Depression and Anxiety: How Different Mood Disorders Interact

Depression and Anxiety: How Different Mood Disorders Interact

Depression and anxiety are correlated: If you’re depressed, you’re more likely to feel anxious, and vice versa. But relatively few people stop to think about this connection and how odd it is. You see, these moods are, in many ways, on the opposite end of the spectrum. When we feel anxious, our minds race and our bodies are flooded with fight-or-flight hormones. When we feel depressed, our minds and bodies slow and we feel drained of energy.

That said, you don’t have to experience bipolar disorder to understand that moods can change quickly. And when we consider the context in which these moods occur, the link becomes easier to explain. What’s more, understanding this link can be a crucial insight to seeking treatment and avoiding the worst outcomes associated with these mood disorders.

What Depression with Anxiety Looks Like

Clinical depression can feel like its own world, a prison in which purpose and happiness have been banished. Things can look colorless and sound like they’re on mute. Yet, as much as depressed mood can cover the world with dark and heavy drapes, our minds still know on a rational level that the world is the same. It’s our experience of it that is so qualitatively different. Slowness of cognition, speech, and behavior can make us ill-suited to respond to threats. When the prison door of depression opens, it doesn’t lead to our escape. Instead, it’s more likely to let in our latent fears and anxieties.

Moreover, some people who struggle with depression have regular bouts with this type of depression-driven anxiety. It’s can also be described as agitated depression or depression with features of anxiety. Beyond talking with a mental health therapist about ways to alleviate these symptoms, there’s a diagnostic benefit in being as honest as you can about the timing and nature of your moods. Specifically, agitated depression and bipolar disorder will be harder to differentiate if you only give part of the story to a primary care physician who already has less experience than other mental health professionals with mood disorder subtypes.

What Anxiety with Depression Looks Like

Generally speaking, people are more familiar with the acute symptoms of anxiety disorder—the panic of smothered breath, the terror of feeling like you’re going to die at any moment. But often, it’s the chronic symptoms of long-standing anxiety that does the most lasting damage to one’s mental health. It’s all-too-easy for constant and excessive worry to become a filter in which one’s perspective turns deeply pessimistic. Inevitably, this pessimism is internalized. It’s seemingly never just worry about what will happen, but also worry that we won’t succeed, that we won’t measure up, that we won’t be worthy.

Moreover, living in a state of heightened awareness throughout the day tends to leave one feeling drained at the end of the day. And when we feel drained, we feel even less able to cope with the perceived threats that triggered the anxiety in the first place. This fatigue and pessimism can create a perfect storm of depressive pressures. There are no easy answers, but again, insight into this cycle of depression and anxiety may provide a buffer against the idea that one’s life isn’t worth living.

Suicide, Depression and Anxiety

With an age-adjusted suicide rate that is 50% higher than the national average, Utah has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country. And mood disorders are the biggest psychological risk factor for suicide. But how these risks manifest themselves are not always obvious, even to the person suffering through them. Often, it’s only when anxiety descends into depressive features that the anxious person begins to experience serious suicide ideation. Alternately, it’s only when the depressed individual experiences a bout of anxiety or panic that they find the energy necessary to go through with suicide.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in individuals with bipolar disorder: One might think that these individuals are more likely to commit suicide when they feel depressed. In fact, it’s the fear of depression and the late energy of a dwindling manic episode that’s usually the most dangerous time for these individuals.

Substance Abuse, Depression and Anxiety

Utah residents consume less alcohol on average than most states, but we also take and abuse more prescription drugs on average. Over the last decade, Utah has ranked among the top ten states for rates of fatal drug overdoses. Beyond the fact that many anxious and depressed people use drugs to self-medicate, there’s also a substance abuse metaphor that speaks to anxiety and depression: An addict may use many different substances, but most have one drug in particular that hits them harder than the rest, a drug of choice. And this substance tends to serve as something of an epicenter for their overall pattern of addiction. In a similar fashion, a mood disorder—anxiety, depression, or bipolar—may be the “core issue” that led to the substance abuse. Once identified, this disorder can then become the focus of mental health treatment and lasting improvement.

Get Help by Learning More about Depression and Anxiety

No matter what pattern of depression and anxiety you’re struggling with, we recommend you talk to a mental health therapist in Utah about your lousy mood. More than a brief summary, a therapist can help you explore, understand, and better regulate your mood. Don’t underestimate the difference that can be made by a knowledgeable, trained, and empathic mental health professional.

Marcus Pickett

Leave your message