Depression and anxiety might seem like opposites, but they often go together. More than half of the people diagnosed with depression also have anxiety.
Either condition can be disabling on its own. Together, depression and anxiety can be especially hard to live with, hard to diagnose, and hard to treat.
“When you’re in the grip of depression and anxiety, it can feel like the misery will never end, that you’ll never recover,” says Dean F. MacKinnon, MD, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “But people do recover. You just need to find the right treatment.”
The Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Depression can make people feel profoundly discouraged, helpless, and hopeless. Anxiety can make them agitated and overwhelmed by physical symptoms -- a pounding heart, tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing.
People diagnosed with both depression and anxiety tend to have
- More severe symptoms
- More impairment in their day-to-day lives
- More trouble finding the right treatment
- A higher risk of suicide
Tips for Depression and Anxiety Treatment
Depression and anxiety can be harder to treat than either condition on its own. Getting control might take more intensive treatment and closer monitoring, says Ian A. Cook, MD, the director of the Depression Research Program at UCLA. Here are some tips.
- Give medicine time to work. Many antidepressants also help with anxiety. You might need other medicines as well. It could take time for the drugs to work -- and time for your doctor to find the ideal medicines for you. In the meantime, stick with your treatment and take your medication as prescribed.
- Put effort into therapy. Although many types of talk therapy might help, cognitive behavioral therapy has the best evidence for treating anxiety and depression. It helps people identify and then change the thought and behavior patterns that add to their distress. Try to do your part: the benefit you’ll get from therapy is directly related to the work you put into it.
- Make some lifestyle changes. As your treatment takes effect, you can do a lot on your own to reinforce it. Breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and yoga can help. So can the basics, like eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising. The key is to figure out ways of integrating better habits into your life -- something that you can work on with your therapist.
- Get a second opinion. When they're combined, depression and anxiety can be hard to diagnose. It's easy for a doctor to miss some of your symptoms -- and as a result, you could wind up with the wrong treatment. If you have any doubts about your care, it's smart to check in with another expert.
- Focus on small steps. If you’re grappling with depression and anxiety, making it through the day is hard enough. Anything beyond that might seem impossible. “Changing your behavior can seem overwhelming,” Cook says. “I encourage people to make small, manageable steps in the right direction.” Over time, small changes can give you the confidence to make bigger ones.
- Be an active partner in your treatment. There are many good ways to treat depression and anxiety. But they all hinge on one thing: a good relationship with your healthcare providers. Whether you see a GP, psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker -- or a combination -- you need to trust one another and work as a team.