Approximately 19 million individuals suffer from anxiety and 18 million from depression. Anxiety can make you feel like you’re about to plummet off the face of the earth. And depression can feel like you’re being swallowed whole by a flood of sadness and hopelessness. So, why is it common to have depression and anxiety when they seem so completely different?
1. Yes, you can have depression and anxiety at the same time.
Depression and anxiety seem like very different conditions. However, they have more similarities than differences. Anxiety can be a symptom of major depression just as depression can be triggered by an anxiety disorder.
2. Where one withdraws, the other avoids – however, it’s the same ending.
What is termed the “fight or flight” response is how you respond to a stressful threat. Simply put, you’re body switches into an automatic, survival mode and helps you either fight the danger or run from it. However, those who have anxiety and depression do not typically choose the fight option.
Feeling anxious or depressed when dealing with a stressor puts you on your heels. You quickly conclude you cannot successfully defeat the danger, so you retreat. With anxiety, you avoid. With depression, you withdraw. Generally speaking, you do not willingly engage in anything that may make you feel worse.
Unfortunately, by not challenging and overcoming, you allow the fear to win. The more you allow those fears to win, the more you reinforce that pattern. Our brains operate through patterns and habits. The more you “overcome” stress by avoidance or withdrawal, the more your brain says this works. But it may not always be the healthiest response or in your best interest.
This can be a slippery slope when you have depression and anxiety. Your efforts to self-protect creates an ever-deepening pattern of avoidance. This significantly restricts your life because you may end up avoiding job opportunities, places, relationships, hobbies, and/or events. And unfortunately, it typically leads only to more anxiety and depression.
In this survival mode, your brain only really cares about how to immediately get out of danger. It does not access how these maladaptive tendencies may snowball into a bigger issue later.
3. It is common for you to feel like you are on an emotional roller-coaster and cannot control your thoughts or emotions.
And your thoughts come into play. I’m not good enough. I can’t accomplish anything. No one cares about me. These negative thoughts can take many forms. And when you have depression and anxiety, your thoughts are habitually negative!
The emotional roller-coaster and pessimistic attitude negatively feed off each other. When you’re caught up in this vicious cycle, it can feel as if you’re spiraling down.
4. Your Perspective Shapes Your Experiences.
It’s not as simple as saying it’s all in your head. However, your self-image, personal resources, and moment-to-moment thoughts do have a huge impact on your brain chemistry. Ultimately this shapes how you respond to stress.
Your perceptions and beliefs create your reality. If you grew up feeling your world was unsafe or regularly felt you weren’t intelligent or resilient enough to handle anything, that’s the framework in which you see your world. This affects how you interact with the world.
If you have low self-confidence and feel vulnerable, you may withdraw from stress. Unfortunately this just results in more stress. You may hesitate when confronting challenges or feel too scared and insecure to take on risks. Your unconscious beliefs can make the idea of taking charge of your life seem impossible.
5. It is important to treat both depression and anxiety simultaneously.
While having just anxiety or just depression is also possible, having them both at the same time complicates recovery. Additionally, external stressors and individual genetics need to be considered. All of these need to be addressed. No one solution will be the same for everyone.
However, it is important that both conditions are treated simultaneously. And the symptoms of anxiety and depression improve with similar treatments:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps when addressing stress, anxiety, and depression. Through this talk therapy, you learn skills and behavioral changes to better manage stress. This reduces anxiety and depression. Therapy addresses the immediate issues that brought you to counseling. But it also gets at the underlying issues that feed the depression and anxiety. Therapy can give you tools to feel empowered to confront stress in your life, instead of avoiding or withdrawing from it.
- Antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may treat depression and anxiety together. Discuss this option with your physician to determine if it is a good fit for you. Usually medication and therapy are recommended for the best outcomes.
- Exercise is a proven mood-booster and can raise your self-esteem and confidence. It is even considered an effective treatment for mild to moderate depression! Consistent, high-energy exercise at least 3 – 5 times a week is considered best.
- Improved sleep habits: Getting 7-9 hours a night of good sleep is restorative for your body and mind. Adjust your bedtime routine if necessary to encourage a full night’s rest, every night. Resist the urge to oversleep as it is a form of avoidance and withdrawal that only exacerbates anxiety and depression.
- Building and maintaining social support helps you feel better. Reach out to family and friends to help support you emotionally and to encourage your healthy lifestyle changes. Also, consider joining a support group of others who are going through similar experiences as you.
- Healthy eating habits and reducing smoking and recreational drug use will help balance your body and mind. Consider eating more lean protein with good fats and limit sugar, alcohol, and caffeine.
6. Warning signs you should not ignore!
- Poor daily self-care
- Sudden and extreme changes in mood
- Becoming violent, threatening, or aggressive
- Abusing substances
- Appearing confused or having hallucinations
- Talking about suicide or about not have a reason to live
Don’t be afraid to seek help if you or a loved one are struggling. You can contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness hotline at (800) 950-6264 to find support in your area. If help is needed immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or 911.
Feeling low and sad from time to time is normal. And feeling anxious or unnerved because of a stressful situation is also normal. However, severe or chronic feelings of depression and anxiety are not. If you feel you have depression and anxiety, schedule an appointment with a mental health provider today. This is not an easy journey alone and without support. If you are in the Chicago area, we have offices in west suburban Glen Ellyn and in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Chicago. Contact us at (630) 423-5935 to begin a conversation towards a healthier you.
Related Article: 10 Strategies For Dealing With Depression And Anxiety Without Meds
Jean Tschampa, PharmD, LCPC, CADC, C-IAYT, BCC
Jean Tschampa is a co-owner and principal therapist at Life Care Wellness, a group psychotherapy practice in Glen Ellyn and Chicago (Jefferson Park neighborhood), Illinois. She specializes in wellness, life transition, anxiety, and addiction treatment, and is a Board Certified Coach, as well as professional counselor. As a registered pharmacist, Jean can also provide medication therapy management for those experiencing issues with medication.