, People who are depressed frequently also battle anxiety because being depressed may make you anxious, and being anxious may make you depressed, so the two conditions can form a downward spiral.
How do you know if you're anxious? Some of the symptoms are tiring quickly, irritability, insomnia, trouble concentrating, experiencing a sense of doom, excessive worry, muscle tension, gastrointestinal problems, social anxiety and phobias. Perfectionism and hoarding can have other causes, but occasionally they, too, are brought on by anxiety.
Often when we feel down, we look for something that will make us feel better quickly. Going shopping, having a drink, eating a dessert, having a smoke or a joint, playing games on the computer, or watching television may indeed make you feel better, but only for a short time! Then you're right back where you started. Unless you're aware of what is going on, it's easy to keep on doing what you were doing. You believe that by doing what you're doing, you're staving off depression. The truth is, you're actually feeding it.
How do behaviors that you enjoy contribute to depression? Doesn't that seem contradictory? The key is not to look at what you're doing, but at how often you're doing it, and what are the unintended consequences?
It's easy to think that if a little bit makes you feel a little better, then a lot will make you feel a lot better, but that's simply not true. A dose of aspirin make make your headache better, but too much aspirin or taking it too frequently often leads to internal bleeding, which certainly won't make you feel good.
So what's really happening? When you do something that makes you feel better, your brain releases a dose of dopamine, a brain chemical that gives you a mild natural "high." As a result, you're inclined to repeat the behavior. Over time, that repetition becomes a habit--it's easier to do it than not to do it--and we all know habits are hard to break. That's because we're continuing to get those doses of dopamine. But there's a downside to that repetition: our bodies gradually become tolerant to dopamine, so we keep increasing the behavior, believing we need more in order to feel good. Another drink, another shopping trip, another ice cream sundae, whatever you believe you need, you think you're relieving your depression when in fact you're feeding it because addictive behavior creates problems which lead to anxiety and deeper depression.
Maybe all that shopping has piled up bills that are getting harder to pay, and the things you bought haven't made you as happy as you thought they would. Maybe the sugary foods have added unwanted pounds, and yet you keep craving more sugar. Maybe that glass of wine in the afternoon has become two or three before dinner and few more afterward and maybe a nightcap, and you've done or said things you now regret. Maybe all the time you spent at the computer or the television has caused you to neglect your responsibilities or your relationships.
What can you do when you find yourself in this downward spiral? Obviously you need to stop the behavior that contributes to it. If there is more than one behavior, tackle one at a time, making sure not to increase the other. Engage a "buddy" or join a group to help you stay on track. Find positive things to do that also "reward" you without negative consequences. Help someone else. Work on one of the things you've been neglecting. Do something physical, like cleaning the yard. Accomplishing something positive will make you feel better. Yes, I know you're tired, but it's time to adopt my mantra: Put one foot in front of the other and keep on going.
There are medications which reduce both depression and anxiety, but not all of them work for everyone, so you may need to be under a doctor's care to find one that works.
If you can't do it yourself, there's always professional help.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.