Almost half of American adults experience a mental illness during their lifetime. Anxiety and mood disorders are two common conditions, but it can be challenging to tell if you are struggling with anxiety or depression or both at the same time.
Having symptoms of depression can make us feel anxious, and dealing with anxiety can make us feel depressed. These two conditions seem to go hand in hand more often than not. So how do you really know what you're experiencing? Let’s unpack the symptoms and treatment options you should know.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety refers to an umbrella term because anxiety isn’t just a single disorder. In fact, there are several different types of anxiety conditions.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): GAD entails excessive, continuous worry that interferes with your daily living. The concerns are global. This means that they may span from worrying about your family’s health to worrying about tasks like chores and making appointments. You may experience uncomfortable physical symptoms like hypervigilance, worry, difficulty concentrating, and muscle tension.
Panic Disorder: Panic disorder includes recurrent panic attacks. As a result of these panic attacks, you may avoid or withdraw from certain activities or events in an effort to prevent an episode from happening.
Specific Phobia: Specific phobia is a persistent, excessive fear of a particular situation or object. Although you know this fear may be irrational, you can’t overcome your feelings of distress. As a result, you may go to great lengths to minimize or avoid any interaction with that triggering situation.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Social anxiety disorder refers to the significant anxiety of social situations. There is a pervasive fear of judgment from others, which results in feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation. You may feel terrified at the prospects of certain activities like meeting new people, doing a public speech, or going to a social gathering.
Agoraphobia:Agoraphobia refers to the fear of being in specific public spaces, such as open or enclosed areas, being outside the home alone, or using public transportation. You avoid these situations, and if you do encounter them, you experience intense anxiety. In untreated cases, you may be unable to leave the house altogether.
Separation Anxiety Disorder: Separation anxiety disorder refers to the extreme attachment (and subsequent fear of being apart) to another person. This feeling extends beyond a normal, age-appropriate fear. Symptoms typically emerge first in childhood, but they can persist throughout adulthood.
Symptoms of Major Depression
Depression is a common mood disorder responsible for ongoing, intense feelings of sadness and apathy. Depression affects how you engage with yourself, others, and the world around you. In extreme cases, it can make you feel worthless and suicidal.
Depression often has its onset in adolescence or early adulthood, but an episode can strike at any time. There isn’t a known cause for depression. Instead, researchers attribute this disorder to a combination of both environmental and biological factors.
Struggling with Anxiety and Depression
Some estimates show that 60% of those with anxiety will also have symptoms of depression, and the numbers are similar for those with depression also experiencing anxiety.
While it's unclear why depression and anxiety are so often paired together, there are several theories. One theory is that the two conditions have similar biological mechanisms in the brain, so they tend to show up together. Another theory is that they have many overlapping symptoms, causing people to meet the criteria for both diagnoses. Additionally, these conditions can present simultaneously when dealing with major stress.
However, treatment is available. Successful treatment targets all your symptoms, which means it’s not a matter of prioritizing one condition over another.
Therapy can help you regain a sense of control and balance in your life. You and your therapist will collaborate in creating an effective treatment plan that addresses your depression and anxiety. Therapy goals will vary, but they may include targets such as:
Working through thoughts and emotions to gain insight and to better understand any underlying patterns
Practicing stress reduction techniques
Building a healthy support network
Understanding triggers that exacerbate your symptoms
Reducing or eliminating dangerous behavior (suicidal ideation, self-harm, substance use)
Research suggests that mental illness may stem from brain abnormalities. Medication can often improve communication in the neurotransmitters responsible for mood, behavior, and emotional regulation.
It may take time to find the right medication and dosage that works best for you. You should always consult with your primary care physician or psychiatrist before starting or discontinuing any medication.
Getting The Help You Need
If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, the first step is acknowledging the problem. You are not responsible for your condition, but you are responsible for your recovery process. The more proactive you are in your care, the better you will feel.
Are you tired of your mental illness impacting your quality of life? Are you ready for a change? I understand how frightening and frustrating living with depression or anxiety can be. We can work together to help you discover a sustainable path towards healing.