Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health problems that people struggle with. They occur in a significant portion of the population in the United States alone, and there’s a good chance that you’ve either experienced one of them yourself, or that you know someone who has.
In popular culture, anxiety and depression are sometimes viewed as opposites, but the truth is that these conditions have a high rate of comorbidity, meaning that they frequently occur together and if you have one, you have a higher chance of having or developing the other. As with many things in mental health, the mechanics of this aren’t entirely clear, and researchers are still working to figure out the exact reasons that anxiety and depression occur together so often. That said, however, even if we don’t have all the answers yet, there’s still a lot we do know about how anxiety and depression present and interact, and if you struggle with both, there are things that you can do to help yourself feel better!
Everyone experiences some anxiety and nervousness in their life– it’s a natural human emotion. Anxiety crosses over into being a disorder or mental health problem when it starts to become a hindrance to someone’s life and keeps them from doing things that they need or want to do. For example, if your anxiety is starting to make it hard to sleep, eat, or focus on work or school, you’re crossing over from average, daily anxiety into the kind that might require treatment.
When you have an anxiety problem, your preoccupation with things that worry you is so strong that it colors everything about your day, and it can even be hard to think about anything else, even though these thoughts distress you and might not even be rational or realistic fears. You’re filled with an overwhelming sense of doom or dread at these worries that you can’t seem to shake, and you may even experience panic attacks where the fear and nervousness become so all-encompassing that you can’t function normally at all and your body goes into a state of fight or flight.
Some other common symptoms of anxiety include irritability and physical restlessness, sleep problems, persistent fatigue, brain fog or trouble focusing, tension and muscle aches, nausea, and headaches.
In a similar vein, feelings of sadness are a normal human emotion that everyone experiences, but when those feelings start to take over a person’s life to the point where they can’t feel anything else, it becomes a problem that requires direct attention. In some cases, people who are depressed may not actually feel noticeably sad. Instead, they feel numb, empty, or even angry. Whatever the case, depression is characterized by persistent negative emotions that wash out a person’s ability to feel happy or like their usual self.
Depression can vary in how it presents and how well a person is able to mask their struggles. Some people are able to convince their friends and loved ones that nothing is wrong, going to work or school, socializing, and functioning as normal while they’re internally struggling with exhaustion and a great deal of emotional pain. Other people are less able to hide their suffering and may lose their ability to function, even finding it hard to get out of bed. Both of these presentations can be quite severe and should be treated by whatever methods work best for the person in question.
Some other symptoms of depression include a loss of interest or enjoyment in previously enjoyed activities, changes in appetite or sleep habits, a lack of energy or a feeling of being slowed down, feelings of worthlessness or low self-esteem, hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating.
Anxiety and Depression Together
Anxiety and depression do have quite a few symptoms in common– the way they affect a person’s eating and sleeping habits, for example, as well as the difficulty concentrating and functioning as normal and the feelings of irritability that come along with them. In cases where a person has one problem but not the other, the full picture of their symptoms usually makes it easy to tell the difference. However, if you have both anxiety and depression, it can get confusing to tell why you’re having certain symptoms. It becomes a chicken and egg situation– which problem is causing which symptom? Did one problem actually cause the other in the first place?
While there’s a definite possibility that you can develop anxiety because of depression or vice versa, the scientific jury is still out on any biological reasons why that might be the case. However, with their highly recorded rate of comorbidity, there’s a good chance that if you have depression or anxiety, you might find that one problem goes hand in hand with the other. This can leave you feeling defeated and hopeless, but there are many, many options out there that can help you if this is what you’re dealing with!
What You Can Do
Coping with either depression or anxiety on its own can be a serious challenge, so at times dealing with the two of them together can feel impossible. However, this isn’t the case, and anxiety and depression are both extremely treatable and manageable with help and the right approach!
Therapy and medication can make a serious difference in the way you feel day to day when it comes to both anxiety and depression. Building a support system of trusted friends and family is also incredibly helpful and can make the process of fighting your mental illness less daunting. If you’ve tried treatment methods like therapy and medication before without much success, don’t lose hope! Other treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, might be able to help you. You can learn more about TMS here.