To help with the first two questions, here’s an 11-point list from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Low appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain for which no other cause can be diagnosed.
A Hypnotist’s Comments on the List
Persistent Sad, Anxious, or Empty Mood
Right. But that didn’t stop anybody from shoehorning anxiety into depression anyway. For example, this diagram, also from the ADAA, shows generalized anxiety disorder as being a mere subset of depression:
As a hypnotherapist, I use ordinary language rather than therapy-speak, so I’m free to avoid sloppy nomenclature. But some of my clients come in pre-confused by this sort of thing, and we need to take the time to distinguish between labels that actually describe the client’s experience and ones that don’t.
Fear (or “anxiety,” if you like, or “stress”) is my favorite starting point in hypnotherapy, even if the main problem is something else. Why? Because once your fear is dialed down to a low level, the other unpleasant emotions tend to follow easily.
Feelings of Hopelessness and Pessimism
This one’s definitely describes depression. It passes the “sounds like Eeyore” test.
Feelings of Guilt, Worthlessness, Helplessness
I don’t think “helplessness” belongs here: I’d put it with hopelessness and pessimism. And it dilutes the importance of feelings of guilt and worthlessness as internal engines of unhappiness.
Many of my clients felt bowed down with feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and “I’m not good enough,” even though they usually came in to work on something else, not knowing that there was any help for these feelings.
Decreased Energy, Fatigue, Feeling Slowed Down
Strong emotions are exhausting! Worse, human beings are creatures of the imagination, and our bodies react to everything we imagine as if it were really happening. This is nice if we look at pictures of cute cuddly kittens. It’s even fine if we indulge in a bit of exciting mock danger like a roller-coaster ride. But constantly imagining disaster, failure, or rejection puts quite a strain on our bodies.
Since the human imagination is in many ways more powerful than either the human body or the rational mind, things can get seriously out of control in spite of our best rational intentions. As a hypnotist, my solution is more of the same: using the power of your imagination to bring your imagination in line with your true needs and desires, though hypnosis. Hypnosis is a lot like structured dreaming.
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
And this same exhaustion I mentioned above is mentally draining as well.
Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
Depending where you are one the Tigger-to-Eeyore spectrum at the moment, your sleep can be disturbed one way or another, in a natural response to your unresolved or uncontrolled “stuff.”
Low appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain
Much like sleep disturbances, eating disturbances in one direction or the other are common once we’re off-balance.
Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
In addition to these clear wake-up signs, reckless behavior, failures of self-care, and so on are also indicators that something is seriously askew.
Restlessness and irritability are one of those uncomfortable gifts: they’re telling you that it’s time to make a change. If the carrot of enthusiasm doesn’t work, sometimes the stick of restlessness does.
Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain for which no other cause can be diagnosed.
No, it isn’t all in your head (well, unless it’s a headache, but you know what I mean). But our bodies take their marching orders from our minds, and it’s quite hard to feel great physically while being mentally distressed. Your emotional distress tends to show up as physical distress.
This means that resolving your issues completely tends to be a twofer: you resolve both the physical and emotional problems at the same time.
What’s a Depressed or Anxious Person to Do?
Seek assistance! And if your depression or anxiety doesn’t resolve 100%, try something else. The fact is, we don’t understand the human mind very well, and we don’t know why a given approach works sometimes but not always, or on one person but not another.
If one method doesn’t work for you, another will. Also, time changes all things, and something that didn’t work before might work now. My suspicion is that attacking the problem from widely divergent angles is the best way to place your bets, but I don’t know for sure.
Of course, you should start by seeing your doctor, in case the issue has a medical cause. It would be silly to use talk therapy to treat anemia!
Many people will recommend that you use things that amount to Hypnosis Lite: progressive relaxation, meditation, guided imagery, self-hypnosis. And because they are Hypnosis Lite, I agree—and I’d just like to add that true hypnosis with a good hypnotherapist will provide all the benefits while being faster, more powerful, and more likely to get you past the biggest roadblocks. After that, it’s easy maintain and extend your progress with self-hypnosis, relaxation, meditation, and the like.