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Coping with Co-Occurring Disorders: ​Anxiety and Depression

co-occurring disorders; anxiety and depression

An individual may have two chronic disorders or illnesses at once, a situation known as comorbidity.

An individual may have two chronic disorders or illnesses at once, a situation known as comorbidity. The interactions between the illnesses frequently impact the way one or the other affects the individual and certainly makes them even more challenging to heal.

In many cases, comorbidity happens with someone who has a mental illness and a substance or behavioral addiction. The addiction temporarily relieves symptoms of the mental illness, but has long-term effects on the physical, mental health, and wellbeing of the individual, making the mental illness harder to overcome, feeding into a feedback loop. Comorbidity can also happen with mental illnesses, which are hard to diagnose, as many indicators of one mental illness are easily mistaken for side effects or symptoms of another. It can be very hard to tell when someone suffers from both depression and an anxiety disorder, for example.

It makes sense when you think about it: the medications commonly prescribed for depression do tend to be effective for anxiety disorders as well. Non pharmaceutical treatments that generally work well for depression also help alleviate anxiety, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Both disorders share a similar case: the stress response system in the brain is over-reactive, causing the brain’s emotional centers to go into overtime. This particularly affects the amygdala, the brain’s “fear center.” Have you ever had the feeling that you’re more upset than you should be by something? This is because anxiety disorders and depression create an emotional environment. Any outside — or inside — negative stimuli affects these response systems far more than it reasonably should. Our natural response systems are effectively “hijacked” by the disorder.

Risk factors

Some people may be prone to developing comorbidity with anxiety and depression than others. People who suffer from social phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorder are more likely to also suffer from depression than individuals with other phobias, for example. Family history can play a role in your susceptibility to this kind of comorbidity as does your background and age. Frequently, depression develops out of having an anxiety disorder for years. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder for a long time without treatment and fail to learn cognitive skills to feel better or improve your mental well-being, it is very difficult to outgrow anxiety. Conversely, if you start having panic attacks for the first time during middle age, it often indicates a history of depression.

Do you have anxiety or are you depressed? Take our anxiety test or depression test and find out.

How to cope with co-occurring anxiety and depression?

Living with anxiety and depression is hard, but it doesn’t have to be so difficult. You do not have to make it on your own. Do not be afraid to reach out for help, it is not a sign of weakness and it does not make you a less capable person. We can all use help sometimes, but it takes bravery to admit it, and courage to do something about it.

  • Talk to your doctor. Be sure to mention all of your symptoms and any medicines, even vitamins, you’re taking to your health care professional so he or she can get the most accurate picture of how you are doing. If going to the doctor makes you nervous and tend to blank out on things you wanted to bring up, carry a small notebook with you so you can write down symptoms, issues, or thoughts as they occur. This way, you have something to reference at the clinic.
  • Go for a walk. Physical activity gets your endorphins flowing, helping make your brain feel good. It can be very hard to get up and go when it’s not a regular habit, but it definitely makes a difference. It may be the boost you need to get enough confidence and energy to see a therapist and start your healing process. It’s also a good way to socialize without a lot of pressure. You can join a walking group and start feeling more comfortable being in small groups and low pressure situations. You’re all there to walk and get some exercise, so there’s no pressure to chat!
  • Be more organized. Living in a cluttered house doesn’t involve the mental energy of cleaning up and staying tidy. We’re all busy and if you suffer from anxiety and depression, it’s hard to summon the mental energy to clean house. But remember what we said about feedback loops? A messy house makes us feel sad and disappointed in ourselves, and then we are more likely to believe the negative things our brains are trying to get us to believe. Start by setting small goals: clear off a specific place, get rid of a specific type of item, and start feeling accomplished and more positive about yourself!

Treatment for anxiety and depression

If you are struggling with both anxiety and depression, you could benefit from therapy. Your therapist can also help you assess what other resources may be of benefit to you. These might include medication, a support group, or even a more fulfilling career path. Contact us, to get started now with one of Houston therapist give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online and find some relief.

Becky Reiter, M.Ed., LPC, EMDR Specialist
Becky Reiter specializes in working with adults and adolescents in the areas of EMDR, trauma, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, LGBT issues and relationships issues. She is known for her skills in working with all types of anxiety - social anxiety, general worry, panic, or other types of fears.

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