A constant feeling of uneasiness along with intrusive and undesirable thoughts that cause sweaty palms and a hazy sense of an impending catastrophe are some of the ways in which anxiety disorders manifest. Such symptoms are also present in individuals struggling with depressive disorders.
Both anxiety and depression are often entwined, according to a study by Nicholas Jacobson and Michelle Newman, professors of psychology at Penn State University. Earlier findings suggest that 16 to 50 percent of people with depression also have an anxiety disorder.
Both conditions share common symptoms, such as stress, feelings of helplessness and an inability to concentrate. However, anxiety usually manifests in outbursts of energy, whereas depression is characterized by lethargy. “Both anxiety and depression are flip sides of the same coin,” says Geraldine Joaquim, a therapist at Quest Hypnotherapy, a U.K.-based center that prescribes a combination of psychotherapy and hypnosis to help patients cope with their condition. “Effectively we are all pre-programmed to fall back on these two conditions (as well as anger) from way back to our caveman days. They helped keep our ancestors safe,” she adds.
Studies show that anxiety and depression tend to assume many forms, making it tough to find a single method to collectively treat these conditions. Many people live with the symptoms of these two correlated, yet distinct, conditions; their complicated natures prevent people from speaking openly about what they are experiencing because of the fear of being stigmatized.
Depression and anxiety are characterized by abnormalities in thinking patterns, feelings or behaviors; these persistent symptoms can make a person feel debilitated and stressed. Relentless doubts and never-ending fears can be paralyzing, sapping away a person’s emotional energy. Eventually, the negative effects of these disorders can bring one’s life to a standstill, and in the worst-case scenario, lead to thoughts of suicide to end the suffering.
Why are anxiety and worrying such common behaviors? The answers lie in both the positive and negative beliefs that surround anxiety. On the negative side, individuals generally tend to believe that their prolonged anxiety is bound to escalate, take a toll on their health, and unleash a series of misfortunes. On the positive side, many researchers believe that being anxious is a mechanism to prepare emotionally for unpleasant outcomes or spur innovative solutions to ease a potential problem.
People with anxious thoughts are often viewed as being concerned and conscience-driven individuals. Considering worrying only as a positive action, however, can be emotionally harmful. Anxiety can be reduced by realizing that worrying can protect someone from harm. Persistent anxiety can take a toll on one’s well-being, creating additional stress that can lead to depression.
People in the grip of depression lose hope gradually, rendering them incapable of managing their condition and, ultimately, their lives. Both chronic anxiety and fullblown depression feed on each other, escalating symptoms and creating paralysis. Professional treatment is needed to manage both conditions simultaneously and mitigate patients’ symptoms.
Anxiety and depression can make patients’ lives miserable by trapping them into a vicious cycle of hopelessness and worry. Psychotherapy sessions with a licensed and trained mental health professional can help patients identify and work through factors that trigger these conditions. Adding medications that improve mood, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibi tors (SSRIs), and anti-anxiety drugs can help patients navigate their lives while in treatment.
Behavioral health professionals can and should screen patients as needed for anxiety and depression; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers free screening tools for depression and anxiety, available at integration.samhsa.gov/clinicalpractice/ screening-tools#anxiety. The site provides screening for suicidal ideation as well, which can help care givers to identify patients at risk.
A certain amount of worrying and feeling blue are a normal part of most people’s lives. But for millions, these behaviors wind up dominating their lives and crippling their ability to lead healthy, productive lives. Health care professionals are ideally situated to identify debilitating anxiety and depression and help patients to break the destructive patterns of these common conditions.