Anxiety and depression often coexist, like two sides of the same coin. Depression can bring about symptoms of anxiety and anxiety can stoke symptoms of depression. Together these two mental health disorders have the potential to wreak havoc on a person’s life.
Recovering from anxiety and depression takes time and patience. Whether you have used the services of a private practice therapist to wind your way back to living a normal, functioning life, or devoted an extended period of time to a residential treatment program that has culminated in a renewed lease on life, just feeling good again was worth whatever effort it took to get there.
While recovering from anxiety and depression, it is important to remember that there will be challenges along the way. No one achieves 100% improvement at the outset of recovery. Instead, progress is made in incremental steps, each step bringing you closer to your recovery goals.
About the Anxiety and Depression Dual Diagnosis
First a distinction must be made about what constitutes clinical depression and anxiety disorders. All of us experience occasional bouts of depression-type symptoms following a distressing event in our life. Feelings of anxiety are extremely common in this face-paced, stressed out world. These very human fluctuations in mood are normal and do not constitute a mental health disorder. On the contrary, those diagnosed with depression and comorbid anxiety would have been carefully evaluated by a psychiatrist prior to receiving this dual diagnosis. The DSM-5 lists the diagnostic criteria for each of these disorders as such:
Major Depressive Disorder
A minimum of five of the symptoms must be present most of the time for more than two weeks, and the symptoms cannot be attributed to a medical condition or a substance use disorder:
- Loss of interest in daily activities or hobbies once enjoyed
- Persistent low mood, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Slowed motor activity and cognitive functioning
- Inappropriate feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or shame
- Concentration problems
- Suicidal thoughts
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety symptoms that persist most of the time for six months or more, but that are not attributable to substance use disorder or a medication condition:
- Difficulty controlling worry and feelings of apprehension
- Has three of these six symptoms:
- Restlessness, on edge
- Easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
- Symptoms cause impairment in social or occupational functioning
Treatment for Anxiety and Depression
Comorbid anxiety and depression present a more complex treatment approach than one of these disorders on its own. In fact, individuals with both anxiety and depression will usually have a more enhanced severity of symptoms, more functional impairment, and a longer recovery period.
When treating a dual diagnosis like anxiety and depression it is important that both mental health disorders are treated simultaneously for the best treatment outcome. Treating just one or the other will be fruitless, as the remaining disorder will sabotage any gains made in managing the one disorder. In general, treatment for anxiety and depression together will involve both medication and psychotherapy.
The core treatment protocol for this dual diagnosis continued to rely on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These are antidepressants that have been found to help the symptoms of both disorders.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the evidence-based approach most often used for treating anxiety and depression together. CBT helps individuals better cope with stressors, and guides them toward making positive shifts in their thought patterns.
The sooner that the individual seeks out professional help for these co-occurring disorders, the better the treatment outcome. Recovering from anxiety and depression will be ongoing, with a longer timeline expected to achieving remission.
Holistic Therapies to Augment Recovery
It has been found that adding certain holistic therapies to the traditional treatment plan may offer complementary clinical benefits. Generally, these types of activities, many of which originate in Eastern cultures, can offer individuals methods for coping with stress and regulating emotions, which will help both the anxiety and the depression.
Some holistic remedies used to enhance the conventional treatment methods include:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Guided imagery
- Hatha yoga
Many patients are introduced to these activities while in treatment, but each of them can easily be integrated into the weekly routine.
The Connection Between Mental Health and Physical Health
Another aspect of treating individuals with coexisting depression and anxiety is focusing on health and wellness. While recovering from anxiety and depression it is important to restore physical health through exercise, and nutrition. The connection between the mind and the body is real and should be addressed in tandem. This means integrating a health and wellness plan into aftercare efforts to maximize overall treatment results.
Exercise: Create a weekly exercise routine that involves getting a minimum of three 30-60-minute cardio workouts in. These workouts do not have to be strenuous to be effective. Taking a brisk walk or run, a bike ride, or a swim three times per week is sufficient to experience several mental and physical health benefits.
Diet: Stick to a Mediterranean style menu for achieving optimal health. This includes a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, fish, poultry, beans, eggs, and dairy. Red meat is limited and processed foods and sugary treats should be minimized.
Sleep quality: Sleep is one of the most important aspects of achieving mental and physical wellness. Restorative sleep involves getting a minimum of 7 ½ hours of quality sleep. Sleep can be aided by avoiding caffeine after 3 p.m., avoiding exercise after 6 p.m., avoiding heavy meals after 7 p.m., and shutting off all electronic devices one hour prior to bedtime.
Recovering from anxiety and depression is a multi-faceted process that involves both traditional treatment elements, such as medication and psychotherapy, and complementary elements, such as holistic practices, nutrition, and exercise.