Four Reasons Why Anxiety and Depression Can Occur Together
Thursday, March 24 2016 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
Anxiety and depression, while different, often occur together (Relationship Between Depression And Anxiety). It has been estimated that half of all adults who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or major depression also experience the other.1 This double whammy is especially challenging—and annoying, to under-exaggerate. Why is it that anxiety and depression can occur together? Researchers are hard at work investigating this very question. The answer is a work in progress, but these four reasons help explain why anxiety and depression often occur together.
Four Reasons Anxiety and Depression Occur Together
- Both anxiety and depression are brain-based. Anxiety disorders and mood disorders like major depressive disorder are mental illnesses, and mental illnesses are illnesses of the brain. (The brain is an organ, after all, and it can experience technical difficulties like any other part of the human body.) The human brain is so complex that we’re just now beginning to understand it; however, we do know that it has areas, lobes, structures, nerves, axons, dendrites, neurotransmitters, and much more. Part of what causes depression and anxiety are functional problems within the brain (Anxiety: It's In Your Head [Your Brain]). When something isn’t operating quite as it should be, there are multiple consequences such as co-occurring anxiety and depression.
- Both anxiety and depression have environmental triggers. Yes, anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder are brain based. They have other causes, too, though, and many of those causes overlap. Things around us can trigger both anxiety and depression disorders. Sometimes, things going on in our world are very stressful and heavy—so stressful and heavy that they contribute to any type of anxiety disorder as well as major depression. The various fears and ruminations of anxiety disorders partner well with the sadness, decreased energy, and loss of interest of major depressive disorder. (More information on anxiety disorder symptoms and signs and symptoms of depression)
- Anxiety and depression intertwine in a downward spiral. As much of a culprit as external triggers are our thoughts about them. Both anxiety and depression can cause our thoughts to be unhealthy and limiting. Then, negative thoughts distort reality and those untrue beliefs further increase anxiety and depression. Emotions become tangled in the mix, too. It’s easy to think thoughts and feel feelings that are both anxious/worrisome/fearful and despairing/hopeless/overwhelming.
- Mental health isn’t compartmentalized. Despite the convenient breakdown of disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the accepted authority on mental illness and personality disorders, people and our brains don’t exist in neat and tidy little packages. It’s not bad that mental illnesses are separated in the DSM-5; in fact, that’s required if we are to fully understand and treat them. It’s just that in the real world of complex humanity, disorders aren’t neatly separated. Symptoms overlap. We can, and do, experience multiple things at once like depression and anxiety.
Benefit of Knowing Why Depression and Anxiety Occur Together
When in the throes of both anxiety and depression, it’s tempting to wonder why both are happening because one is bad enough, and it’s also tempting to feel even more overwhelmed and beaten down by not just one but the other, too (Getting Through a Day Paralyzed by Anxiety and Depression).
When we understand that it makes perfect sense for anxiety and depression to occur together, it can make them easier to deal with. There is a benefit in knowing that there are reasons for something, reasons that absolve you from fault. Living with both anxiety and depression is something that isn’t unusual or flawed about you.
And the best news of all? Knowing why anxiety and depression can occur together makes it easier to develop a plan of action for overcoming them.