Why do Anxiety and Depression Often Occur Together?
It isn’t uncommon for people suffering from anxiety to suffer from depression as well. In a very real sense, anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin. Although clinical textbooks list depression and anxiety to be completely distinct disorders, they maintain characteristics that are similar or related to each other.
A majority of people even make the mistake of interchanging one with the other. It’s a common mistake, but one that isn’t without basis. Anxiety and depression, more often than not, occur together. More than half of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with a form of anxiety disorder. Unlike more traditional diseases, there isn’t a concrete way of preventing one from spawning the other. This is because – as many doctors believe – anxiety and depression are usually brought about in an individual at the same time.
This can cause many complications in the recovery of a patient, as well as in a doctor’s attempt to map out an effective treatment for them. But despite these setbacks, the medical community has gone to great lengths to try to understand why anxiety and depression often occur together. What makes these two conditions so similar? What can be done about treating them? And is there really a definitive way of telling one from the other?
Both anxiety and depression are hinged on negative emotional states that can be debilitating for the sufferer. These can be life crippling and can rob an individual of the ability to live normally. They can also lead to long term social withdrawal, as well as a number of increasingly alarming conditions in the future. But despite these glaring similarities, they still don’t explain why the two conditions are related to each other. However, years of study have begun to glean on a few ideas that may shed light on the answers.
Understanding Anxiety and Depression
Before trying to understand the connection between anxiety and depression, it’s first important to try to grasp the conditions separately. Although the definitions seem to overlap, it’s important to draw distinctions between anxiety and depression to be able to spot their underlying connection.
Anxiety, for example, is a generalized condition that can be triggered by a sometimes, unidentifiable stimulus. Anxiety can easily be recognized to come out of nowhere, striking without warning. However, experts are quickly realizing that there may be underlying triggers to anxiety, whether the sufferer be aware of them or not.
Anxiety is easily comparable to fear, or stress, which is a natural and emotional reaction to a source of threat or danger. Anxiety is normally characterized by increased agitation and stress levels, which normally leads to a variety of physical manifestations that can (but doesn’t always) include panic attacks. These physical manifestations can include (but are not limited to) shortness of breath, heart palpitations, nausea and uncontrollable sweating and shaking of the hands.
However, anxiety is considered a normal emotional state. It is an instinctive way of telling the body that danger is near; which is why anxiety and panic are terms that are normally used in tandem with each other. But anxiety can eventually reach the level of disorder if natural day to day routines are constantly disrupted by episodes of anxiety even though there is no apparent threat or danger nearby.
Anxiety is largely viewed to be a high energy condition, where the sufferer is put into a state of alarm or alert.
Depression, on the other hand, is defined as a condition of low energy. Depression has a variety of classifications, but generally the condition is seen as a mood disorder that can also be triggered without any inherent stimuli. While anxiety can be known to happen in waves of varying intensity, depression can be constant in its presence in the sufferer.
Depressive episodes can last weeks, even months, at a time while heightened anxiety climaxes in a panic attack. Depression is usually associated with sadness, loneliness, melancholy, listlessness and overwhelming hopelessness. Unlike anxiety, depression doesn’t normally come with a list of physical manifestations. Any observable physical changes due to depression are more likely to be from another condition related to depression.
While anxiety sufferers tend to be agitated and jumpy, depression keeps individuals lethargic and unmotivated. Depression has always been recognized as a “shutting down” of the mind and body. It is an emotional “giving up”, that completely concedes to whatever threat or danger lies before it. This is unlike anxiety which pushes a person to flee as quickly as possible.
As mentioned earlier, depression can have a number of different sub-categorizations much like anxiety disorders. However, depressive states can also splinter into a number of other different psychiatric conditions if left untreated.
Depression has the capability of making an individual suicidal which, when partnered with anxiety, can cause serious consequences to the sufferer as well as their family.
After outlining the distinctions between anxiety and depression, it’s now possible to start seeing how anxiety and depression can be connected to one another:
The Connection Between The Two Conditions
Obviously, anxiety and depression are psychological conditions that hinge on negative emotions. Although both anxiety and depression are born out of thoughts and feelings that are both natural for the normal person, they are elevated to such a level that they are nothing less than crippling and debilitating.
However, a number of medical practitioners are seeing that there is more than an emotional connection to anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that the genetics of anxiety and depression are more or less the same. The research on their respective neurobiology raises significant comparisons; and the biology behind both conditions has drawn striking similarities.
At their heart, anxiety and depression seem to influence the mind’s ability to respond to stress. Both anxiety and depression are rooted in the way we handle stress and danger; although they do influence us to take action in arguably opposite ways. Anxiety and depression disorders are an over-reaction of our response to stress, which sends us panicking or despairing at the slightest incident.
But it seems the effects of anxiety and depression affects us in layers. Anxiety strikes with a sense of alarm and paranoia, putting us on alert for dangers that may happen in the near or far future. For sufferers of anxiety disorders, these dangers can be as seemingly trivial as a walk to the neighbourhood store, or a casual business presentation.
Depression, on the other hand, is the sinking feeling that you aren’t going to be able to cope with whatever you’re anxious about. You’ll never make it to the neighbourhood store, or you’ll be shot down at your business presentation. There’s no use getting ready for either activity – for better or for worse.
On top of that, various drugs and treatments designed to treat anxiety have also been known to be effective with depression as well. And treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy have often been prescribed for patients suffering from anxiety disorders; but it has also been effective in treating depression as well.
The closeness of anxiety and depression has posed a good number of problems for both patients and doctors, primarily because there is no distinct method to treat one over the other. In a very real sense, most doctors end up treating both with a sort of sweeping, general treatment.
Doctors are finding it harder and harder to progress in the field of psychiatric medicine mostly because of the vague lines differentiating conditions such as anxiety and depression. Pharmaceutical companies are continuously manufacturing separate designer drugs for anxiety and depression, when in fact many of the components of one can be found in the others.
A growing number of mental health experts are even postulating that anxiety and depression may not necessarily be distinct at all, but rather, two aspects of a completely different disorder.
If this were indeed true, that would explain why they often occur together, and are normally diagnosed at the same time.