October is Mental Health Month

This month we pause to look at stress, anxiety and depression... do you know the difference?

Depression, Anxiety and Stress are terms that are heard frequently in day-to-day conversation, but what’s the difference between them? Feeling low, unmotivated, worried or overwhelmed often feels so similar that it is difficult to pinpoint what we are struggling with. People also use the terms interchangeably, or use the words to describe a completely different set of symptoms from another person.]

This can leave us confused, wondering:

  • What do the terms Depression/Anxiety/Stress actually mean?
  • How do you tell the difference between them?

So, in the spirit of October being Anxiety and Depression Awareness Month, we are going to explore the differences between Anxiety, Depression, and Stress and look at top tips to manage them.

Key Statistics

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

One in six Australians is currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both. Despite this high prevalence of anxiety and depression, it is estimated more than 50% of people with anxiety and depression symptoms are not seeking support or psychological treatment. Did you know:

  • One in seven Australians will experience depression in their lifetime.
  • One quarter of Australians will experience an anxiety condition in their lifetime.
  • One in 16 Australians is currently experiencing depression.
  • One in seven Australians is currently experiencing an anxiety condition.

Depression

Depression is a mental-health illness caused by changes in our brain chemistry that often leads to feelings of hopelessness, low self-worth, low mood, and despair. Symptom severity can range from mild depression (feeling low most of the time), to severe (feeling like life is no longer worth living).

Depressive Disorders

There are a wide range of depressive disorders including manic depressive disorder (depressive as well as manic episodes involving extreme highs), recurrent depressive disorder (having had two or more depressive episodes), and prenatal or postnatal depression (depression occurring during or after pregnancy – this can affect both men and women).

Depressive Disorders

Depression symptoms are wide-ranging and unique to each individual. However, there are common symptoms that can be divided into Thoughts (Mental), Feelings (Emotional), Physical Sensations (Physical), and Behavioursthat make up the experience of depression. 

Mental

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering things and making decisions
  • Ruminating on negative thoughts, memories or events often from the past
  • Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
  • Blaming and self-critical thoughts
  • Low self-confidence and self-esteem

Emotional

  • Not feeling anything is real
  • Feeling numb, or empty
  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling irritable
  • Having little interest or pleasure in doing things
  • Feeling isolated or unable to relate to others

Physical

  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Having aches and pains without a physical cause
  • Feeling tired and lacking energy
  • Losing interest in sex
  • Sleeping more or having disturbed sleep

Behavioural

  • Crying a lot
  • Self-harming
  • Avoiding social contact
  • Distancing yourself from others, and not asking for support
  • Neglecting your hobbies and interests
  • Smoking, drinking or using other drugs more than usual
  • Moving or speaking more slowly than before

Anxiety

Definition of Anxiety

Anxiety is a sense of fear, worry, unease or dread that something terrible is going to happen in the context of a perceived threat. Everyone feels a certain level of anxiety in their lives, it is vital for our survival, keeps us safe, and can make us alert in times of stress. However, too much anxiety can begin to overwhelm and even paralyse you.

A little anxiety is fine, but if high anxiety levels persist for a long time, it can lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and lowered immunity levels.

Anxiety Disorders

The most common anxiety disorder is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) where people suffer with generally elevated anxiety levels, struggling with often constant worrying and difficult physical symptoms such as nausea and tightness in chests. There are also phobias, panic disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety has both physiological and psychological symptoms that arise in response to a perceived threat or stressor. When you feel anxious, the body releases chemicals into the body such as adrenaline and cortisol to put you on ‘high-alert’, triggering what is known as the ‘fight or flight response’.

Mental

  • Not being able to control worrying
  • Worrying too much about different things
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Poor memory
  • Overestimation of danger
  • Underestimation of ability to cope
  • Racing thoughts

Emotional

  • Feeling tearful
  • Being easily irritable or annoyed
  • Feeling anxious, nervous or worried
  • Lacking in self-esteem
  • Over-burdened
  • Feeling lonely

Physical

  • Increased heart rate
  • Quick breathing, finding it hard to breath
  • Feeling sick or nauseous
  • Having a tight chest
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Needing the toilet more frequently
  • Feeling dizzy or faint

Behavioural

  • Difficulties with sleep – waking up in the night or trouble getting to sleep
  • Seeking frequent reassurance from others
  • Snapping at or being irritable towards others
  • Fidgeting or being restless
  • Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety
  • Trying to control situations
  • Eating more or less
  • Nervous habits such as nail biting
  • Overreacting to unexpected problems

Stress

Definition of Stress

Stress is our reaction to being placed under pressure by stressful life events or situations, characterised by a sense of feeling overwhelmed. This may be due to feeling you do not have enough resources (e.g. time, money, expertise) to handle the demands placed on you, or having been under pressure for too long.

Stress is a set of physiological and physical changes in the body that takes place in response to threats or difficulties. When facing a threat or difficult situation, your body will go into ‘fight or flight mode’ where your heart might stand racing, breathing rate quickening, muscles tensing, shaking, and hypervigilance. Once the threat or difficulty passes these physical effects usually fade. However, if you are experiencing many stressful situations or prolonged stress, your body can stay in a state of high and you can develop stress related symptoms.

Causes of Stress

Stress is often created by:

  • big life events such as having a baby, planning a wedding, children leaving home
  • change or disruption to routine e.g. moving house, starting a new job, divorce
  • feeling out of control of events in your life – e.g. you are made redundant, diagnosed with a serious illness

It is important to tackle the causes of stress in your life – avoiding problems rather than facing them can make things worse. However, some stressful situations cannot be changed and it may be helpful to focus your energies on how to manage it so it does not impact you as much.

Symptoms of Stress

Mental

  • Racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions

Emotional

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability
  • Feeling scared or fearful
  • Feeling panic
  • Feeling agitated
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed

Physical

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Lowered libido/sexual problems
  • Teeth grinding

Behavioural

  • Difficulties making decisions
  • Avoiding situations that cause you stress
  • Snapping at those around you
  • Biting your nails
  • Skin-picking
  • Crying a lot
  • Being restless
  • Smoking or drinking more than usual
  • Eating too much or too little

How is stress different to anxiety?

How is stress different to anxiety?

Although stress and anxiety may seem similar, they are different conditions. Stress is a response to external difficulties, pressures or a threatening situation e.g. work deadline which passes when the stressful event is over. Anxiety, which has no clear cause, is a condition where you feel stressed and anxious even when stressful life events pass, being in a constant state of fear, worry and/or panic.

So what else separates Depression, Anxiety and Stress?

Although there are many overlapping symptoms between conditions, there are some key features that make each issue different:

The Defining Feature:

Depression:

  • Persistent low mood and symptoms for 2 or more weeks.

Anxiety:

  • Persistent feelings of worry, stress and fear. These feelings do not go away when stressful events or situations pass.
  • Caused by internal factors. Stress:

Stress:

  • Stress response in reaction to a stressful event or situation. When the stressor passes or finishes, stress levels return to normal.
  • Caused by external factors

Can I experience depression, anxiety and stress together?

Definitely. Studies show that half of people diagnosed with anxiety also suffer with depression at the same time. It’s common to experience these conditions together as they are all reactions to difficult life experiences or times of transition.

Top Tips: How to manage depression, anxiety and stress

There are multiple effective things people can do to reduce the impact of depression, anxiety and stress. Despite the differences in symptoms, you can use a lot of the same strategies to tackle all three.

Top Tips for Depression

Before you can start looking out for others, you need to look out for yourself. Therefore, before you ask someone you have noticed by be struggling, R U OK?, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Reduce caffeine intake
2. Do relaxation/meditation/breathing exercises
3. Exercise regularly – yoga or swimming are particularly good for anxiety
4. Don’t avoid situations that make you feel anxious e.g. going outside, challenge yourself to do them anyway
Top Tips for Anxiety
1. Manage external pressures, so stressful situations don’t seem to happen to you so often – e.g.:
  • Problem-solve how to tackle your problems/difficulties instead of avoiding them
  • Create a list of the things you need to do and schedule time to do them
  • Take something off your list of things – do less
2. Develop Emotional Resilience – so you are better at coping with tough situations – e.g.:
  • Schedule relaxation time into your week
  • Have a regular exercise regime
  • Express your Emotions regularly – e.g. talk to friends, journal, draw/paint, talk to a counsel

Top 10 General Tips to Improve Mental Health & Well-being

Top 10 General Tips to Improve Mental Health/Wellbeing

1. Have a regular sleep routine of 7-9 hours per night
2. Exercise regularly
3. Eating a healthy balanced diet
4. Socialise more
5. Reducing alcohol, drug and/or caffeine intake
6. Schedule regular breaks to relax and unwind
7. Do something you enjoy every day
8. Get creative – colouring, drawing, painting, writing are all fantastic outlets
9. Meditation/Mindfulness – Apps such as Smiling Mind, Headspace or Calm or deep breathing exercises
10. Journaling or talking to someone about how you feel

REACH OUT FOR SUPPORT

If you are still struggling after trying these strategies, it is important to seek help. The most effective form of treatment for anxiety and depression is psychotherapy in combination with medication. 

Step 1: Call your EAP to speak to a Psychologist or Counsellor:

Talking therapies such as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Relationships Counselling and Counselling are found to be effective treatments of depression, anxiety and stress.

Step 2: Speak to your GP.

Medication including antidepressants can be a particularly effective form of treating depression and/or anxiety when taken together with psychological treatment such as Counselling or Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy.There are several types available and it is important to consult with your GP about this.

When to seek help immediately?

If you start to feel that your life is not worth living or that you want to harm yourself, it is vital to get support straight away. Call your EAP Acacia Connection on 1300 364 273 or emergency services on 000 if you are at immediate risk.

If you or someone close to you needs support, contact Acacia Connection for an appointment.

P: 1300 364 273 | Text or Live Chat: 0401 337 711 | W: acaciaconnection.com

MENTAL HEALTH WORKSHOPS:

The Workshop Lab is the Acacia Group workplace well-being training specialist. They deliver the following workshops to help support mental health awareness within the workplace:
  • Mental Health for Leaders (4 hours): Equip leaders with all of the information, tools and strategies they need to be able to manage mental health concerns in the workplace with confidence.
  • Mental Health in the Workplace (1 - 3 hours): This session is suitable for all employees to attend and provides accurate, up-to-date information about common mental health concerns impacting the workplace. Participants will understand what support and resources are available for themselves or others struggling with mental health challenges.
  • Critical Incident Training (5 hours): This sessions provide a clear framework for critical incident management within the workplace. Participants will understand how to manage these high risk situations to help minimise the long-term psychological impact of exposure to these events.
These sessions are delivered by experts in this field and can be delivered face-to-face or via webinar.

Format: Face-to-Face or via webinar 
Click here for more information 
P: 1300 390 366 | E: info@theworkshoplab.com | W: www.theworkshoplab.com

"The safety and wellbeing of our clients and staff is always our top priority. Acacia EAP is currently operating under normal conditions. Due to the pandemic status of COVID-19, some locations may move from face-to-face counselling to secure video or phone. All counselling services are able to be provided 24/7, as always. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and act quickly on the advice of health authorities."