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We all experience times when we are sad, worried, confused, or discouraged. These feelings may come and go, but sometimes they linger. What happens when these feelings are continuous? Is it okay? Should you ignore them until they fade?

The answer to the two previous questions is NO. It is important to acknowledge these feelings rather than brushing them under the rug. Lingering emotions of sadness and worry can be linked to depression and anxiety. To adequately cope with these unwanted emotions, you must recognize your symptoms. 

ANXIETY

Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry.

Avoidance is helpful in the short-term, but in the long-term is unhelpful as it helps to maintain the fear as the person did not have the opportunity to confront their fears. Experiencing anxiety before a big event or decision is not unusual as being anxious can be an automatic response therefore, meaning that all human beings experience anxiety. However, if a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, it can become a medical disorder.

Emotional symptoms of anxiety :

• Restlessness, irritability and/or feeling on edge

• Difficulty controlling worry or fear

• Dread

• Panic 

Physical symptoms and behavioural changes to identify anxiety:

• Feeling fatigued easily

• Difficulty concentrating or recalling

• Muscle tension

• Racing heart

• Grinding teeth

• Sleep difficulties — including problems falling asleep and restless, unsatisfying sleep

DEPRESSION

The American Psychological Association describes depression as a mood disorder that involves a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest that is different from the mood fluctuations that people regularly experience as a part of life.

Emotional symptoms of depression:

• No longer finding pleasure in activities or hobbies

• Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness

• Feeling hopeless or pessimistic

• Anger, irritability, or restlessness

• Feeling guilty or experiencing feelings of worthlessness or helplessness

• Suicidal thoughts 

• Suicide attempts

Physical symptoms and behavioural changes caused by depression: 

• Decreased energy, chronic fatigue and/or feeling sluggish frequently

• Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions 

• Pain, aches, cramps and/or gastrointestinal problems without any clear cause

• Changes in appetite and/or weight

• Difficulty sleeping, waking early or oversleeping

The terms anxiety and depression may sound scary but they affect people from all walks of life, no matter their background, age, or socioeconomic status. However, treatment is available once you recognize that you have associated symptoms.

The year 2020 has been challenging as it is filled with overwhelming, unpredictable and life-changing events. The most significant of which may be COVID-19, since the changes were involuntary. Due to the global pandemic, some of these feelings of sadness, worry, and discouragement may have become heightened or persistent.

If so, talk to someone close to you about your experiences. If these feelings or changes last longer than two weeks, talk to a professional psychologist. Early treatment is the best way to manage the conditions for the benefit of your long-term health. 

And remember — you are not alone!

This article is the first in a four-part series in collaboration with the Commonwealth Youth Council.

• This article was edited by Clinical Psychologist, Jo-Nelle Walsh.

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