Struggling with a low mood, depression and/or anxiety is pretty commonplace today. The mental health charity Mind state on their website that nearly a tenth of us suffer from anxiety and depression, and surveys have shown that problems related to stress are one of the biggest reasons given for absence from work.
Click here to read a short booklet I wrote for well-being website LearnShedLive covering 8 simple ways to overcome anxiety at work.
If you’ve experienced low mood, depression and/or anxiety you’ll know how difficult it can be to get on with daily tasks like looking after your family, managing your finances or housework. Your friendships, relationships and social life might also be affected and you may not want to connect with other people, feel misunderstood or worry that you present with a negative attitude.
The NHS gives an overview of the symptoms of low mood here, which include sadness, exhaustion, low self esteem an anger. When a low mood doesn’t lift and you feel down for a longer period of time, depression has set in and you may feel hopeless, unable to focus, experience sleep problems, be tempted to comfort eat or have no appetite. You may also have thoughts about harming yourself or suicide.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, discomfort and fear. It can occur as a response to stress but is viewed as a mental health problem when it becomes overwhelming, disproportionate and starts to happen a lot of the time. Physical symptoms of anxiety include breathlessness, nausea, a pounding heart and butterflies. Psychological symptoms restlessness, negative thoughts, the inability to relax, fearing the worst and feeling constantly on edge. At its worst, severe anxiety can result in panic attacks which can be exhausting and scary to experience. You can read what Mind says about anxiety here.
If you are concerned about low mood, depression or anxiety it’s a good idea to chat with your GP about your options. You may be offered medication, directed towards self help resources or your GP may suggest CBT therapy or counselling.
Counselling can help you explore the factors in your life that might have triggered or contributed to low mood, depression or anxiety. It can help motivate you to try practical changes that could make a difference, access self help tools or start to process and accept the difficult life events that have challenged your sense of balance. It can be useful to feel heard, acknowledged and offered support.
There are many different theories about why mental health issues seem to be so prevalent right now. I personally believe that we live in a society where the pressure upon us is increasing from all directions, including the economic and political climate and the media. I don’t think our busy ‘western’ lifestyle helps, and wonder whether poor diet and lack of opportunities for relaxation and connection with nature are contributing factors.
The impact of anxiety and depression can be devastating for relationships. It can be difficult for partners to feel connected, and there is the temptation to blame each other or the relationship if you don’t feel happy. Dealing with mood fluctuations can be tiring and there can be an impact on family finances if there is a requirement for time off work, or an inability to work at all.
The side effects of medication can adversely affect intimacy and libido resulting in an unsatisfactory sex life, with both of you feeling helpless and disappointed. There can be a lack of motivation to engage in social or leisure activities, and managing children can feel all the more challenging when there is less energy for fun and laughter and even the basics, like getting a meal on the table, feel like a chore. Heightened anxiety can trigger disagreements that seem to flare up from nowhere and the capacity to resolve arguments can be greatly reduced if one or both partners feel the need to withdraw.
If you think your relationship is being affected by anxiety and/or depression here are some tips to help you through:
- Visit your GP together. It can helpful for you both to understand the signs and symptoms of the anxiety/depression. Your GP may also be able to signpost you to books and resources for support.
- Remember that it can be difficult at times to understand whether it’s you/your partner talking or their anxiety/depression. Try not to take every disagreement to heart and remember that things are always going to look and feel worse at the lowest points.
- Don’t take responsibility for trying to ‘fix’ your partner if he/she is depressed. The feelings they are experiencing are most likely not because of you – or anything you’ve done. Being accepting and understanding is the most compassionate way of helping – people with depression/anxiety often feel pressured to ‘snap out of it’ and being unable to do so makes the problem worse.
- Don’t misread withdrawal as rejection. Be mindful that you both have needs for time and space.
- Keep communicating as best you can – if you’re the one with the anxiety/depression try to tell your partner if you feel the onset of a low mood, or start to notice the symptoms of an episode of anxiety. If it’s your partner who’s affected then try to encourage communication and remain understanding and reassuring.
- Find out about self help techniques together. If you’re both aware of what the triggers are and what strategies can help, it’s easier to know when and how to deal with issues as they arise.
- Remember there is no need for pressure around sex. Feelings of low self-esteem can be compounded by worries over lack of sexual desire or performance. Stay connected through gentle, comforting intimacy like cuddles and holding hands. Use relaxation techniques together. There will be plenty of time for physical closeness once you’ve found the right ways to manage your depression/anxiety.
- Ask for support from friends and family. If that means asking for a shoulder to cry on or shipping the children off for a weekend with the in-laws, then so be it. Perhaps you need a hand with housework or shopping – there’s no shame in admitting that things are getting difficult and you need some support. It can feel stifling and lonely when depression/anxiety affects your relationship, and it can be a great relief to know that there are other people out there who care.
Click here to read a blog post I wrote for the well-being website LearnShedLive about how to avoid negative thinking affecting your relationship.