Four Reasons Why Anxiety and Depression Can Occur Together
Anxiety and depression, while different, often occur together (Relationship Between Depression And Anxiety). It has been estimated that half of all adults who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or major depression also experience the other.1 This double whammy is especially challenging—and annoying, to under-exaggerate. Why is it that anxiety and depression can occur together? Researchers are hard at work investigating this very question. The answer is a work in progress, but these four reasons help explain why anxiety and depression often occur together.
Four Reasons Anxiety and Depression Occur Together
- Both anxiety and depression are brain-based. Anxiety disorders and mood disorders like major depressive disorder are mental illnesses, and mental illnesses are illnesses of the brain. (The brain is an organ, after all, and it can experience technical difficulties like any other part of the human body.) The human brain is so complex that we’re just now beginning to understand it; however, we do know that it has areas, lobes, structures, nerves, axons, dendrites, neurotransmitters, and much more. Part of what causes depression and anxiety are functional problems within the brain (Anxiety: It's In Your Head [Your Brain]). When something isn’t operating quite as it should be, there are multiple consequences such as co-occurring anxiety and depression.
- Both anxiety and depression have environmental triggers. Yes, anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder are brain based. They have other causes, too, though, and many of those causes overlap. Things around us can trigger both anxiety and depression disorders. Sometimes, things going on in our world are very stressful and heavy—so stressful and heavy that they contribute to any type of anxiety disorder as well as major depression. The various fears and ruminations of anxiety disorders partner well with the sadness, decreased energy, and loss of interest of major depressive disorder. (More information on anxiety disorder symptoms and signs and symptoms of depression)
- Anxiety and depression intertwine in a downward spiral. As much of a culprit as external triggers are our thoughts about them. Both anxiety and depression can cause our thoughts to be unhealthy and limiting. Then, negative thoughts distort reality and those untrue beliefs further increase anxiety and depression. Emotions become tangled in the mix, too. It’s easy to think thoughts and feel feelings that are both anxious/worrisome/fearful and despairing/hopeless/overwhelming.
- Mental health isn’t compartmentalized. Despite the convenient breakdown of disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the accepted authority on mental illness and personality disorders, people and our brains don’t exist in neat and tidy little packages. It’s not bad that mental illnesses are separated in the DSM-5; in fact, that’s required if we are to fully understand and treat them. It’s just that in the real world of complex humanity, disorders aren’t neatly separated. Symptoms overlap. We can, and do, experience multiple things at once like depression and anxiety.
Benefit of Knowing Why Depression and Anxiety Occur Together
When in the throes of both anxiety and depression, it’s tempting to wonder why both are happening because one is bad enough, and it’s also tempting to feel even more overwhelmed and beaten down by not just one but the other, too (Getting Through a Day Paralyzed by Anxiety and Depression).
When we understand that it makes perfect sense for anxiety and depression to occur together, it can make them easier to deal with. There is a benefit in knowing that there are reasons for something, reasons that absolve you from fault. Living with both anxiety and depression is something that isn’t unusual or flawed about you.
And the best news of all? Knowing why anxiety and depression can occur together makes it easier to develop a plan of action for overcoming them.
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1 Understanding Comorbid Depression and Anxiety and The Comorbidity of Major Depression and Anxiety Disorders: Recognition and Management in Primary Care
Peterson, T. (2016, March 24). Four Reasons Why Anxiety and Depression Can Occur Together, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/03/four-reasons-why-anxiety-and-depression-can-occur-together
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS
I have suffered with both anxiety and depression for years. My concern now is, I'm being treated with two anxiety medications, xanax and clonazepam as well as an antidepressant and most recently, a mood stabilizer. My fear is, the long term use, and possible dependencies of the anxiety meds. I've been on clonazepam for well over 15 years and xanax for over 2 years. I'm certain I am having rebound effects from the long term dosages of clonazepam but afraid to try to wean off. I have no control over my anxiety, I have not been able to established possible triggers and fear I will never get beyond this. It has impacted every aspect of my life, and not in a positive way.
Your concerns are absolutely valid. It's good to discuss them with a doctor, a psychiatrist if possible. It's okay to keep searching until you find one that will discuss your concerns. Something to consider discussing is the fact that sometimes anti-anxiety medication can have the opposite effect -- it can actually increase anxiety. This doesn't always happen, of course, but it can. It did for me. Everyone is different and reacts differently to medication. It's definitely worth talking about with a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist, too, will be able to help you make a decision whether or not to wean off of one or more medications and help you do it safely. It can be very dangerous to try to do it yourself. Don't give up. Anxiety doesn't always have to negatively impact your life even though it feels that way now. I can relate to that fear, and I can attest to the fact that it won't control you forever.
I have both anxiety and clinical depression. I have every type of anxiety so it's hard to treat both and to compensate but I have a loving partner who helps me through my episodes and that is a big help for me. It took me a while to get used to help since I'm used to doing it all myself. For people who have both its hard to live a completely normal life. I've started thinking of my anxiety and depression as two other sides of me to compensate. I'm not sure if it's a good idea but it's working so far.
Thank you for sharing your comments and experience -- including something that is working for you. Something is a "good idea" if it is helpful to you and is safe/healthy. So don't judge yourself for what you're doing. Judging contributes to anxiety!
The coexistence of anxiety and depression-called comorbidity in the psych biz-carries some serious repercussions. It makes the course of disorder more chronic, it impairs functioning at work and in relationships more, and it substantially raises suicide risk
Absolutely. Thank you for sharing these facts about the serious nature of comorbid anxiety and depression. The more information people have, the better equipped they'll be to treat/manage both anxiety and depression.
When you're feeling such terrible anxiety and having panic attacks it is almost impossible not to feel depressed too. If you're deeply depressed it is almost impossible to not feel anxious about it. They just go hand in hand.
Absolutely true. They can each contribute to the other, and it can feel discouraging and overwhelming. It's still very possible to overcome both, but it can take longer than it does when "just" one exists on its own. Like the tortoise and the hare (or in my house, the tortoise and the chinchilla because we have both), slow and steady wins the race. :)