Anxiety and Depression: How They Present, Interact, and What It Means for You
Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health problems in the world. A lot is known about these conditions, but the everyday person may not know how to identify them. Anxiety and depression can also overlap and interact in complex ways. Understanding the nuances of these disorders means you can get the help you need for yourself or someone you care about.
There are multiple types of anxiety disorders, including the following.
This is an anxiety disorder that involves sudden and intense bouts of panic. These episodes are called panic attacks. In order to understand panic disorder, you must first understand the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks are prolonged episodes of anxiousness that last from days to weeks to even months. While less intense than panic attacks, anxiety attacks can severely impact a person’s life because of how long they can last and how debilitating the symptoms are.
Panic attacks, on the other hand, usually last from minutes to hours and are more intense spikes of anxiety. People with severe panic disorder may have multiple panic attacks every day. Panic attacks often have no apparent cause and are spontaneous, although they can sometimes have a trigger as well.
People with panic disorder often live in fear of their condition. They may isolate themselves physically and socially to avoid having an episode in front of others or in unfamiliar places. Symptoms of a panic attack can mimic a heart attack, which can cause extra anxiety. Often, worrying about the next panic attack can trigger one, which makes this disorder cyclical and extremely upsetting to the person with the condition.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This is one of the most common anxiety disorders, affecting about one in every six adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). GAD is characterized by persistent and excessive worrying that is difficult to control and doesn’t have a logical basis. If you have GAD, you may find yourself worried about everyday things, like getting in an accident on the way to work. While everyone has these thoughts from time to time, GAD causes you to fixate on these remote possibilities and fear them as if they were sure to happen. Sometimes, this worry can lead to avoiding everyday situations or taking extreme precautions for safety.
These are intense fears attached to specific objects or circumstances. For example, you may have an extreme fear of clowns and react as if you are in danger whenever you see someone in a clown costume. Some phobias are based on logic, such as a fear of snakes, but the level of anxiety doesn’t match reality. For example, even seeing a photo of a snake may cause an intense reaction as if the snake were right next to you. Phobias go far beyond just being afraid of something; they are unrealistic and extreme.
Social Anxiety Disorder
This is an anxiety disorder centered around social situations and interactions. If you have social anxiety, you may fear being perceived as awkward by peers, which can lead to avoidance of socialization. People with social anxiety disorder are hyperaware and hypercritical of their own actions and words in social settings. They may feel extreme and constant embarrassment because of how they view their appearance and social skills. Social anxiety disorder is usually tied to low self-esteem and lack of confidence. It can be extremely isolating because people with the condition tend to avoid social interaction at all costs.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Symptoms of anxiety have a wide range and vary from person to person. Many of these signs are things all people experience from time to time, especially in stressful situations. Having symptoms of anxiety every once in a while is normal and may not be cause for concern. However, if these symptoms happen frequently, are debilitating, impede your daily life, or happen seemingly without cause, you should talk to a mental health professional.
Some signs and symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
- Feeling nervous or restless
- Increased heart rate
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
- Shaking or trembling
- Trouble sleeping
- Racing thoughts
- Inability to focus or calm down
- Nausea, gas, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, and other GI problems
- Feeling panicked or a sense of impending doom
- Dry mouth
- Numbness, especially in the legs or arms
- Avoiding situations because they may trigger anxiety
Major Depressive Disorder
Commonly referred to as depression, major depressive disorder (MDD) is a severe mental health condition characterized by persistent and profound feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable. The stigma surrounding depression may lead people to think that those with depression are weak or just being dramatic. However, this disorder is serious and significantly impacts a person’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and physical well-being.
The causes of depression are multifaceted and vary from person to person. There can be biological, psychological, and environmental factors at play. Genetic predisposition can play a role, as individuals with a family history of depression are at higher risk of developing it themselves. In many cases, chemical imbalances in the brain can cause or exacerbate depression. This is particularly true for neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, all of which are important for feeling rewarded and fulfilled by daily life. Brain structure and function differences, as seen through neuroimaging studies, are also associated with MDD.
Psychological factors, such as low self-esteem, negative thought patterns, and unresolved trauma, can also make an individual more vulnerable to depression. Life events such as the loss of a loved one, major transitions, or chronic stress can act as triggers. After events like these, you may be tempted to pull away from social groups, but losing your support system can make the problem even worse. It’s important to note that certain medications can also trigger depressive symptoms, so side effects should always be discussed with your doctor before you start a new prescription.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Depression is much more than just feeling “down.” It’s a persistent and debilitating combination of symptoms that are extremely difficult to overcome. Some of those symptoms can include:
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Feeling tired or without energy
- A lack of motivation, even for previously enjoyable activities
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Agitation and restlessness
- Trouble sleeping
- Brain fog (trouble thinking, concentrating, and remembering)
- Feeling achy, flu-like symptoms without cause
- Change in appetite
- Fixation on flaws, failures, and negative thoughts
- Thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide
Anxiety and Depression as Co-Occurring Disorders
Although they are two distinct mental health disorders, anxiety and depression often co-occur and can interact in complex ways. This creates a uniquely challenging experience for individuals affected by both. Being both anxious and depressed is not uncommon; upwards of 50% of people who report signs of one disorder also report symptoms of the other. Understanding how anxiety and depression overlap and interact is crucial for effective diagnosis and treatment.
The biggest link between anxiety and depression is that they share certain symptoms, such as fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. This can sometimes lead to misdiagnosis or confusion, as the symptoms may manifest similarly in both conditions. Feelings of hopelessness, for instance, are a hallmark of depression, but they can also occur in anxiety when individuals become overwhelmed by worries about the future. Similarly, feeling persistently restless might lead you to be diagnosed with anxiety, but the lack of interest in life caused by depression may actually be the root problem. This overlap underscores the need for a comprehensive evaluation to differentiate between the two disorders.
The interaction between anxiety and depression can exacerbate the severity of each condition. For instance, chronic anxiety can lead to emotional exhaustion, potentially triggering or worsening depressive episodes. Constant worry and rumination in anxiety can contribute to negative thought patterns that align with depression. Similarly, depression’s feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness can foster anxious thoughts about the future.
A vicious cycle often develops, where anxiety and depression feed into each other. Anxiety can generate physical symptoms like restlessness and insomnia, which contribute to fatigue and depleted energy levels — common symptoms of depression. In turn, the lack of energy and enthusiasm characteristic of depression can intensify anxiety by limiting an individual’s ability to cope with stressors. As you can see, the interaction between the two conditions can seriously impact a person’s mental and physical well-being.
Co-occurring anxiety and depression can complicate treatment. Traditional antidepressant medications may focus primarily on one aspect of the condition, potentially leaving the other untreated. Therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is effective for both disorders, but tailoring the approach to address both sets of symptoms requires specialized skill, which is something we can help with at Avery Lane.
Anxiety and Depression in Women
Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression can present uniquely in women due to a combination of biological, societal, and cultural factors.
Women tend to experience higher rates of anxiety disorders compared to men. The reason for this is unclear, though some research suggests that hormones may be a contributing factor. Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can influence the severity and frequency of anxiety symptoms. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a condition where severe anxiety symptoms coincide with the menstrual cycle. Additionally, postpartum anxiety can affect new mothers, leading to excessive worry about the baby’s well-being.
Societal and cultural pressures may also contribute. Women often face expectations related to family, career, and appearance in a way wholly different from men. The tendency to ruminate and overthink, commonly associated with anxiety, can be exacerbated by these pressures. Women may also have more to be anxious about, including the high rates of crime against women and the failures of the healthcare system when it comes to women’s care.
Depression affects both sexes equally, although women are more likely to attempt suicide than men. Again, the exact reason for this is unknown and may vary from person to person. Hormonal fluctuations and the pressures of motherhood can play a role in some cases. Postpartum depression is a well-known phenomenon stemming from the dramatic hormonal shifts following childbirth. Additionally, perimenopausal and menopausal transitions can contribute to depressive symptoms due to fluctuating hormone levels.
Societal and cultural factors continue to impact women’s experiences with depression. Gender roles that emphasize emotional expression can lead to heightened vulnerability. Women may also be more likely to internalize stressors and engage in self-blame, contributing to the development of depressive symptoms. Experiences such as objectification, sexualization, and sexual violence against women can also contribute to feelings of low self-worth, potentially fueling depression. These are unique lived experiences that can make living with and getting treatment for anxiety and depression particularly difficult as a woman.
Living With Anxiety and Depression
Having to live with anxiety and/or depression can be tiring, painful, and may seem hopeless at times. The toll that it takes on its victims can be profound. If you are in the throes of one or both of these conditions, you may feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and that things may never get better. It’s normal to feel this way. Studies show that negative emotions and experiences are written deeper into our memories than positive ones. That’s why when you’re in a bad mental space, and you look back on your life, it can seem like nothing good has ever happened. When you feel this way, it’s important that you try to ground yourself in reality. Good things are possible, and the beauty of life is that it is always changing. You will not always feel the way that you do right now.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. Most people who struggle with anxiety and depression need psychiatric intervention to help them through it. This can include prescriptions such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Medication usually works for people whose conditions are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. For some, taking a pill once a day is all they need to feel better. In other cases, therapy may be needed to overcome negative thought patterns and process past trauma.
There are some smaller steps you can take in your life if you are struggling with anxiety and depression. These steps create an approach that encompasses self-care, professional support, and lifestyle adjustments. Firstly, practicing self-compassion is essential; acknowledging your struggles without judgment can help you navigate the challenges more effectively.
Establishing a routine that prioritizes sleep, exercise, and balanced nutrition can significantly impact your mood and energy levels. Engaging in regular physical activity can release endorphins, which will help you feel fulfilled and rewarded. Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, can help manage anxious thoughts and promote a sense of calm. These lifestyle changes aren’t easy for anyone, but what’s important is the intention and the effort behind them. Simply telling yourself that you are worth it and deserve to feel cared for is a huge first step.
Building a support network is also crucial. Openly communicating with trusted friends or family about your struggles can foster understanding and reduce feelings of isolation. When you feel anxious and depressed, it’s tempting to self-isolate because of a lack of social energy or fear of rejection. However, it’s important that you push past this barrier and continue to interact with others. Humans are social creatures by nature, and we need community in order to thrive. Professional help, including therapy and medication, should be considered if needed. CBT and other evidence-based therapies can equip you with effective coping strategies. Reputable mental health facilities like Avery Lane can put you on the path to the right care.
If you find yourself overwhelmed easily, setting achievable goals and breaking tasks into smaller steps can help. Celebrate even the smallest victories. Just being able to wake up and make it through the day is worth congratulating yourself on. Remember that if something sounds like it would be hard or unenjoyable to do, that’s probably something you should be pushing yourself toward. Depression and anxiety can make you avoid the very things that can help you get better.
Limiting exposure to stressors and practicing healthy boundary-setting can also help manage symptoms. Remember that healing is a journey, and progress may come in small increments. Be patient with yourself, seek assistance when necessary, and focus on cultivating a lifestyle that promotes mental well-being.
Many people feel anxious or depressed at some point in their lives. For some, it may be something they’ve always lived with. However, this doesn’t have to be your reality. There is a wealth of knowledge and resources available to help you cope with and overcome your anxiety and depression. Getting professional help is one of the best ways to treat these debilitating disorders, and Avery Lane is the perfect place to receive the treatment you need. We can set you up with a care management team and a personalized treatment plan so that you can restore your overall well-being. You don’t deserve to live with the burden of anxiety and depression. Give Avery Lane a call at (800) 270-2406.