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Anxiety-depressive disorder is a thing. It basically means you check the boxes for both depression and anxiety symptoms. But don’t worry! The depression-anxiety combo is actually pretty common.
In fact, research suggests that 40 to 70 percent of people who have depression also meet the criteria for anxiety, and vice versa.
The good news? Some symptoms of anxiety and depression overlap, so the treatments can be similar. Let’s dive into the deets, including symptoms, types of treatment, and coping techniques.
Sometimes depression and anxiety symptoms are so similar that it feels like you’re playing a guessing game. But there are some key differences that can help you tell them apart.
It’s normal to sometimes feel down, sad, or upset. But feeling blue for days on end? That’s a red flag.
Common symptoms of depression include:
- low energy, chronic fatigue, or frequent sluggishness
- trouble with concentration, memory, or decision making
- unexplained pain, aches, cramps, or digestive issues
- changes in appetite or weight
- sleep issues, like sleeping too much or not enough
- loss of interest in your favorite activities or hobbies
- constant sad, anxious, or empty feelings
- anger, irritability, or restlessness
- feelings of guilt, hopelessness, helplessness, or pessimism
- thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
It’s normal to feel worried from time to time. After all, stress is a natural response to external stimuli. That’s why you might have butterflies in your stomach before giving a big presentation or buying a new car.
But chronic anxiety isn’t your typical healthy dose of stress. It’s a bit like the “mean reds” Audrey Hepburn describes in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: “suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.” It can be overwhelming and lead to irrational fears that mess with your life.
Common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) include:
- difficulty with concentration or recollection
- muscle tension
- racing heart rate
- teeth grinding
- sleep issues, including difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- restlessness, irritability, or feeling on edge
- consistent thoughts of worry or fear
- feelings of dread or panic
Here’s the thing: You’re the only one who knows what’s “normal” for you. If you feel like something’s off, or it’s been off for a while, don’t hesitate to seek help from a pro.
You can find some self-diagnosis tests online. These tests can’t replace a professional diagnosis from a doctor. After all, unlike your healthcare provider, they don’t know your whole medical history. But they might help you better understand whether something’s up.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for anxiety or depression. These tips may not work for everyone, and they may not work every time.
The goal of managing depression and anxiety isn’t to do what works for someone else. It’s to find something that works for YOU.
1. Let go of the guilt
Let yourself feel all the feels, knowing it’s not your fault. Depression and anxiety are real medical conditions. You’re not weak or “less than” for feeling this way. Ditch the guilt: What you’re feeling has nothing to do with what you did or didn’t do.
2. Take control of the little things
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, focus on regaining a sense of control. Maybe it’s as simple as making your bed or sorting your recycling. Whatever it is, do something that makes you feel empowered and leaves you thinking, “Heck yeah, I’ve got this!”
3. Set a routine for every day of the week
Routines help us feel structured and in control, which is key for managing anxiety and depression.
Whether it’s in the morning before you start working or at night before going to bed, save a few minutes of your day for self-care. This can mean indulging in your daily skin care routine or savoring your morning coffee.
4. Make sure you’re getting your Zzz’s every night
For a “Sleeping Beauty” type of rest, aim for 7 to 9 hours each night. Poor sleep can affect your health in many ways, including by causing endocrine, immune, and nervous system issues.
If you want to look as plump and fresh as Princess Aurora, go to bed a little earlier and make sure you get your dose of Zzz’s every night.
5. Feed your body with nutritious goodness
When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, you might find yourself craving comfort foods (pasta, anyone?). Unfortunately, these delicious foods might not be the most nutritious.
6. Don’t feel like working out? Go for a brisk walk around the block
Exercise is a natural mood booster. When you exercise, your body produces endorphins, which make you feel happy. Still, it’s tough to feel motivated to work out when you have anxiety or depression. Gyms can also trigger anxiety and fear.
What should you do? If you don’t feel like working out, just go for a walk around your neighborhood. The important thing is to get your body moving.
7. Do something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside
Watch “Gilmore Girls” for the gazillionth time or reread a favorite book. Save time for the little things that bring you comfort. Self-care is an act of self-love, and alone time is a great way to recharge your body and distract your mind from daily stressors.
8. Relax and unwind with a soothing massage or a yoga session
Yoga, guided meditation, and massage are gold star relaxation methods. Schedule one or more of these activities several times a week, just like you would for any other appointment, and stick to it! Consistency is key.
9. Reach out to that friend you can talk to about nothing and everything all at once
Talking to a friend or family member is a natural mood booster. After all, friends encourage and support you. They let you know that (*cue “Friends” theme song*) “I’ll be there for yoooou…”
If you have symptoms for 2 weeks or longer, it might be a sign that you have depression, anxiety, or both.
When you go see your doctor, it’s important to be open and honest and not to sugar-coat how you feel. Your doctor wants to help you, so they need to get a clear picture of what you’ve been feeling — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
There’s no single test to diagnose depression or anxiety. Your doctor will probably do a physical exam and a depression or anxiety screening test. They’ll ask you questions to measure what you’ve been feeling.
If the results aren’t clear or your doctor suspects your symptoms point to something else, they may order tests to rule out underlying issues like an underactive thyroid, a vitamin deficiency, or hormone irregularities.
In some cases, your regular doc may direct you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These mental health experts can help when your usual healthcare provider isn’t fully equipped to treat your symptoms.
Treatments for anxiety and depression tend to be similar, so starting treatment for one condition can sometimes help with the other. Your healthcare provider may recommend a combination of these treatments:
Each type of therapy is unique. One type may be better suited to some people than to others. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:
Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
If personal relationships are at the heart of your depression or anxiety, this type of psychotherapy may be helpful. It’s also helpful if depression and anxiety are causing tension in your personal relationships.
IPT aims to help you improve communication and feel more empowered to snuff out problems before they can fester.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
This form of psychotherapy aims to restructure negative thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs that contribute to mental distress.
A type of cognitive behavioral intervention, this strategy focuses on finding ways to address specific negative effects of depression and anxiety.
Your doctor might recommend meds for depression, anxiety, or both. Because the two conditions overlap in many ways, one medication is sometimes enough to treat both conditions. Here are a few types of meds you might try:
- Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) increase feel-good chemicals in your brain.
- Anti-anxiety medications may not be helpful for all symptoms of depression. These should be used for only a short time due to the risk of dependency.
- Mood stabilizers can also be prescribed for anxiety and depression, especially when antidepressants don’t work by themselves.
Meds can take 2 weeks or more to become effective, so don’t worry if you don’t notice a difference right away. Doctors often recommend combining meds with psychotherapy to boost effectiveness.
Hypnosis isn’t just for high school amusement — hypnotherapy may help ease symptoms of both anxiety and depression. It’s not used much in psychotherapy, but research suggests it can be beneficial, so it’s worth considering.
Dealing with anxiety and depression at the same time can take some finesse. But you don’t have to live like this forever.
Catching symptoms early and being proactive in seeking a diagnosis and treatment plan can help pump the brakes on symptoms that may be affecting your daily life. You deserve to feel your best, so don’t wait.