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An Overview of Anxiety and Depression

When stress builds up, there is the potential for it to develop into longer-term problems. Anxiety and depression both are extremely widespread in the modern world, so an awareness of the common symptoms may help you recognize the patterns and stop them in their tracks.


In its most basic form, anxiety is a nagging fear that something bad is going to happen. This becomes a long-term problem when the anxiety isn’t based on a specific event, but is an ongoing pattern. It may have been learned in childhood from anxious parents.

Some anxiety in the face of stress is natural, but not when it is a constant feature of our lives. For people experiencing ongoing anxiety, as soon as one worry is overcome, another soon will replace it.

Types of anxiety problems

  • Generalized anxiety. Generalized anxiety is ongoing worry and concern with no obvious triggers. This is the most common form of anxiety. It can result in poor concentration, feeling ‘on edge’, having trouble sleeping, being easily startled, dizzy or fatigued. It often is reduced by exercise, relaxation, and other stress management strategies.
  • Panic attacks. These are short bouts of extreme, overwhelming fear. You might feel like you are dying, about to have a heart attack, or can’t breathe. However, panic attacks rarely are dangerous.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder. This involves persistent thoughts and the strong need to carry out certain actions, such as checking that objects are in the right place. These fixations can take up a lot of the sufferer’s time every day.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD develops in response to an intensely stressful, usually life-threatening event. It involves frequent intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event, and can last indefinitely if not worked through.
  • Phobias. These arise when fear linked to something specific becomes so strong that it is out of proportion to its original cause. Some phobias — such as agoraphobia, in which people become afraid to leave their homes — can seriously interfere with everyday life.

These problems often will impact other areas of our lives, causing a vicious circle to develop. They can be effectively treated with counseling and medication, so don’t delay in seeking help.


Clinical depression is far more common than we like to believe, and it is increasing. Anyone can develop it, and an estimated five to ten percent of the population suffer from it to some extent at any one time.

Depression involves much more than ordinary sadness. Understanding more about it can help you get better — don’t let yourself believe that you’ll never beat it.

Depression Symptoms

Depression can include any or all of these symptoms. At least five symptoms must occur over the same two-week period for a diagnosis of clinical depression to be made.

  • Loss of interest and enjoyment in life
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of motivation
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Irritability
  • Changes in eating behavior
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal thoughts — if you feel this way, talk to someone trustworthy about it.

Suggestions To Help with Depression

  • Keep as active as possible, including structured exercise if you can manage it.
  • Don’t turn to alcohol, cigarettes or illegal drugs; these will add to the problem rather than reduce it.
  • Try to give yourself a lift — talk to a good friend, watch a film, book a massage — whatever works for you.
  • Investigate Internet support groups and discover what has worked for others.
  • Remember that you are suffering from an illness and need to take care of yourself.

What Causes Depression?

The causes are not fully understood, but genes or early life experiences may make some people more vulnerable. Life events which increase stress, or physical illness, may trigger an episode of depression. It’s sometimes not easily possible to identify a cause.

People with depression experience some changes in the way their brains work — their levels of stress chemicals are higher, and levels of ‘relaxing’ chemicals are lower.


Even though you may not feel like doing it, getting treatment is vital. You might have to spell it out to your doctor, because often they don’t recognize ‘hidden’ depression.

There are a range of therapies for depression which can be just as effective as medication. With accurate information, you can make the best choice for yourself.

Many types of therapy are suitable for treating depression. Through talking it over, it’s possible to recognize what triggers your depression symptoms. Some therapies will go back to your past to look at the origins of your depression, whereas others will concentrate on getting better in the present.

Antidepressants work by treating levels of brain chemicals. They can be very useful in stabilizing your emotions while you investigate the roots of the problem. Antidepressants do not work immediately; they generally take four to six weeks to have an effect. They will not change your personality and are not addictive. Side effects vary with the medication; talk to your doctor and read the package insert.

An Overview of Anxiety and Depression

Jane Collingwood

Jane Collingwood is a longtime regular contributing journalist to Psych Central, focusing on topics of mental health and dissecting recent research findings.

APA Reference
Collingwood, J. (2020). An Overview of Anxiety and Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.