Human cognition has always been a marvelous mystery that neurological researchers and psychologists are only now slowly unraveling. When the human mind works well, it is a wonder to behold. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work as well as desired. Quite apart from purely psychological problems, the brain is a vast landscape of profoundly interconnected biochemical mechanisms that may subtly malfunction for poorly understood reasons. Cognitive neuroscientists do say that heredity likely plays a strong role in individual predispositions to common mental conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Anxiety Tiptoes Around the Future
Needless to say, the future has always been uncertain. Even in a comfortable society with many precautions and buffers against the unknown, bad things can and will happen. Some sensitive individuals react more strongly to this reality than others. A person suffering from an outright anxiety disorder will react in an exaggerated way to events and risks that wouldn’t particularly faze the average person. For example, agoraphobia mixes up a fear of being away from possible help with a fear of ever being outdoors. This condition is almost a fear of being away from other people, who supply comfort and reassurance just by being nearby.
Conversely, claustrophobia is an intense evocation of the primitive fear of being trapped in an enclosed space. In severe cases, claustrophobia will strike merely from being inside a closed elevator, a small room or a commuter train. This anxiety disorder may also exhibit itself around larger groups of people with little freedom of motion. To judge from periodic reports of deaths from crushing in panicky crowds, fear of death or injury from being around too many other people is not completely unreasonable.
Many other anxiety disorders exist, limited only by the wonderland of human perception. The psychological distress of an anxiety disorder is often accompanied by a remarkable range of physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking and chest pains. Emergency rooms routinely treat patients who have suffered an anxiety attack that felt much like a heart attack. Unrelieved stress has long been known to severely affect health, so anxiety disorders should be treated by medical professionals with specialized training.
Depression Falls Long and Slow
Feeling sad and lonely is a normal human condition that nearly everyone will experience during their lifetimes. People are deeply social beings with complex needs that sometimes suffer severe neglect, which can result in unrecognized emotional pain. Still, dark moods normally come and go with little lasting harm. Depression is a dark mood that doesn’t go away.
With depression, activities that once brought pleasure and joy fall into the dust of indifference. Once-stable weight fluctuations may give way to incessant weight gain from obsessive overeating that vainly seeks emotional fulfillment. The ability to concentrate on a task decays into dull apathy, and energy levels seem to drain away without apparent reason. A severely depressed individual may contemplate suicide as a viable option for ending the pain of an empty life. This condition may require emergency intervention from loved ones or other concerned onlookers.
The Last Word on Sadness and Hope
Depression and anxiety are not strangers to each other. It’s entirely possible for the same person to suffer both from strong anxieties and the burden of hopelessness. Regardless of individual quirks, depression and anxiety disorders are serious medical conditions that call for professional treatment. Modern psychiatry has many powerful tools and methods for helping patients cope with mental health issues. Hope is always an option.