There’s a false belief some have that depression and anxiety are two mutually exclusive disorders. In other words, some people think that if you have depression, you can’t have anxiety and vice versa.
But the truth is that these two mental health problems have a common, albeit complicated relationship. People with anxiety disorders tend to live in a state of turbulence, and after living like that for some time, it can take a significant emotional toll on a person. That’s typically when depression sets in.
According to Sally Connolly, a therapist at Couples Counseling of Louisville in Kentucky, nearly half of all people with major depression also suffer from severe and persistent anxiety. It becomes a vicious cycle, with anxious thoughts triggering a feeling of failure which leads to depression.
That being said, there are signs to look out for that indicate a person may be suffering from both an anxiety disorder and depression.
1. Constant Fear and Irrational Worry
This is a classic symptom of all anxiety disorders and can significantly wear a person down over time. General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is caused by dysfunction in the amygdala, the part of the brain that helps process emotion. Because the amygdala handles emotion and fear, depression can also stem from issues with this section of the brain.
2. Difficulty with Concentration, Memory, and Decision-Making
The amygdala also deals with memory. When connections are scrambled in your amygdala, it can make remembering things very difficult. This often leads to feelings of confusion and an inability to effectively make decisions.
Sometimes it can even lead to having hallucinations. This is an important symptom to look out for because it drastically affects the everyday functionality of a person. After dealing with this symptom for some time, a person paralyzed by their inability to remember or make decisions can feel stuck, and this will trigger depressive episodes.
Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early. The official classification for someone suffering from insomnia is if it takes you 30 minutes or more to fall asleep, or you’re awake for 30 minutes or more during the night, at least three times a week for a month or more.
Depression is both a primary cause of insomnia, but also a symptom of it. Anxiety can also cause insomnia when a person is kept up at night with worry. This kind of intense restlessness can have serious effects on the body and quickly trigger more symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
4. Changes in Diet
These disorders often have an enormous impact on our bodies of which we may not immediately be aware. Many people with depression and anxiety tend to have a loss of appetite. However, sometimes feelings of sadness and worry can lead to overeating.
When someone is experiencing an emotional emptiness, they may try to fill this void with food. This act can trigger chemicals in the brain to produce feelings of emotional fullness, or improved mood. When a person with depression or anxiety learns they can feel better by eating, they may try to frequently sooth themselves with food.
Whether a person has a loss of appetite or overeating, the change in diet should be taken as a sign that there could be underlying issues of depression and (or) anxiety.
5. Physical Symptoms
Both anxiety and depression can have a major effect on the signals our brain sends to our body. Here are some of those physical symptoms to watch out for:
- Headaches or migraines
- Hot flashes
- Sweating not brought on by heat
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Difficulty breathing/a choking feeling
- Shaking or muscle twitching
- Cramps or digestive problems
6. Always Feeling Worthless and Sad
It’s common for people with depression to feel constantly sad and have a decreased sense of self-worth. What heightens these symptoms for people with anxiety and depression is the cycle of anxious feelings leading to a feeling like they don’t matter.
Here are what some of the thoughts might sound like of someone going through a cycle of anxious and depressive feelings:
- “I’m so worried… But what does it matter? I’m worthless anyway.”
- “I’m afraid _______ will happen, but even if it does, I guess it won’t matter since I fail at everything in life.”
- “I’m worried about what ______ thinks of me, but then again I’m not important enough to have a right to worry about that.”
- “If _______ happens, I’m going to feel horrible. But what does it matter? I already feel horrible anyway.”
It’s important to listen out for these thoughts because a person can get quickly swept up into this vicious cycle of being unhealthily worried or afraid then feeling like they aren’t even entitled to that worry because of how lacking in self-worth they are, only to again feel anxious and afraid of those feelings of worthlessness.
This cycle can lead to suicidal ideation or talk of death.
7. Loss of Interest
Depression and anxiety can both take the pleasure or joy out of the hobbies or activities you like to do. It can also cause you to withdraw interest in spending time with people you love. Attempting to push through the loss of interest does not help in overcoming the feeling, as it just continues to emphasize how the experienced negative symptoms are consuming a person.
One of the biggest telltale sign of depression and anxiety is a lost interest in sex. These disorders can completely remove a person’s sex drive and even cause impotence.
8. Lack of Self-Care
When a person is experiencing the crushing cycle of anxiety and depression, basic hygiene and self-care become low priority. The interchanging feelings of worry and worthlessness make it difficult to find the motivation to take care of one’s self. Things as simple as getting out of bed, eating, taking a shower, and brushing your teeth become tasks that seem impossible when you’re caught up in this cycle.
9. Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are a dangerous sign of an anxiety disorder. They feel like a sudden feeling of terror that strike without warning. Some people describe feeling like they’re going insane or having a heart attack.
Here are a few notable signs of someone going through a panic attack:
- Racing heart
- Difficulty breathing
- Sense of impending doom and terror, or even death
- Tingly feeling in hands or feet
- Sweating or chills
- Pain in the chest
- Feeling out of control
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
- Involuntary muscle tightening
If you witness someone having a panic attack, it can be terrifying. But try to keep the person calm by talking them through the panic attack.
10. Sudden or Extreme Changes in Mood
Depression and anxiety can result in uncontrollable, shifting moods. You could be very angry one moment and incredibly sad the next. These mood swings can manifest as violent and aggressive behavior, particularly in men. It can also result in substance abuse.
Recognizing the signs of depression and anxiety early on can help treat the issues before they get worse. If you suspect you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of depression or anxiety, it’s important to talk to a psychiatrist. Sometimes these symptoms can also be an indicator of bipolar disorder which is treated very differently than anxiety with depression.
Speaking with a healthcare professional about an assessment of symptoms is imperative to know what treatment is necessary.