Today, we’re talking about when anxiety causes depression and vice versa. This is a topic that I get asked about all the time. It can be really confusing and a lot of time, it’s one of those things that we talk about in terms of like, is it the chicken or the egg? I want to get to the bottom of that today.
When anxiety causes depression, it can feel like your world is spinning and racing from one thought to another. You may feel a complete loss of interest in the things that you’re doing. You may have racing thoughts, depressive thoughts, or thoughts of doom. This can be really, really overwhelming. Today, I want to talk about when anxiety causes depression and how you might target that, and also when depression causes anxiety.
Let’s get into it. We’re going to go through a couple of things today. Number one is we’re going to go through why does anxiety cause depression, how does depression cause anxiety, how common is depression and anxiety, particularly when they’re together, and what to do when depression and anxiety mix. Now, stick around till the end because I’m also going to address how OCD causes depression and how social anxiety causes depression, and what to do when anxiety and depression impact your sleep, and in this case, cause insomnia. I’m so excited to do this. Let’s get started.
What causes anxiety and depression? Let’s look at that first.
What we understand is that anxiety and depression—we don’t entirely know just yet to be exact, but what we know so far is that there is a combination between genetics, biology, environment, and also psychological factors. That’s a big piece of what we’re going to be talking about today.
Now, if you want to know specifically the causes of anxiety, and that’s really what you’re wanting, you can actually go over to Episode 225 of Your Anxiety Toolkit. We have a whole episode there on what causes anxiety and what you can do to overcome anxiety. That might be a more in-depth understanding of that.
But just in general, we do know that genetics play a huge component. However, we do know, talking about the psychological factors, that often people who do have depression, that depression does cause an increase in anxiety. A lot of people who have an anxiety disorder do notice that they feel themes of depression like hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness.
Now, let’s first look at, why does anxiety cause depression? The thing to remember here is, anxiety alone doesn’t cause depression in all cases. There are lots of people who do have an anxiety disorder who don’t experience depression. However, we do know that for those who have a lot of anxiety, maybe untreated anxiety or anxiety that is very complex and they’re in the early stages of recovery or learning the tools and mastering those tools, it is common for people with anxiety or uncertainty to start to feel doom and gloom about their life. Often it comes in the form of feeling like, “Is this going to be here forever?” A lot of people will say, “What’s the point really of life if I’m going to be experiencing this level of suffering with my anxiety every single day?” And that’s very, very valid.
When you’re suffering to the degree that some of you are with very chronic anxiety disorders, very severe degrees of anxiety disorders, it makes complete sense that you would start to feel like, “What is the point? How do I get through this? No one can help me. Am I someone who can be helped?” These are very common concerns. I myself have struggled with this as well, particularly when your anxiety feels so out of control and you don’t feel like you have mastery over it yet. I think that that is a very, very normal experience for people who have that degree of anxiety.
This also includes other anxiety disorders like phobias, panic disorder, PTSD, and eating disorders. I know when I had my eating disorder, I felt so stuck, “How am I ever going to climb out of this deep hole that I’m in?” And that in and of itself made me feel depressed. I had what we call secondary depression. My primary condition was an eating disorder, and then I had a secondary depression because of how heavy and how overwhelming my primary condition was.
If that’s something that you resonate with, I first want to acknowledge and recognize that this is very normal, very common, but also very treatable, particularly if you have a mental health professional who can help you. But again, I want to go back and say, just because you have anxiety or intrusive thoughts, doesn’t mean that you will be anxious and depressed for the rest of your life. With mastery and tools and recovery and practice and patience and compassion, you can actually slowly peel those layers of depression and anxiety away.
So then we move over now and look at, why does depression cause anxiety? If your primary diagnosis or your primary disorder is depression, meaning that’s the first disorder you had and you didn’t have an anxiety disorder before that, or that’s the disorder that is the largest and the one that takes up the most space in your life. When we are depressed, often people will have anxiety about how much that depression is going to impact them in their life. Similar to the last points we made about anxiety. A lot of my patients and a lot of you folks have written in or messaged me or in my comments on Instagram talking about the overwhelming fear of relapse and the overwhelming fear of going back to those dark days when depression was so strong and you couldn’t get out of bed, and it was almost traumatizing how painful and how much suffering you are experiencing. It is, again, very normal to have a large degree of anticipatory anxiety about how that may impact you.
Now, in addition, depression in and of itself will say some pretty mean things. Actually, let me rephrase that—will always lie to you about who you are, your worth, your future, your place in the world. When you hear those things on repeat, of course, you’re going to have anxiety about, will that come true? Is that possible? Oh my goodness, that’s not what I want for my life. This is not how my life was supposed to go. The messages and the narrative of depression in and of itself can create an immense degree of anxiety.
Now, let’s take a look now, as promised, to look at how common anxiety and depression are. I’m actually going to read you some statistics here that I got from some really reputable journal articles, and I will link them in the show notes.
One research said that generalized anxiety disorder affects 6.8 million adults in the United States. That’s 3.1% of the population, and that’s just in the United States. That’s not talking about the world. Yet, only 43.2% of them are receiving treatment. That’s from the National Institute of Mental Health. Now, what’s interesting about that, as I remember sharing before, is being untreated increases your chances of having both. Because as you can imagine, if you’re having a disorder and it’s not improving, you’re going to feel more depressed about it and you’re going to feel more anxious about that.
Statistics also show that women are twice as likely to be affected as men with generalized anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder often co-occurs with major depression. They are almost always going to go together. Now, we also know that depression is a very common illness worldwide, with an estimated 3.8% of the population affected. That’s 5% for adults and 5.7% for adults older than 60 years. That’s very interesting as well to see how our age can impact these disorders, and that comes directly from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation.
We have some really important information here to show that there is a huge overlap between the two. And then it gets murky because then, again, as I mentioned in the intro, is it the chicken or the egg? Which one do we treat? Which one do we look at? Which one came first? Which is the primary? Which is the secondary?
Let’s talk first about what to do when depression and anxiety mix, because that’s why you’re here. It’s important and what’s cool is to recognize that we have a treatment that can target both. As you all know, I’m a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and we have a lot of research to show that cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT can help with both. Thank goodness, it’s not that you have to go to one particular treatment for one, and then you have to learn a whole other treatment for another. We actually have this one treatment that you can use to address both in different ways.
Now, CBT is going to be looking at your cognition, your thoughts, which we know with anxiety and depression, there are a lot of irrational, faulty thoughts. It also looks at your behaviors and how those behaviors may actually be contributing to your anxiety and your depression. Not to say that it’s your fault. I want to be really clear here. We are not saying that this is all your fault and you’ve got bad thoughts and you’ve got bad behaviors. That’s why you have both and you’re going to be stuck in both until you change that. Absolutely not. We’re not here to blame. What we’re here to do is be curious about our thoughts and about our behaviors, and then look and do experiments on what helps and what doesn’t.
I’ll give you an example of a really basic CBT skill that I used recently, and that was that somebody I knew was talking about how difficult it is to go to bed. They get really depressed going to bed. It makes them have a lot of thoughts about how they didn’t get done what they wanted to do. They would procrastinate going to bed, but before they know it, it would be 3:00 AM in the morning or even later. They still haven’t yet journeyed through their night routine to go to bed.
We talked about what would be effective for you, what behavior change would be effective for you to move into the direction that you want. With CBT, we are not looking at 17 different changes at once. We might make one simple change at a time and then look at your thoughts about that. This is a really important way for us to be curious and do experiments and look at what’s effective and what’s not effective and make small little tweaks to your behaviors.
Now, some examples of this, we go through this extensively in our online course called Overcoming Depression. We also go through this extensively in our online course called Overcoming Anxiety and Panic, where we thoroughly go through your thoughts and then do an inventory of your behaviors. I give tons of examples of little ways that you can change behaviors, moving in ways that will reduce the repetition of these disorders. Let’s talk a little bit about that.
One really important piece for depression when we’re talking about behavioral therapy is activity scheduling. The less routine you have, the more likely you are to be depressed. Often people with depression tend to lose their routine or they have lost their routine, which can actually contribute to depression. What we might do is we might look at our day and implement or add just one or two things to create some routine. Once you’ve got those things down, maybe you have a morning routine in the morning where you take a walk at eight o’clock, and that’s it for now. Let’s just try on that. And then by lunchtime, we might add in some kind of pleasurable activity. Because we know with depression, as I mentioned at the beginning, depression can take away our pleasure or interest in hobbies. We might introduce those back, even though I know that you’re not going to experience as much pleasure as maybe you used to. But we’re going to experiment and be curious about bringing back things into your life like paint-by-number, crochet, or whatever it might be.
I personally just took up crocheting when I was in Australia. My mom insisted that I learn how to crochet and it’s quite impressive to me how something so simple can be such a mindful activity. Even though I only do it for 5, 10, 15 minutes a day, that in and of itself can be an incredible shift to our mental health. Again, I want to make clear, none of these alone will snap you out of depression. It’s a series of small baby changes in a direction that is right for you and is in line with your values.
Now, another thing you can do when depression and anxiety mix is to consult with your doctor about antidepressant medications for anxiety & depression or what we call SSRIs. We know that research shows that a combination of CBT and medication is a really effective way to come out of that hole of depression and anxiety. If that’s something you are interested in or willing to consider, please do go to a medical professional or a psychiatrist and talk with them about your particular needs. It can be incredibly helpful. I know for me, during different stages of my life, SSRIs have been so, so helpful. That’s something that you could also consider.
The next thing you can do when depression and anxiety mix is to consider exercise. We actually have research to show that exercise is as effective as medications or SSRIs, which blows my mind. Actually, I think it’s so wonderful that we have this research. In my opinion, add it slowly to your calendar. I’m not here to say this means you have to go out and do an hour class at the gym. It could be as simple as taking a walk around the block.
Actually, recently, as many of you follow me on Instagram, I am trying to get back to exercising more as I still continue to recover from my chronic illness, POTS. I don’t go and do huge workouts. For me, it’s first starting in baby steps, 5, 10 minutes. Or can I do a plank for 30 seconds? And that’s it to start. I want to again encourage you to take baby steps here and implement just little things at a time. And then ask yourself, how does this feel? Did this help? Did this hinder? How does it feel in my body? And then if you need to, talk to a mental health professional about what would be the best step for you next. Now we also know that exercise aids relaxation, it aids over well-being. It’s incredibly helpful, again, for your mental health. That’s something you can consider and consult with a doctor as well.
Now another thing you can consider is relaxation techniques. Now here, we’re not talking about doing breathing just to get rid of anxiety. We know that that doesn’t typically work, but there are ways in which you can learn to breathe as an act of self-compassion, of slowing down and acknowledging where you are and slowing down your behaviors, and checking in with yourself. This does include some mindfulness or you can even consider taking up one or two minutes of meditation a day. These techniques can be very helpful for both depression and anxiety.
Again, I keep teasing this, but I keep having technical issues. We will eventually have a meditation vault for you guys that will have meditations for anxiety and depression specifically and anxiety with intrusive thoughts. I’ve tried my best to continue to add. We’ve got probably over 30 meditations already. That will be available to you soon as well, so do keep an eye out for that.
HOW OCD CAUSES DEPRESSION?
Now, let’s talk as promised about how OCD causes depression, because I know a lot of you out there have OCD. If you don’t have OCD, stick with this because I’m also going to go through here about insomnia. We do know that statistically, OCD affects 2.5 million adults. That’s 1.2% of the population. That’s just what we know of. That’s not actually the real stats because there are so many people who haven’t reported it because of stigma and shame and so forth. We know here that women are three times more likely to be affected than men. That’s actually not my experience. I think I have a 50/50 in my clientele. But that’s what the statistics show.
Again, as you can imagine, if you have OCD and you’re completely flooded with intrusive thoughts, you’re doing compulsions for hours, you’re stuck in a mental loop, I think the research shows 80% of people also have depression, up to 85%. Now, that is significant in the overlap and it just shows how much OCD can take you down and really target your worth and your sense of identity and your self-esteem and how much shame and guilt and blame goes along with those. When you’re experiencing that, of course, you’re going to experience some depression or themes of depression, as I said before, hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness.
If this is the case for you, what we often recommend, again, especially if the primary condition is OCD and then you have depression because of that, we really want to target getting you better from OCD as soon as we can. A lot of the time, when depression is caused by the anxiety disorder, the major treatment goal needs to be getting that primary condition under control. Often once we get that primary condition under control, the depression does lift.
Now, again, it’s different if you’re someone who’s always had depression or had it throughout your life. We still want to go back and look at cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy. We also want to look at maybe including a massive self-compassion practice because that is absolutely key for all of these conditions, no matter what, whether they’re coexisting or not. But you can also include other modalities like acceptance and commitment therapy. You could also do other modalities such as dialectical behavioral therapy. That’s particularly helpful if you’re engaging in impulsive behavior or self-harm. You’re having a tremendous degree of suicidal ideation, or sometimes in some cases, suicide attempts. These are other options you can add to your cognitive behavioral therapy if you require it. Because remember, we have to look at you as a person, not just you as a diagnosis. We have to really be certain that we look at all the symptoms, you have a thorough assessment, we’re clear on what’s the primary and secondary condition, and then we can create a treatment plan for you that targets those specific symptoms.
If you have OCD and you don’t have access to a mental health professional, we do have ERP School, which is an online class for OCD, it’s on demand. You can watch it as many times as you want. You can go to CBTSchool.com to get any of these courses. But that is there for you. I made it specifically for people who either don’t have access to mental health services, can’t afford them, or have had it in the past and they just want to hear it be said in a different way. Maybe you really like my way of training and teaching and you want to hear it and how I apply it with my patients. All of the courses that I have recorded are exactly how I would treat my clients and how I would walk them through the process. They’re there for you if you would like.
Now let’s move on to how social anxiety causes depression. Now, this is true for everything, and forgive me because I should have mentioned this before. One of the most common safety behaviors that come out with social anxiety is avoidance, isolation. But I should have mentioned before, that is very true of any anxiety disorder. It’s very true of OCD, it’s very true of post-traumatic stress disorder. When we isolate and we avoid, we do tend to feel more depressed because we have less connection in our life, we have less interaction, which can be a really great way for us to stay present. When we’re in a room by ourselves with our thoughts, that can always create more anxiety and more depression. That’s very common for social anxiety.
The other thing to remember about social anxiety too is the voice of social anxiety is also very, very mean, just like OCD and generalized anxiety and depression. Thoughts we have when we have social anxiety are often like, “You look like an idiot. You look awkward. What’s wrong with you? Why did you say that? You shouldn’t have said that. They’re going to think you’re stupid.” As you can imagine, those thoughts in and of themselves will create more anxiety, and that secondary depression, that layer of like, “I give up. I can’t do this. This is too hard. What’s even the point of trying?”
Last of all, we want to talk about what to do when anxiety and depression, or one or the other, cause insomnia. Now, it’s important to recognize here that one of the core symptoms of depression is insomnia or getting too much sleep. It can go either way, but there are some people who have depression and one of their symptoms is they cannot fall asleep. They lay in bed for hours just round and round and round ruminating. That is true for any of the anxiety disorders as well.
When you have anxiety and you have depression, you go to bed, you turn the lights off, and you are left with your thoughts. If your thoughts are mean, if your thoughts are catastrophic, if your thoughts are very much in the theme of hyper-responsibility or perfectionism, it’s a very high chance that you’re going to get stuck being completely overwhelmed with those thoughts and then have a hard time falling asleep. What happens there, as this is the theme of today, is it becomes a cycle. The less sleep you get, the more anxious you might feel. Or the more that you have anxiety, the more you might be afraid you won’t fall asleep, and that anxiety in and of itself keeps you up and you’re caught in a cycle.
What I want to offer to you here, as we look at all of these conditions, let’s wrap this up for you, is number one, if you have anxiety and/or depression, you are so not alone. I would say the majority of my patients have both. No matter what anxiety disorder, they have little inklings or massive degrees of depression. That does not mean there’s anything wrong with you and it doesn’t mean you cannot move into recovery. It also doesn’t mean that this is your fault.
I really want to emphasize here that with compassion and baby steps and PATIENCE, we can slowly come out of this place and get you back out. I strongly encourage you to reach out and have a team around you who can support you, even if you haven’t got access to a mental health professional, your medical doctor, or any friends you may have, family. Maybe it’s using resources like online courses or workbooks. We have, for people with OCD, The Self-Compassion Workbook for OCD. They’re amazing workbooks for depression. One I strongly encourage you to consider is a book by David Burns called Feeling Good. It’s an amazing resource using cognitive therapy for depression. These are things that you can bring in and gather as a part of your resources so that you can slowly find your way out. Hopefully, the clouds will separate and you can see the sky again.
I truly want to recognize here that this is really hard. We’re talking about two very influential conditions that bully us and can make us feel hopeless. I want to recognize that and validate you and send you a large degree of love because this is hard work.
As I always say, it is a beautiful day to do hard things. I say that because if we can look for the beauty, that in and of itself is a small step to moving out of these conditions. Look for the beauty in your day, and see doing the hard things as a beautiful thing because, with each hard thing you do, you’re taking one step closer to your recovery. You just focus on one hard thing at a time, and then you focus on the next hard thing and you celebrate your wins, and you of course act as kindly and as compassionately as you can.
Thank you so much for being here. I hope that was helpful. We went all the way through what to do when anxiety causes depression and vice versa. I hope you took so much from today’s video and podcasts. For those of you who are listening on podcast, do know that we will be introducing a lot of these on video on YouTube as well. If you want to see my face, I will be over on YouTube as well.
I’m so honored that you have spent your time with me. I know how valuable your time is. I do hope that you have a wonderful day. Please do remember it is a beautiful day to do hard things and I am here cheering you on every step of the way.