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Understanding the Relationship Between Depression and Anxiety: Why Misdiagnosis is Common

Woman covers her face because she is confused and overwhelmed by her feelings.

Anxiety, like a sore throat, has many different causes. When we go to our medical provider for a sore throat, we expect the provider to determine what kind of a sore throat it is before prescribing a treatment. Similarly, to treat anxiety effectively it is important to determine what is causing the anxiety. One of the most common errors in treating anxiety is to mistake a mood disorder for an anxiety disorder. To understand this misunderstanding, one must understand the relationship between depression and anxiety. 

The purpose of anxiety is to motivate us to safety in the moment: “Jump or you may be bitten by that snake and die.”  To get our attention in the moment, anxiety must cut through anything else we are thinking or feeling in the moment.  It does so by making us feel worse than anything we are feeling in the moment. Anxiety, therefore, is the most distressing emotion we have as human beings.  

Depression, when it occurs naturally, indicates a loss: We have lost someone, something, a hope, or a dream. Depression does not motivate us to safety; it is really the manifestation of the broken attachment to a person, thing, or dream. 

Consequently, when a person is depressed and anxious, the person always experiences anxiety as more distressing than depression. But that only means that anxiety is more distressing than depression, nothing more.  

Depression and anxiety are closely linked, and it's not uncommon for individuals to experience both conditions simultaneously. In fact, research has shown that many people with depression also experience anxiety symptoms. This is because depression can actually cause anxiety in a number of ways. 

For one, depression can lead to a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, which can make individuals feel as though they are unable to control their lives. This loss of control can trigger feelings of anxiety, as individuals worry about what may happen next or how they will cope with the challenges they are facing. Additionally, depression can cause physical symptoms like fatigue, restlessness, and insomnia, which can exacerbate anxiety symptoms and make individuals feel even more on edge.  

When a person is depressed and anxious at the same time, which is quite common, it is a natural but false conclusion that “anxiety is really the problem.”  This can lead to ineffective and sometimes even harmful treatments. Overall, the complex relationship between depression and anxiety highlights the importance of proper diagnosis and treatment to ensure that individuals receive the care they need to manage both conditions effectively.

Are you struggling with anxiety or depression and unsure of where to turn? Our experienced team of mental health professionals can help. Contact Live Well Psychiatry today to schedule an appointment and take the first step towards feeling better.

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