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Is It Anxiety, Depression, or Both?

A woman sitting on a sofa and feeling anxious

It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous or a bit down in the dumps from time to time. However, if you experience feelings of anxiety or depression for long stretches of time that have a significant negative impact on your quality of life, you may have an anxiety disorder or clinical depression.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a general fear or apprehension about what will happen or could happen in the future. Feelings of worry, nervousness, uneasiness or dread are all examples of anxiety.

Affecting about 40 million adults in the US age 18 and older every year, anxiety disorders represent the most common mental illness in the country. About 30 percent of adult Americans develop an anxiety disorder at some point during their lives.

Anxiety can cause you to feel restless and tense, sweat and have a rapid heartbeat. However, anxiety is a healthy and normal emotional reaction to stress, particularly when we are faced with a difficult problem or have to make an important decision. Normal occurrences of anxiety can help people cope with a problem by providing a boost of energy and sharpening mental focus. However, for people who have an anxiety disorder, feelings of fear and nervousness are not temporary and may interfere with their job performance, schoolwork, relationships and other aspects of daily life.

The most common anxiety disorders, each which has its own symptoms, are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): People with GAD worry excessively about many ordinary things, including health, finances, work, and family. If a person experiences excessive worrying about these things for six months or more, they may have GAD.
  • Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder is an intense, persistent fear of being watched, judged or rejected by other people that occurs in the presence of others. In addition to affecting work, school, and other daily activities, this type of anxiety can cause difficulties in a person’s ability to make and keep friends.
  • Panic disorder: People with panic disorder experience sudden feelings of intense fear accompanied by distinct physical symptoms, including a pounding heart, chest pain, sweating, shortness of breath, and trembling.
  • Phobias: A phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. Common phobias include the fear of spiders, flying, closed spaces, and being in a crowd.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): In this anxiety disorder, unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations, or obsessions cause a person to do something repeatedly.

What Is Depression?

Depression, also called major depression and clinical depression, is a persistent feeling of sadness than can be accompanied by a sense of hopelessness. Other symptoms of depression may include:

  • Loss of interest in activities the person once enjoyed
  • Loss of energy
  • Reduced motivation
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Insomnia (trouble falling or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (trouble staying awake and alert during the day despite getting an adequate amount of sleep at night)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts or actions of self-harm and suicide

Depression is a common mental health problem, with an estimated five percent of all adults suffering from the disorder globally.

Are Anxiety and Depression Related?

Anxiety and depression may originate in the same area of the brain. The amygdala is the part of the brain that generates emotional responses to our environment. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also experience depression or vice versa.

Almost one half of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. What’s more, anxiety can occur as a symptom of clinical depression, while anxiety disorders and panic disorder can trigger depressive episodes. Having anxiety and depression simultaneously can also worsen the symptoms of each disorder or make them last longer.

Treating Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are both treatable mental illnesses. A proper diagnosis by a doctor or mental health specialist must occur before treatment of an anxiety disorder or clinical depression can begin. If you are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, depression or both, your healthcare provider will recommend a treatment plan individualized for your needs. Your treatment may include one or more of the following:

  • Psychotherapy (also called talk therapy), including cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is designed to help people manage problems by changing the way they think and behave.
  • Lifestyle changes, including regular exercise and stress relief techniques.
  • Dietary changes.
  • Medication management, including taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
  • For depression that does not respond to medication or other first-line treatments, other treatments your doctor may recommend include electroconvulsive therapy, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and ketamine infusion.

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Signs and symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety should not be ignored. University Hospitals has a wide network of primary care physicians and behavioral health professionals at convenient locations across the region who can diagnose and treat all types of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.