An increasing number of people are suffering with anxiety, stress and depression every year. This has been happening year on year for decades now.
But it’s escalated to unprecedented levels during this era of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, these painful conditions have shot through the roof.
For instance, an American Psychological Association (APA) survey discovered that 78 percent of people said the coronavirus pandemic was a considerable source of stress in their life. More than two-thirds admit they have had increased stress during the pandemic.
Anxiety is often a reaction to stress. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety to an extent, – but when it stops us from living a normal life it has clearly become a problem.
Anxiety and stress are conditions though that are difficult to measure accurately. This is because many people do not truly acknowledge their problem or seek the professional help they need.
But it’s abundantly clear that extreme worry and stress has grown immensely in these past 12 months. Anxiety is a form of fear and when the future is even more unsettled than usual it’s always going to increase in this way.
Official figures according to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) show that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America. They affect 40 million adults – nearly 20 percent of the population – every year.
Anxiety disorders are treatable. Yet it’s thought that only around a third of those suffering receive treatment.
Most effective treatments for stress will look at lifestyle choices, as well as what a person’s thinking habits are. This is because as self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer said: “Your thoughts, not the world, cause your stress.”
More depression than ever
Depression affects approximately 265 million people around the world according to WHO (World Health Organization). In the US, in any one year more than 17 million adults will experience at least one major depressive period.
In an APA report, it states: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on the lives of all Americans, and it will continue to do so. It has disrupted work, education, healthcare, the economy and relationships, with some groups more negatively impacted than others.”
All of this disruption is bound to have adversely affected people’s mental health. Now we are seeing the consequence of it.
What are the major signs to look for?
Sometimes the symptoms of depression, stress or anxiety are obvious. These can include: being irritable or intolerant; having low or no appetite; and low self-esteem.
As well, it can mean making decisions is difficult or seemingly impossible – with a lack of motivation or energy for anything. This can also be accompanied by a constant low mood, sleep problems and suicidal thoughts.
But also some of these signs can lead to things that may not be so obvious.
Your relationship is suffering
If there were any problems in life last year and 2021 so far, then they will have most certainly been exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic situation. One of the most affected by this will have been home life.
This is because more of us were and many still are working from home. In a great deal of cases there were lockdowns that virtually confined us to our houses or apartments.
Most couples spent much more time together than usual. So there was simply no escaping it: if a relationship was struggling, it would have been starkly revealed.
Previously if you had been in a relationship for some time it may well have gone the way of many long-term relationships. That is, it was more a business-type arrangement than a romance full of passion.
Some of this is normal. For instance, there are financial matters to discuss, future plans and if a couple has children there are always school issues and more to talk over.
Any spontaneous fun and passion seems like a long time ago. Many people in relationships were left wondering what had happened to the intimacy – not only physical but emotional and spiritual too.
So the solution is not to keep any of this inside. Make some time when you won’t be disturbed to chat about it with your partner.
Be honest, but also compassionate and always speak kindly. Also, crucially, fully listen to what your partner has to say.
If you realize that you or your partner may be suffering from depression, stress or anxiety, seek some professional help. Otherwise the relationship will never thrive.
“Everybody has a bad day, everybody gets depressed,” says Dr Jeff Allen, the Clinical Director at Tikvah Lake Recovery Center. “But when you get so depressed that you can’t function with your job, you cannot function with your family, you isolate, you sleep a lot – that’s a sign of not only depression, but there possibly could be anxiety.
“Depression is very harmful for those experiencing it. It’s also harmful to those that are trying to cope with it, such as a spouse.”
You feel alone, even among family and friends
This is a feeling that many people have a lot – if not all – the time. However, it is extremely hard to realize or admit to because what’s happening on the outside can seem so different.
For instance, someone might have this lonely feeling. But they reason that it cannot be possible because they are so frequently with family, friends and colleagues.
Much of this can stem from childhood. If someone is carrying toxic shame or unresolved trauma, which can also happen in adulthood, they are likely to always feel apart from other people in some way.
This is to do with connection. Disconnection is a huge part of many mental health problems, particularly addiction.
In order to escape this feeling of aloneness, people need to reconnect with themselves. This means discovering the real you again.
Most of the time this cannot be done alone. It needs a professional therapist who can guide you in the right direction.
“Love is not something we give or get,” says author and podcast host Brené Brown. “It is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
There’s a constant sense of emptiness
Despite many achievements… it can still feel like it all means nothing.
At the end of every day the question is always: Is this all there is?
It can make people feel empty, no matter what they do in their life. This can be a sign of depression.
Psychiatrist William Glasser suggested that rather than saying: “I’m depressed”, people need to ask: “What is it I am depressing?”
“There’s a lot of depression out there,” says Tikvah Lake’s Therapist Byron Wickham. “A lot of times family members will just tell you to snap out of it.
“What people don’t understand is that how we perceive reality is what the issue really is. So what makes me upset about something may not make somebody else upset.
“But it may be a huge impact on that person. From their perception it’s a problem – therefore it is a problem for them. It may not be for you, but it definitely is for them.
“Depression untreated is a massive problem,” says Byron. “People will end up maybe killing themselves.”
Without your work you would feel like a nothing
When we leave home and go out into the world on our own, many of us want to take it on and change it. We want to make a big difference.
Without thinking, we are totally driven to do this. When we are younger our stamina can handle it without a problem.
But there comes a point for many when life just becomes about, as author James Kavanaugh put it, “all head and drive”. For many, perhaps even the majority, they just go on blindly.
They’ve lost track of why they’re doing what they’re doing.
They’ve lost sight of who they are. Their sense of self is gone.
They work all hours for without their work they would feel nothing. There is virtually nothing beside their work.
The person took a job; then the job took a person.
Yet they still feel the emptiness. So they try working more to get rid of it.
Of course, for some people it is work addiction (workaholism). As with any addiction it is an attempt to mask, distract from or numb pain, such as childhood trauma.
Last year held up a mirror to many people who were living like this. They couldn’t work or lost their usual work schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This is one of the reasons for an increase in anxiety and depression. The mask or distraction of work was forcibly removed – and for some people that was just like no longer being able to take the painkillers.
If you identify with some of this – or know someone you care about who does – it’s very important to speak with a professional therapist to get some help.
You can no longer imagine life with or without drink (and/or drugs)
There is so much cultural pressure in American society to drink alcohol. Most people happily oblige when they are young.
Thankfully, for most people, it will be something that becomes less and less a part of their lives. Perhaps they just have a few drinks at the end of the week with work colleagues.
But for a small yet significant percentage the amount of drinking will increase. They cross over from being social drinkers into being addicted to alcohol.
Certain “recreational” drugs are the same. For instance, someone may start by having a few lines of cocaine at a party one weekend. Then a year later they are taking coke every day.
They have become addicts: they are unable to stop something that is detrimental to themselves and/or those around them.
Frequently an addiction is used to try and push down depression, anxiety and stress. As with many serious illnesses, if left untreated it will get progressively worse.
Tragically, many people lose their life to it.
In fact, addiction to alcohol has been recognized as an illness by the American Medical Association since 1956.
It is clear that if you or someone you care about has an addiction problem it needs to be treated. This means looking at the reasons driving the addiction.
As addiction expert Dr Gabor Maté says: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”
One of the main treatments that works extremely well for a great number of guests at Tikvah Lake is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). Although CBT was first developed in the 1960s it has now really gained in popularity due to its success in treating people.
“CBT is what is known as one of the talk-type therapies,” says Byron. “The concept of it is that you have negative thoughts and emotions and we sit down and process through those.
“Then you’re able to replace the negative thoughts with more positive ones. So then you have a perceptual shift.”
Once someone has a perceptual shift they can have some objectivity on the issue. Then they can move forward and not have it affect their life as much as it has previously.