Although anxiety and depression are different problems with separate causes and symptoms, they frequently occur together. A person with an anxiety disorder can also be clinically depressed, and vice versa. Anxiety can occur as a symptom of depression, and depression can be triggered by an anxiety disorder. There are effective ways to deal with having both depression and anxiety, including psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and/or medication.
What’s the Connection Between Anxiety & Depression?
The connection between anxiety and depression is very strong. Among people who experience generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), up to 61.2% may also experience major depressive disorder at some point in their lives.1 Various types of anxiety disorders, including GAD, panic disorder, and separation anxiety disorder can easily trigger depression.2 It is also common to have social anxiety and depression. Among those who are first diagnosed with depression, nearly half are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.3
Both are believed to be among the factors which can cause the other. Both anxiety and depression often involve symptoms such as irritability, difficulty concentrating, and problems sleeping. Living with these symptoms over an extended period of time creates more problems beyond the original concerns. Sometimes these additional problems trigger new symptoms, which can be symptoms of either anxiety or depression.
Can Anxiety Cause Depression?
Although anxiety can trigger depression, it is not the only factor which determines whether someone will become depressed.
Other risk factors that can contribute to having depression include:4
- Inherited genes that affect the neurotransmitters involved in mood disorders
- Having a history of trauma
- Having a serious medical problem
- Side-effects of certain medications
- Use of alcohol or other substances
For example, a highly anxious person may have difficulty sleeping, which can lead to poor performance at work or irritability toward co-workers. These changes in behavior may lead to loss of a job. Depending on the circumstances, that job loss could cause a decrease in self-esteem or despair about the future. Either of these consequences could trigger depression, particularly for someone who has one or more of the other risk factors noted earlier.
Kerin Schornstein, LCSW says, “It can be very common to have both depression and anxiety as some of the symptoms overlap. Some of these common symptoms can include irritability, decreased concentration, and impaired sleep. The likelihood of acquiring depression is higher when an anxiety disorder is already present as people who are depressed often feel anxious and worried. Even though the energy states can appear to look different ( anxiety is considered more of a high energy state and depression is a low state) they do co-occur often and can lead to a vicious cycle. The chances of developing depression is much higher when an anxiety disorder already exists.”
Can Depression Cause Anxiety?
Depression is one of the risk factors for an anxiety disorder. The general risk factors for anxiety include inherited genes, trauma during early childhood or young adulthood, shy temperament, use of caffeine or other substances, and certain medical conditions.5
For example, a seriously depressed person might have a lack of motivation or feel pessimistic about their future. This could easily lead them to overlook opportunities for new relationships or jobs. If this continues over time, it becomes likely that they will fall behind on their life goals.
Eventually the depression lifts and the person begins to feel anxious about the loss of opportunities, with an urgent need to get back on track with their life. These feelings could trigger high anxiety, particularly for someone with additional risk factors.
What Are the Symptoms of Depression?
Depression has various forms and can be experienced with different symptoms depending upon individual differences, including a person’s age and gender. There are typical depression symptoms, and when present, these indicate a major depressive disorder. Other forms of depression present differently, but most center around typical symptoms.
Typical symptoms of depression include:6
- Low mood with feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, irritability, or emptiness
- A significant change in appetite, with either weight gain or loss
- A change in hours spent sleeping, either more or less, nearly every day
- Less interest in or pleasure gained from activities that were previously enjoyed
- Lower energy level or feeling fatigued on most days
- Noticeable change in behavior, appearing either sped up or slowed down
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt nearly every day
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions on most days
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, with or without a plan
What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
Anxiety can be experienced in many different ways, at any age, and with different symptoms. Anxiety symptoms and signs often revolve around excessive feelings of worry that interrupt daily activity.
Symptoms of anxiety include:6
- Excessive worry about a number of events or activities, continuing for at least six months
- Worrying that’s difficult to control
- Restlessness or being keyed up
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension or digestive problems
- Sleep disturbance, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Impaired functioning at work, school, or in relationships due to the anxiety
When to Talk to Your Doctor About Depression & Anxiety Symptoms
You may be unsure about whether the symptoms you’re experiencing are normal and temporary or if you should talk to your doctor about them. Most people have occasional feelings of anxiety or of sadness. This can result from a recent event in your life, such as a relationship breakup or problems at work.
Normal adjustment periods can take up to six months without any professional help. There is no need to wait that long. It’s best to ask your doctor if you’re not sure whether you need help sooner.
These symptoms may include:
- Any physical problems, such as muscle aches or digestive trouble
- Changes in your sleep habits
- Weight loss (without dieting) or weight gain related to a change in appetite
- Anxiety about more than one area of your life, such as work & family or health & finances
- Changed behavior in daily life, such as lower job performance or more arguments in relationship
- Loss of interest in activities that you usually enjoy
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or empty on most days of the week
- Feeling tired or not motivated to do normal activities
- Feeling anxious or worried for more than 6 months, even if it’s just about one area of your life
- Having frequent thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm
How Co-Occurring Anxiety & Depression Are Treated
There’s an overlap among the symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of depression. For this reason it isn’t always clear which is predominant. An experienced therapist can develop a treatment plan to manage and reduce the symptoms of both.
At times, the depression is more severe and will be treated first in order to increase motivation or energy level. If someone is experiencing symptoms of both, they should reach out to a professional for both diagnosis and treatment.
Psychotherapy is highly effective in the treatment of both anxiety and depression. The most effective form of therapy for both is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This involves identifying the negative and non-helpful thoughts and then replacing those with more realistic and motivating thoughts.
It also involves specific steps toward managing the feelings of anxiety and its related symptoms. Alternative forms of therapy that have proven helpful for both types of symptoms are interpersonal therapy and problem-solving therapy.7
Medication for depression and medication for anxiety are also effective. When symptoms are severe enough to affect day to day life, psychotherapy and medication can be combined for greater effectiveness. Medication may be prescribed by a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist with prescription privileges.
Types of medication have been shown by research to be effective for the symptoms of both depression and anxiety disorders. It might take time to determine the best medication for the individual and there are a number of medication options to be tried, if needed.
How to Find a Therapist
If you’re ready to start therapy, ask for a referral from your primary care physician, or start your search in an online therapist directory. This will allow you to narrow down your search by specific details like expertise, cost, and location.
5 Ways to Deal With Depression & Anxiety
Talk to a professional if you are having symptoms of anxiety and depression. There are also several ways to deal with the symptoms to improve the way you feel. These include lifestyle changes, social support, and stress management skills.
Here are five ways to deal with depression and anxiety:
1. Lifestyle Changes
Healthy lifestyle habits have been consistently shown to help relieve some symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Such lifestyle changes include:
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet
- Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night (more for children and teens)
- Avoiding or limiting use of substances that may affect your mood (caffeine, alcohol, non-prescription drugs,etc)
Exercising on a regular basis has many mental health benefits. It is listed separately from other lifestyle changes because of the impact that this one change can have upon mood and the prevention of episodes of depression.8 Physical activity also helps to lower anxiety, especially anxiety due to agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).9 Talk to your physician about the best exercises for you.
3. Learn Stress Management Skills
Stress management skills may include things like breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. Mindfulness practice is another excellent stress management skill. It involves a focus upon the here and now, as opposed to worry about the future or regrets about the past. Various ways to practice all of these skills can be found online.
4. Stay In Touch With Family & Friends
Talking with family members or friends may allow you to receive support and encouragement from those whom you know and trust. Spending time with others can also be very effective toward relieving loneliness and shedding new light on your situation.
5. Look Into Joining a Support Group
A variety of support groups can be found online and may be run remotely or in person. It can be very helpful to speak with others who are dealing with similar problems and who are eager to share their own experiences.
Final Thoughts on Dealing With Anxiety & Depression
Symptoms of anxiety and depression vary from one person to the next. What you’re dealing with is unique to you, but you do not need to cope with it alone. Talking to a mental health professional or simply reaching out to a trusted friend or family member is a great way to start feeling better.