial insecurity or unemployment.
- Altered sleep patterns and poor concentration.
- Increased use of certain substances (alcohol, tobacco, drugs) or more unhealthy snacking.
- Feelings of loneliness and disconnection, for example as a result of social distancing measures like lock downs and quarantines during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Under many circumstances, these experiences and feelings are normal and expected. They are being felt by millions of people nationally and globally as they go through the rat race of everyday life. But it is essential to try to manage these feelings and maintain the best mental health you can. Letting these feelings get the better of us and run out of control is when it affects our Mental Health.
Situations like the Covid-19 pandemic might lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression for many people. But what are Stress, Anxiety and Depression? Let’s address that now:
The way our bodies react to perceived threats or pressures is known as the stress response. When stressed, our body releases a mix of hormones and chemicals to prepare us to face the pressure or threat. Humans evolved the stress response to cope with immediate or short-term challenges such as being chased by a Mammoth!
Therefore, our bodies are not designed to be under stress for a long time which is something that has become all to familiar. Being stressed for sustained periods can lead to you feeling worthless or pessimistic or cause you to have low self-esteem. It can lead to physical effects like headaches, nausea, muscle tension, chest pain, insomnia, and frequent infections.
Anxiety is a mental illness that can be defined as intense and persistent feelings of fear or dread over a current or future threat. For some people who have anxiety, there can be sudden peaks of fear or terror. While everyone will experience fear at some point, anxiety is a mental illness if it:
- is persistent and unmanageable, and
- leads to excessive fears of everyday events, and
- interferes with your quality of life.
Anxiety affects your body too. You might feel light-headed or dizzy, pins and needles, nausea, poor sleep, faster breathing and heart rate. It also affects your mind. You could feel tense or nervous. You might be unable to relax or might be thinking a lot about bad experiences, or even worry that you’re losing touch with reality.
Everyone feels sad or has periods of low mood. Even in these times, sadness or a low mood tends to lift after a few days or less than two weeks. But if it continues beyond two weeks, it can be a sign of depression. Depression is often triggered by things like grief, illness, relationship breakdown, trauma or unemployment. Depression affects your ability to cope with day-to-day. Those experiencing depression may often feel hopeless, despairing, guilty, worthless, unmotivated or exhausted. It can affect self-esteem, sleep, appetite, sex drive and physical health. At its most severe, it can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
My simple advice if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms or know someone you may think are suffering, speak up, reach out.
Take care …. Darren