What Happens When Depression and Anxiety Occur Together
Until recent times, it was believed that anxiety is a common symptom of depression and that having either of the two made it likely that one would develop the other condition as well. However, a few years ago, studies titled this phenomenon ‘Psychiatric Comorbidity’, which means the presence of an additional disorder occurring with a primary disorder.
What this typically means is that while anxiety could be a symptom of depression and could build a pathway to it as well, it is also possible for an individual to suffer from both disorders at the same time in the future. Fundamentally, both are linked to neurobiology and stem from neurochemical imbalance and extreme activity in the stress response system of a being.
Needless to say, the combination of both disorders makes the condition more chronic and the subsequent treatment more extensive, due to the heightened impairment in functionality. It could also hamper interpersonal relationships and substantially increase the risk of suicide.
In simple terms, anxiety is being chronically cautious of your environment, questioning every detail of life, feeling nervous and stressed out about minute changes in the future while depression is a state of constant hopelessness and exclusive focus on the negative. Therefore, having both anxiety and depression could mean an individual having thoughts like, ‘The future is scary and I’m terrified of it. I know I won’t be able to cope with it anyway, so giving up is obviously the only choice I have.’
This thought can be understood in two fragments; the first being the overestimation of the risk situation and the second, the underestimation of the individual’s potential to cope with the situation. The ‘fear centre’ of the brain would be activated and the individual would then avoid things that make them uncomfortable instead of acquiring the skills to deal with them. Simple tasks like asking for a favour or applying for a job can seem quite threatening, which make the individual feel even worse about themselves and perpetuate this cycle.
How do you treat this comorbidity? Can you do something to change the way you feel? The answer is yes. Seeking help from a professional is always the first thing to consider. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy used by psychologists creates new brain circuits that allow you to think more positively, learn more adaptive responses and thus change the way you feel. Medications prescribed by a psychiatrist might help you relax your stress response system in order to cope with your anxiety better and alleviate other symptoms. On a personal level, you might want to consider incorporating physical exercise, meditation and rhythmic breathing exercises into your routine, to facilitate a peaceful internal state of mind.
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