Most people have experienced a depressed mood at some time in their
lives. It is a normal reaction to disappointment or loss and lasts
for hours, or a few days, and gradually disappears. The line between
a depressed mood and a major depressive disorder is crossed when
the person suffers symptoms of depression for more than two weeks;
the symptoms are more severe, and they impair the person's
ability to function.
Some of the warning signs of depression are: sleep problems; extreme
fatigue; rapid unintentional weight loss; lack of motivation; despair;
feeling blue or down; hopelessness; loss of self-esteem; thoughts
of self-harm; and lack of interest or loss of pleasure in things
that used to be appealing.
The exact cause is not known. Most researchers feel some causes
are obviously due to chemical imbalance or genetics. Other factors
involved in depression appear to be either reactions to environmental
events and stress and/or psychological factors.
The best way to help a person with depression is to encourage them
to seek professional help. Assisting them to get to a doctor or
mental health professional may make a great difference, as the support
of family and friends can help shorten the time span of the illness
and could make professional help more effective. One should always
take talk of suicide or self-harm seriously.
A person in a manic state can appear to be overly positive, excited
about life and feeling euphoric. People without this disorder often
think that mania sounds like fun. It is true that mild mania may
be fun, because it is so energizing and may lead to periods of highly
productive activity, however, mania often includes agitation, anxiety,
extreme irritability, or self-destructive feelings or actions.
Some of the symptoms of mania include: an inflated self-importance
and self-confidence; a decreased need for sleep; jumping from one
topic to another; having racing thoughts that occur simultaneously;
overreacting to stimuli; going on buying sprees or incurring excessive
debts; unusual sexual drive; rapid, unpredictable emotional changes;
blaming others for things going wrong; and losing touch with reality,
perhaps hearing voices or having strange ideas.
The best way to help a person suffering from mania is to be aware
of the signs and struggles involved with mania, and encourage the
person to seek help. Focus on the 'here and now' instead
of the past and future. Avoid arguments, as the person is prone
to become aggressive. Be supportive and patient, and make sure to
seek support for oneself as well.
Defining Stress and Anxiety
Stress can be defined as the difference between the demands a
person perceives are being made on them and how many adequate resources
they believe to have to meet those demands.
Anxiety may be defined as the perception of a threat. The threat
may be to a person's physical body, ego, job, relationships
or anything else. When a person concludes that something or someone
is a threat, their body usually reacts quite quickly.
In both definitions the key word is perception -
that is, how a person evaluates the situation and their ability
to cope with it. In response to seeing something as a threat (anxiety)
or a challenge (stress) the body reacts. This is normal. It makes
sense to be psyched up physically when getting ready to play a
tough sport or run away from a wild animal. Unfortunately, the
body is not designed to maintain this reaction for a long time.
When people get over-stimulated (i.e. from the ongoing perception
that something is a threat or a challenge that may be too big to
successfully meet) it can create some problems. So, stress and
anxiety are basically responses of the mind and body.
What Causes Stress and Anxiety?
It isn't really correct to say that any specific event or
situation will make someone stressed. That is because people are
all different in how they look at situations. For example, one
person may become afraid when seeing a dog but the next person
is happy to meet a new dog. So, it isn't the dog that is
making the first person anxious and the other happy, they have
different reactions because they see the dog differently.
If a person goes home and tries to watch TV but is worrying about
their job and believes they are going to get fired, what is the
cause of the anxiety? Is it the job? What the boss said? It is
likely that the person sees the loss of the job as a threat to
finances, self-esteem, etc. In this situation the person may be
sitting in front of the TV relaxing at home but is very stressed
and anxious because of the thoughts about the job. There are many
situations that people see as threatening or challenging, but the
point is that it is not necessarily the situations that disturb
them; it is the way they view those situations.
Some examples of stressful situations are:
- Many life events that result in change (for example moving
to a different city or changing jobs). These can generate stress
when they are positive changes. For example, ever notice how
the preparations for a wedding cause some upset for the organizers?
and/or school can create stress by presenting challenges,
difficult tasks and deadlines. Ever notice how two people doing
the same job react differently to the challenges? One person
may cope better because of a more relaxed attitude or because
believe that they have the ability to handle it while the other
person may think that they have to do everything perfectly or
believe that they have the ability to get the job done.
with friends, family or coworkers. Also, anxiety can arise when
a person thinks that other people are being judgmental
or critical. This is typically the basis of social anxiety.
concerns about money and housing are very stressful.
own thoughts can create stress - for example,
by setting impossibly high standards for oneself or worrying
excessively about things.
- Daily hassles, such as getting stuck
in traffic, missing the bus, or misplacing keys.
So stress and anxiety usually result from a combination of factors:
an event in the world; a perception that a situation is challenging
or even threatening; a perception that the person either has or
does not have enough resources to effectively deal with the situation;
and physiological responses that prepare the body to react to the
When Normal Becomes Abnormal
Although stress and anxiety are normal experiences, they may escalate
to become problems. In response to prolonged stress, the body and
brain chemistry change in a way that can result in numerous negative
physical and mental responses. Research has shown that chronic
stress can increase the risk of developing depression and other
mental and physical health problems. For a person who has experienced
psychosis, the experience of too much stress increases the possibility
of a relapse. Increased stress can also make existing symptoms
Over time, stress and anxiety can develop into particular mental
disorders. Anxiety disorders such as Phobias, Panic Disorder, Social
Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-compulsive Disorder and Generalized
Anxiety Disorder are associated with significant distress to the
individual. They should be diagnosed and treated by a qualified
mental health professional.