Depression and Anxiety: How to Cope with Two Mental Illnesses
Those unfamiliar with mental disorders tend to hold the common misconception that mental illness is easy to overcome. This is simply not the case at all. These disorders are debilitating and can affect how you go about your daily life.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (1), around 60 percent of patients with anxiety will also demonstrate depressive symptoms as well. Dealing with one serious mental illness can already be hard enough. Coping with both depression and anxiety at the same time can be even more difficult to endure.
If you are suffering from anxiety or depression (or both), and have asked yourself the question "how do I get treated for depression?" then take a peek at this quick guide that will answer all your frequently asked questions below.
Anxiety and Depressive Disorders—What is the Difference?
Because the signs and symptoms of both anxiety and depression often intersect, it might be difficult for the average person to be able to tell the difference between the two. Let’s take a closer look into these two mental health conditions here.
Anxiety disorders can comprise of many different disorders under the anxiety umbrella: generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder. Each anxiety disorder will have a specific trigger that differentiates one disorder from another (aside from generalized anxiety, which is characterized by a general worry about a great number of things).
Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Constant fear or worry
- Inability to relax
- Rapid breathing
- Sudden sweating
- Panic attacks
Major depressive disorder might sound like the complete opposite of an anxiety disorder. Where anxiety will make you on-edge and nervous, depression can make you feel hopeless and sad.
That does not mean you cannot have both, however. Either depression or anxiety can make your daily tasks seem more difficult to accomplish. It is possible that your anxious thoughts can paralyze you and make you feel hopeless. Your feelings of sadness can make you anxious because you believe there is no good reason for them to linger.
Mayo Clinic (2) also states that anxiety can actually manifest as an additional symptom of depression. Other symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of worthlessness, sadness, or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities you once loved doing
- Sleep disturbances (which can lead to sleep disorders)
- Weight loss, weight gain, or eating disorders
- Substance abuse (which in turn can lead you to developing substance use disorders)
Post-traumatic stress disorder might seem very similar to anxiety, but it is actually caused by traumatic stress experienced or witnessed firsthand by the patient. This can cause terrifying flashbacks or uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event, nightmares, and severe bouts of anxiety that can interfere with your everyday life.
The same can be said for obsessive compulsive disorder. This disorder creates repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations that the patient will obsess over, such as certain objects being deemed “good” or “bad”. It can also compel someone to do the same repeated activity over and over again without any rhyme or reason.
Similarly, some people who have depression may confuse their mood swings with bipolar disorders. Indeed, this disorder is technically classified as a type of depression known as manic depression. It can bring intense mood swings where a patient could feel really happy and energized one moment and severely depressed another moment.
Of course, it is best to leave the diagnosis to the mental health professionals. Not only can they properly diagnose your mental health conditions, but they can also prescribe the right health treatments that will help you, too!
Treatment for Anxiety
You should always talk to your doctor if you find your anxiety symptoms getting worse. They can help you come up with a strategic plan to help you better cope with anxiety.
Of course, the first thing your doctor will do is have you take an anxiety test. It is basically an anxiety symptom checker that will give them a better picture of why you might be feeling intensely anxious all the time. They will then prescribe the best anxiety treatment for your unique situation.
If you find your thoughts constantly racing, your doctor might recommend that you try some mindfulness meditation or other similar techniques to help you relax. This meditation can help to temper your negative thoughts and help to calm both your mind and body. Doing so even for a few minutes a day can help to reduce your anxiety symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.
These are medications that will increase certain chemicals in your brain to alter your mood. There are many different types of reuptake inhibitors, but doctors typically prescribe norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs) to patients with anxiety or depression.
What is Reuptake?
Basically, chemicals called neurotransmitters help to balance certain signals in your body. These contribute to simple physical reactions like breathing or psychological ones like feeling pleasure, fear, and other emotions. Low levels of specific neurotransmitters that enhance your mood such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine can result in you feeling depressed and anxious.
Reuptake basically recycles the level of neurotransmitters in your brain. This means that if your levels of these neurotransmitters are already low to begin with, it can perpetuate your low moods and worsen your mental health even further. Taking a reuptake inhibitor can prevent this from happening.
They will instead work to inhibit these neurotransmitters from being depleted into other sources. This gives you more access to these “feel-good” chemicals, which can boost your mood, energy, productivity, and more!
Treatments for Depression
Oftentimes, treatments for anxiety will also help to address your major depression as well. A doctor will have you take a depression test to understand the true source of your depression then recommend the best mental health treatments for your situation. Here are a few of the most common treatment programs your doctor might advise you join.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to treat patients with anxiety, depression, or both. This behavioral therapy largely involves changing the way a patient thinks about their problems. It is perhaps the most effective depression treatment there is.
This goal of this therapy is to help patients recognize that their psychological problems are partly based in faulty or unhelpful modes of thinking. It then aims to help them unlearn any harmful behaviors or thought patterns that they have developed to cope, instead replacing them with healthier strategies and plans.
There are other types of therapy that your doctor may also have you undergo at this time, including:
- Interpersonal therapy (which helps you interact and communicate better with others)
- Problem-solving therapy (which teaches you skills to help you cope with your symptoms better)
How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works
First, just know that your doctor will not force you to do anything you are not ready for. If the thought of being in a crowd terrifies you, for instance, your doctor will not shove you in group therapy for your first session.
Rather, this therapy is a collaborative effort that both you and your doctor can build upon so that you may develop better coping mechanisms. Your doctor may first try to teach you how to calm your mind and body, whether this is through meditation or simple breathing exercises. They may then offer to roleplay scenarios that you find frustrating, scary, or agitating in any way. It is not until you build a good foundation of coping mechanisms with them will they start to encourage you to face your fears head-on.
Your doctor may also recommend you make a few lifestyle changes alongside this therapy as well. This can include:
- Setting a better sleep schedule
- Eating healthier meals and snacks
- Introducing regular exercise into your routine
While these smaller actions might not seem like much, you will find that taking care of your physical health can do wonders to improve your mental and emotional health, too.
Additional Resources for People Living with Depression
It can be tough to make that first appointment with a therapist. You might not even know where to start looking for someone who will work well with you. Luckily, there are quite a few resources both online and offline that you might find useful.
The website for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (3) is an excellent source of mental health information. All their programs and content are medically-reviewed by psychiatric experts and other professionals in the industry to ensure the platform is up-to-date on all behavioral health protocols and studies. You can even connect to ADAA-approved health professionals that will be happy to work with you!
If you are feeling depressed and suicidal or simply need someone kind to talk to, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is another great source for you to use. Even if you do not like talking on the phone, a kind counselor helping you work through your pain can be just the thing you need to lift your spirits. They also have an online chat system (4) you can use as well!