The world is changing rapidly, and it may have you — like millions of others — feeling uneasy. So, how do you know when your feelings of depression and/or anxiety are just normal and temporary responses to life, and when they signal a deeper problem that warrants the help of a professional?
The first step is to understand what constitutes clinical anxiety and depression. Here, board-certified expert Dr. Fayz Yar Khan of Four Peaks Internal Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona, explains the difference between the normal range of human emotions and the kind that can benefit from professional help.
Signs of normal sadness
Everyone experiences sadness. It can be a momentary reaction or a deep response to pain or loss. But sadness fades over time when its source resolves. Some people respond to sadness by drawing closer to others; some people isolate themselves to deal with their emotions.
Even when sadness seems to be all-encompassing, it can be interrupted by moments of humor or lightheartedness.
Signs of major depressive disorder
The difference between normal sadness and depression lies in the severity and longevity of the symptoms. Whereas sadness dissipates over time, depression hangs on and gets worse.
Rather than an emotion like sadness, depression is a mental disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, a major depressive disorder diagnosis requires nine criteria:
- Depressed feelings all day for most days
- No interest in favorite activities
- Sleep problems
- Eating problems and weight gain or loss
- Restlessness and irritability
- Extreme fatigue
- Feelings of guilt
- Lack of concentration
- Thoughts of self-harm and preoccupation with death and dying
Depression can stem from trauma, disconnected relationships, medications, and other health problems. It also tends to run in families.
When to seek professional help for depression
If you have any, some, or all of the symptoms listed above and have been experiencing them for at least two weeks, it’s time to seek help. The primary sign that you need medical care for depression is when your condition interferes with your ability to participate fully in your life.
Important note: If you have suicidal thoughts, get emergency medical help immediately.
Signs of normal anxiety
Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing; in fact, it can save your life. When you’re faced with a dangerous confrontation, your body releases a flood of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which put you in the “fight-or-flight” mode.
Your heart rate increases, your muscles tense up, and your breathing quickens. This prepares you to run away quickly and seek safety, or stay and fight the danger.
You may experience this rush of hormones to some extent even when your life isn't in danger. Public speaking can trigger anxiety, as can social confrontations. These are normal, anxiety-producing situations, but like sadness, they should go away when the source of the anxiety has resolved.
Signs of anxiety disorders
If your body stays in a state of anxiety for too long, you may have generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety also come in a variety of other forms, including:
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety
- Separation anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
These are just a few of the disorders associated with anxiety. Anxiety is the most prevalent mental illness, and it affects more than 18% of the adult population — that’s 40 million Americans.
In contrast to normal feelings of nervousness, an anxiety disorder causes excessive fear that’s out of proportion to the stimulus or situation and is often coupled with avoidance and muscle tension.
If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you may sweat profusely, have a sense of dread, shake or tremble, and even experience physical symptoms, such as digestive troubles or chronic headaches.
When to seek professional help for anxiety
Like depression, anxiety calls for professional help when it begins to interfere with your life. Here are a few of the signs that your anxiety disorder may benefit from professional help:
- Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep
- Avoiding certain people or situations
- Difficulty concentrating
- Physical symptoms, such as high blood pressure
- Constant feelings of fear and dread
If your anxiety has triggered physical problems or has made it difficult or impossible for you to participate in activities you once loved, there are treatments that can help.
Dr. Yar Khan specializes in tailoring treatments to address your unique symptoms. He uses a combination of talk therapy, herbal supplements, and lifestyle changes to reduce the severity of your symptoms and get to the root cause of them.
If you suffer from either depression or anxiety, set up a consultation with Dr. Yar Khan today. Call our office at 602-357-8349 or book an appointment online.