By: Dr. Meyer

If you’ve ever suffered from depression or anxiety—or if you’re close to someone who has—then you know firsthand how mental health issues can affect every aspect of our lives. Anyone can be prone to anxiety disorders, which range from feeling generally worried or fearful to experiencing intense panic attacks, phobias or post-traumatic stress symptoms and can be worse around the holidays.

There’s a lot of speculation over why these disorders are so prevalent in today’s society. External factors certainly play a role in our mental health. Women today face a great deal of pressure to excel in their careers, family life and social circles—both in person and online. The problem is, Wonder Woman is a fantasy. We’re all human and sometimes our mental health suffers under all that pressure. Then, ironically, the very things we work so hard to keep together are the same factors that suffer when we become depressed, anxious or overwhelmed. This includes our work, our relationships and our ability to be fully present in the moment.

Yet a greater cause of depression and anxiety is arguably the body itself. Advances in medical science have helped us understand the chemical and physiological causes behind what used to be considered a taboo subject. People who suffer from anxiety or depression are not able to just “snap out of it.” Their condition is a real health issue, which in many cases is accompanied by physical symptoms such as digestive issues, headaches or muscle pain. Thankfully, there are also many therapies available to manage mental health concerns.

The first step is to know what you’re dealing with.

Depression is an oppressive feeling of sadness or hopelessness often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Likewise, anxiety—characterized by chronic or debilitating worry or anxious feelings—is also tied to a variety of chemical and hormonal issues. While a person’s life circumstances can play a role in triggering both conditions, the root of the problem is usually physiological. Depressed people often believe they have no apparent reason to be sad, yet the despair is unavoidable.

So what can we do about it? The good news is depression and anxiety can often be improved with exercise, because exercise activates mood-boosting chemicals in the brain. However, many people also require more aggressive therapy including counseling and, in some cases, medication such as anti-depressants or mood stabilizers.

It’s important to remember that depression and anxiety don’t make you “crazy.” They are common mental health conditions and most people will experience them at some point in their lives. For some, the problem comes for a season and is resolved. For others, depression and anxiety are chronic struggles.

Just remember you are not alone, and help is available.

Build a relationship with a doctor you trust, and don’t be afraid to talk regularly about your mental health. Depression and anxiety don’t need to debilitate you. With proper diagnosis and treatment, you can rise above the fog and live a happy, productive life.