Living with the effects of anxiety can cause depression as a result of avoidant behaviors, self-esteem changes, and hypervigilance.
If you live with an anxiety disorder, you may have experienced depression in tandem. It doesn’t always mean one caused the other but it’s possible.
Anxiety can be a temporary emotional response to a stressor but it can also be a chronic mental health condition like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
When you live with GAD or other anxiety disorders, you may be more likely to also experience symptoms of depression.
These overlapping symptoms can be managed and treatment may help you cope. Understanding why anxiety leads to depression symptoms in some cases can also help.
Does anxiety cause depression?
It depends. If your anxiety is a temporary emotional response, it’s not likely it may lead to symptoms of depression.
But if you notice that your signs of anxiety become a recurring experience, you may be living with an anxiety disorder. In this case, research suggests that it’s possible that anxiety leads to depression, or makes the existing symptoms of depression feel worse.
In that case, depression may be a side effect of anxiety.
3 ways anxiety causes depression
Here’s why and how the untreated effects of anxiety may cause depression symptoms to develop:
Anxiety is related to the stress response. When you live with anxiety, your brain is constantly or often alert.
As a natural response to fear, your brain starts asking you to avoid anything that causes significant nervous or anxious feelings, says Kathryn Ely, a licensed professional counselor in Birmingham, Alabama.
For example, if even the thought of public speaking activates your stress response, you may start avoiding giving presentations at work as much as possible.
“Anxiety shrinks lives by keeping us in our comfort zones, which is a misnomer because our comfort zones aren’t really comfortable,” she says.
We tend to feel anxious about things that are important to us, she adds. “If you avoid what is important to you long enough, your life becomes less enjoyable and you may not like who you are. That is where depression comes in.”
Avoidance may also lead you to isolate yourself from other people, particularly if you live with symptoms of social anxiety. In some cases, social anxiety and feelings of loneliness can lead to depression.
Changes in self-perception
If you find yourself unable to start or follow through with things you need to do due to anxiety, it can change the way you view yourself and your ability to handle tough moments, says Ely.
A sense of worthlessness is a formal symptom of depression. When you live with low self-esteem and self-confidence for long enough, you may be more likely to develop other symptoms of depression.
“Anxiety tells you, ‘I can’t do this. This is scary.’ So you don’t go to the dance, or you find a way to pass off the presentation at work. Now, self-criticism starts because you didn’t do the hard thing that was important to you, that you wish you had done,” Ely explains. “This is another way anxiety leads to depression.”
Depletion of resources
When you feel fear, adrenaline is released in your body to help you face the perceived threat, says Katie Luman, a licensed professional counselor in Marietta, Georgia.
“Hypervigilance — when fight or flight is triggered easily and often — can deplete and wear out our stress hormones,” she says. “It can also result in the disruption of sleep and appetite, which can result in a depressed mood.”
Effects of untreated anxiety
Anxiety can be paralyzing, which can make it difficult to reach out for help.
It’s understandable. But try to keep in mind that researchTrusted Source shows that untreated, or under-treated, anxiety symptoms can lead to a reduced quality of life in multiple areasTrusted Source, including your social, work, and educational settings.
You may find it useful to think of your emotional bandwidth as a cup, says Luman. If that cup becomes full of anxiety, panic, or fear, there’s limited room for emotions like joy, happiness, and peace.
“The contents of your cup then overflow, and out come all of those negative emotions which commonly look like depression, sadness, or hopelessness,” she explains.
Left untreated, an anxiety disorder can lead to:
- emotional dysregulation
- limited ability to workTrusted Source
- lowered immune system functionTrusted Source
- substance use
- increased likelihood of self-harmTrusted Source
Older researchTrusted Source shows that chronic stress and anxiety can also change certain parts of your brain. For example, your hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory. This can increase your chance for neurodegenerative diseases, like dementia.
Rather than waiting for things to get to a breaking point, consider reaching out to a therapist for support.
Developing coping skills and practicing relaxation techniques and grounding exercises can help you anticipate an anxious response as well as calm down quickly when you need to.
Read the rest of this article on PsychCentral.
If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, or other types of disorders that may be interfering with your ability to lead a happy, fulfilled life, call Barry J . Richman today about treatment and therapy for anxiety in NYC.