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Understanding depression and anxiety

Depression affects people in different ways. Some people experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness without knowing why. Others may feel down following a traumatic or stressful event such as a relationship break-up, bereavement, an accident or unemployment.

Symptoms of depression include feelings of low self-worth and lethargy, unexplained aches and pains and a loss of interest or pleasure in things that you used to enjoy. You might feel constantly tired, have difficulty sleeping and notice changes to your appetite. The severity of these symptoms can vary. At its mildest you may simply feel persistently low, while at its most severe, depression can make you feel suicidal and that life is no longer worth living.

Many people who suffer from depression also experience symptoms of anxiety, and many people feel anxious and worried without necessarily being depressed. There is a wide range of events or mood states that may trigger anxiety and/or depression. Download the Coping with Depression guided self-help workbook (opens in PDF).

Life events

  • Bereavement: The death of a loved one can be devastating and involves a range of powerful emotions including shock and numbness, overwhelming sadness, tiredness, anger and guilt. Its effects can be gradual or it can hit people in unexpected waves.
  • Post-natal depression: After giving birth, mothers may experience a brief period of feeling emotional and tearful, known as the “baby blues”. This usually starts three to 10 days after giving birth but can last a lot longer.

Negative thoughts and feelings

  • Low self-esteem: Self-esteem is a person’s overall emotional evaluation of their own worth. Low self-esteem encompasses negative beliefs (for example, “I am not good enough”) and emotions such as despair and shame.
  • Stress: This occurs when demands of our life seem become too great for us to cope with. If stress is ongoing for a long time it can cause more serious problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
  • Worry: Worry consists of thoughts, images and emotions of a negative nature, often about real or imagined situations such as personal issues like health or finances.

Fears and phobias

  • Health anxiety: People with health anxiety have excessive worry or preoccupation with having or developing a serious illness. They often check themselves for symptoms, self-diagnose on the internet or misinterpret “normal” bodily sensations (like dizziness or tiredness) as being symptoms of a severe illness. Download the Coping with Health Anxiety guided self-help workbook (opens in PDF)
  • Panic attacks: These are periods of intense fear or apprehension, with a sudden onset, which can last from minutes to hours. Symptoms include increased heart beat, fast and shallow breathing, chest pain, dizziness and nausea. Download the Coping with Panic guided self-help workbook (opens in PDF)
  • Social anxiety: Social anxiety is the intense fear of certain social situations, particularly situations that are unfamiliar or in which someone feels that they may be judged or scrutinised. Download the Coping with Anxiety guided self-help workbook (opens in PDF)
  • Specific phobias: A specific phobia is an irrational fear related to specific objects or situations such as flying or spiders. People with a phobia tend to avoid direct contact with the object or situation and in severe cases, any mention or reminders of them. Download the Coping with Phobias guided self-help workbook (opens in PDF)

Long-term health conditions

  • Long term conditions: Individuals that suffer from long-term conditions, such as chronic pain, diabetes, COPD and chronic fatigue syndrome often suffer from depression, anxiety, and stress as a result.

Mental health disorders

  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD): BDD is an anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance and to have a distorted view of how they look. As a result, many make concerted efforts to cover up their perceived flaws.
  • Eating disorders: Eating disorders can vary from anorexia (restriction of food resulting in severe weight loss) to bulimia (eating excessive amounts followed by vomiting, taking laxatives or undertaking excessive exercise).
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD is where someone experiences frequent obsessive thoughts, which can lead to the need to engage in repetitive behaviours, actions or thinking which can make day-to-day functioning difficult. Download the Coping with Obsessions and Compulsions guided self-help workbook (opens in PDF)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD involves feelings of extreme anxiety following a distressing event in which the individual experienced extreme horror, fear or helplessness. PTSD can develop immediately after the event or it can occur weeks, months or even years later. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares and numbness.
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