When we think about anxiety, we imagine our bodies “freaking out” and “revving up.” Depression, on the other hand, causes us to feel “flat” and sapped of energy—sometimes unable to get out of bed. So, we assume these disorders are opposites. While these characterizations may be broadly true, many of us are both freaking out and stuck in bed! We are really the Anxiety and Depression Sisters (not as catchy, we know) so we felt it was time to clarify the link between these two brain illnesses.
After all, if you have experienced clinical depression, you have an 85% chance of developing Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and a 35% chance of developing Panic Disorder. This association means that, if you have been or are depressed, buckle your seatbelt because anxiety may well be around the corner. For those who develop anxiety disorder first, there is a slightly lower correlation but the association is still strong. Fighting anxiety all the time is exhausting and the ensuing hopelessness certainly feels depressing. At any rate, we know that anxiety and depression are fraternal twins—closely related but not exactly the same.
For the sake of research, scientists often either “lump” (their term) or separate symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, it is clear that these disorders are located in the same areas of the brain, with many of the same hormonal and chemical reactions and nerve responses. In other words, whether a person has an anxiety disorder or major depression is often a matter of very subtle differences in symptoms, and many people have what is called co-occurring disorder (both at the same time). The lines, as they say, are quite blurry.
In fact, there has been a push to come up with a mixed Anxiety/Depression Disorder in the latest DSM, which is the book of psychiatric diagnosis that all clinicians use. For technical reasons, the idea of a new co-diagnosis was not adopted here in the US (although they do use it in Europe).
For sufferers, perhaps the most relevant information concerning the link between anxiety and depression is that the treatments for anxiety and depression are largely the same. Almost all types of therapy and/or medications are used for both disorders. (Notable exceptions are extremely stubborn depression and bipolar disorder.)
While many symptoms of these two brain illness are shared, we thought we’d pay particular attention to those more commonly associated with depression:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Crying, often without direct cause
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of sexual drive
- No motivation to do anything
- Lack of joy in things that used to bring joy
- Low self-esteem/lack of confidence
- Withdrawal from the world
- Self-blame/feelings of worthlessness
- Body aches and pains, particularly headaches
- Constant negative thoughts
Of course you may recognize some (all?) of these symptoms from your anxiety struggles—and that is precisely the point. Often it is hard to separate anxiety from depression. Both come with feelings of worry, being overwhelmed, and an inability to cope in addition to a host of physical symptoms, all of which leave the sufferer feeling out of control.
So, if you thought you didn’t belong in our community because your primary disorder is depression, you were mistaken. Depression Sisters fit right in!
If you are comfortable doing so, please share some of your thoughts concerning the link between anxiety and depression. It is very comforting to many of our members when they discover they are not alone…