We want to make sure you’re looking after yourself first and foremost.

Because your mental health has an impact on everything in your life, like your work, your physical health, and your relationships. You can be better equipped to be there for everybody else – including your family and friends – if you’re feeling like the best version of yourself.

Everyone struggles with their feelings from time to time. But how do you know when these feelings are becoming unhelpful or harmful? To help us create this guide to depression and anxiety, we spoke to Virgin Care Clinical Psychologist and National Lead for Positive Psychology, Dr. Vikki Barnes.

Vikki reminds us that people can feel highs and lows in their mood, and that’s really normal.

And when those lows feel harder to overcome, it’s OK to ask for help.

Because it’s a faster way to feel better.



What do depression and anxiety feel like?

We all feel disappointed after experiences like not getting a job, and losing a loved one brings about feelings of grief, so it’s completely normal to feel lost and low at these times.

And it’s the same for anxiety. It’s normal to feel anxious before an exam, or before meeting a new person - but these feelings tend to subside relatively quickly.

Our resident Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Vikki Barnes, says: “Some difficulties can last a long time, and feelings of depression and anxiety can be hard to get rid of, which can become quite harmful. If depression and anxiety are negatively impacting your daily life over a long period, it might be time to talk to someone or ask for help”

If you think you could be experiencing depression, here are some common signs to look out for:

  • - A low mood that doesn’t go away
  • - Withdrawing from activities you’d normally enjoy participating in
  • - Not seeing the purpose in doing the things you’d normally do
  • - Not feeling like yourself
  • - Feeling down
  • - Feeling lonely
  • - Looking back on how good things used to be compared to now

 

If you think you could be experiencing anxiety, here are some common signs to look out for:

  • - Feeling on edge and unable to relax
  • - Worried a lot of the time about the future or even the anxiety itself
  • - Feeling stressed – this can cause physical symptoms like nausea
  • - Feeling unsure what to do
  • - Looking back on how good things used to be compared to now

 

It’s also important to remember that everybody experiences depression and anxiety differently, and the symptoms of depression or anxiety you experience may be different to the common signs listed above.

Vikki says: “If you’re questioning whether or not your mental health is having a negative impact on your life, it’s a good reason to get in touch and speak to someone who can help. Not everybody will experience the same difficulties, and it’s down to each individual to decide when they need some advice and support.”

Proactive changes you can make to help improve your emotional and mental wellbeing

If you don’t feel like you’re ready to ask for help from a professional, you can try making some lifestyle changes to help you feel good:

  • - Try improving your sleep habits
  • - Exercise regularly
  • - Cut back on alcohol
  • - Spend time with friends and family
  • - Make time to do things you enjoy
  • - Get out into nature
  • - Connect with others

 

There are also lots of positive improvement apps and resources online that people can access.

Vikki is a big advocate for positive psychology and asking for help when you need it: “Talk to a friend or family member - or somebody you trust - to share the problem. Engage in things that make you feel good.

You can also take a look at some of the self-help guides and resources found on the NHS and MIND websites, and try downloading one of the many free self-help apps to make time for positivity each day.”



When should you see a doctor about your symptoms?

If you notice that you’re experiencing some of the common signs of depression or anxiety listed above (e.g. a persistently low mood, withdrawing from social activities, feeling on edge), and they’re starting to impact your personal happiness or daily life, it can help to let your GP know.

It’s important to break the cycle of silence around mental health. Vikki says: “Historically, there’s been a stigma around mental health. But most people experience some difficulties with mental health throughout their life. And it can only be a good thing that we’re now working towards a place where we’re normalising mental health, and encouraging people to talk about it more openly and ask for help when they need it.”

Who will you see to help treat depression and anxiety?

You might see one or several of the following doctors and specialists to help you get back to feeling like your best self:

  1. You might see a psychologist to help you manage symptoms of depression or anxiety, and they’d lead with a range of specialist or integrative talking therapies.
  2. If you feel like you’re not ready to talk to somebody, you might try medication to help you get to a point where you can start to talk about things. Your GP can refer you to a psychiatrist for medication to help treat your symptoms.
  3. Or you may be referred to a counsellor, whose listening and problem-solving therapies cover a broader range of difficulties that aren’t so chronic or severe.

What to do if you think someone close to you may be experiencing depression or anxiety?

Talk to them first.

If you’re close to them, express that you care about them and that they’re important to you, and ask if they’d like to talk to you about how they’re feeling.

Vikki’s advice: “If you speak to the person first, it can help them decide what action they want to take in getting help. It’s good to explain that lots of people feel this way, but for some people, those feelings start to take over the ability to feel happy and calm. And there are always specialists who can help.”

If they’d prefer to talk to a professional, then talking to one of our emotional wellbeing specialists can help your loved one break down their problems, and take the first step to start getting back to feeling like the best version of themselves.