Anxiety disorders are often linked to depression. It's important that both conditions are treated simultaneously.
People with anxiety disorders, like social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or phobias, spend most of their lives in an agitated state. After a while, that can take a huge emotional toll, and depression often sets in. But relief from both anxiety and depression can be achieved.
Why Anxiety Leads to Depression
Anxiety disorders are much more than just nervousness and worrying. They can cause terrifying fear about things that other people wouldn't give a second thought to. Many people with anxiety disorders understand that their thoughts are irrational, but they still can't stop them.
"It's a cycle. Because when you get anxious, you tend to have this pervasive thinking about some worry or some problem and you feel bad about it. Then you feel like you've failed, and you move to depression," says Sally R. Connolly, LCSW, a therapist at the Couples Clinic of Louisville in Kentucky.
The two conditions have a complicated relationship:
- The incidence of developing depression in addition to an anxiety disorder is high — a little more than half of all people with major depression also suffer from severe and persistent anxiety, notes Connolly.
- "People who are depressed often feel anxious and worried, so one can trigger the other. Anxiety often comes before depression," she says.
- Some of the research indicates a biological predisposition to both anxiety disorders and depression. A family history of these mental health conditions may also help explain the connection between anxiety disorders and depression.
"Especially with anxiety, more so than depression, there often is some family history, and so therefore we think that there may be some genetic predisposition to this," says Connolly. "Some people are just worriers and pass it down."
Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression
These are warning signs that a person may suffer from both anxiety disorder and depression:
- Constant, irrational fear and worry
- Physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, and difficulty breathing
- Constant feelings of sadness or worthlessness
- Disinterest in hobbies and activities
- Feeling tired and cranky
- Panic attacks
Treating Anxiety and Depression
Both anxiety and depression need to be treated, and treatment should be focused on both conditions together.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to treat anxiety disorder with depression. CBT can teach people to manage their fears, anxieties, and depressive symptoms by figuring out what's really causing them; they also learn how to take control of their emotions.
- Antidepressant medications may also be prescribed to help treat both conditions; they are often used in conjunction with CBT.
- Exercise can also help both anxiety disorders and depression. Exercise releases chemicals in the body that make you feel good, and it can help you relax.
Treatment for anxiety disorders and depression needs to be administered and managed by a psychiatrist, Connolly says. "It's really crucial for people with both [anxiety and depression] to have a good assessment to rule out bipolar disorder," she says. Bipolar disorder, a condition in which emotions can swing from very low to very high levels of mania and depression, is treated much differently than anxiety disorder with depression.
No one has to suffer from anxiety disorder or depression, and certainly not both. People with anxiety disorder should speak with a psychiatrist, therapist, or other health-care professional about their symptoms, and start treatment before depression has a chance to set in.