It’s common for everyone to experience anxiety and depression from time to time. These are natural brain and body reactions to many of the stresses that plague our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s work, school, finances, relationships, or a traumatic event.
However, when anxiety and depression becomes a regular cycle that seems unavoidable, you may be struggling with a mental health condition. Both illnesses are some of the most common within the United States – with an estimated 40 million U.S. adults struggling with anxiety and 7.1% of U.S. adults struggling with depression.
Being as these numbers are so high, it’s granted that many of those with anxiety are also struggling with depression and vice versa. If you find yourself in this position, you’re not alone and treatment is available.
Throughout today’s article, we’re going to explore the effects of anxiety and depression – from how they both manifest to how you can find relief from the raging storm of mental worry and distress. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a pattern of continuous worrying over a specific situation or circumstance. ¹ For example, it’s normal to have feelings of anxiety before a test, an interview, or a presentation.
However, when anxiety starts to stray from the specific situations and circumstances, a disorder may be developing. One clear sign that you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder is by indicating whether or not this issue has been negatively affecting your day-to-day life.
Anxiety disorders come in all shapes and sizes. The most common include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social anxiety disorder
Each of type of anxiety has a unique set of symptoms and requires different treatment plans. It may help to research the differences in anxiety disorders to pinpoint exactly what you’re struggling with.
What is Depression?
It’s estimated 3 million Americans are diagnosed with depression or some type of depressive disorder. ² Though, it’s likely there are many more unreported cases within the United States and, with that, many individuals not receiving treatment.
Depression is more than just feeling low from time to time. It’s a mental illness that negatively affects a person’s emotions, thought process, and activity. Though it is one of the most common mental health conditions, it’s also one of the most serious. People with depression are very much at risk of developing other mental illness (such as anxiety or suicidal ideation). ³
Like anxiety, there are a number of different types of depression. The most common include:
- Major depression
- Manic depression disorder (bipolar disorder)
- Persistent Depression
- Post-partum depression (perinatal depression)
- Premenstrual depression
- Seasonal affective disorder (seasonal depression)
Each type of depression comes with its own set of symptoms and requires a unique course of treatment. If you’re wondering which you struggle with, it’s beneficial to do some more research into each.
What are the Effects of Anxiety and Depression?
There are a multitude of effects anxiety and depression have on one’s life. This is especially true if you’re struggling with both at the same time. These include everything from how the body functions to how you’re able to handle a relationship.
Anxiety and depression work differently on everyone and, therefore, your situation is going to be much different than another’s. With that, it’s vital you find a treatment facility that will work with your personal needs.
Effects on the Brain
When we look at how these disorders impact the brain, we start to have a better understanding of the effects of these conditions and how they impact day-to-day life. Mental conditions like anxiety and depression actually physically changes the way in which the brain functions as well as how it appears on brain scans like MRIs or CTs.
In situations of depression disorders, there’s evidence that shows that long-term depression (sometimes referred to as chronic depression) actually alters physical characteristics in the brain. Most notably, in the hippocampus region.
The hippocampus lies within the amygdala which is notable because when the two are combined, they make up the limbic system – the processes which facilitate memory creation and consolidation. The hippocampus shrinks due to depressive changes over a prolong period of time. In turn, it’s common for individuals have issues in creating new memories, recalling old ones, and concentration. ³
By intervening with anxiety or depression as early as possible, you have the ability reduce the impact it may have on the brain and it’s structures. Luckily, if these disorders have caused damage to your brain’s physical characteristics, many changes can be reversed with healthy habits (i.e. exercise, eating well, etc.).
Effects on Physical Health
Beyond the psychological, mental health disorders can also affect your physical health. This is due to the strong relationship our brains have with our bodies. For example, if you indulge in a food that’s not good for you, you may notice that besides your stomach upset, you’re also experiencing a lousy mood. This is because little messengers known as neurotransmitters are signaling our brain that something is wrong.
These neurotransmitters also have the reverse effect – when something is wrong in our brain, they’ll send certain messages to the rest of our body. This may be why some individuals experience an upset stomach when their anxiety is at its worse.
Some physical changes associated with depression are:
- Constricted blood vessels
- Fluctuations in weight (i.e. weight loss or weight gain)
- Increased pain sensitivity
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Lack of interest in sex
Some physical changes associated with anxiety are:
- Breathing difficulties
- Heart palpitations
- Increased blood pressure
- Muscle aches
- Upset stomach
If you’re struggling with either condition or both, it’s likely you’ll also feel physically ill. This is another important reason to find the right treatment path.
Other Effects of Anxiety and Depression
Since anxiety and depression play such a fundamental role in our physical and mental health, it’s given that it’ll have an effect on other areas of our lives. Most notably, those areas in which we are most responsible, such as our work, schooling, or relationships.
Effects on Relationships
Anxiety and depression don’t only impact the person struggling, it can also impact their loved ones. It ‘s imperative for those that suffer from these mental health conditions like depression and anxiety to have a strong support team that the patient can surround themselves with and lean on in good times as well as bad. However that isn’t to say that being in a relationship with someone who suffers from chronic mental health conditions don’t have complications, they do.
Most loved ones who serve as support for the patient oftentimes feel overshadowed by their friend, family member, or romantic partner’s issue. There’s strong need for open and secure lines of communication in order to discuss issues and problems in a safe and healthy way. It’s also helpful for those that find themselves having a relationship with someone who has depression and anxiety to be able to adequately and efficiently assist the sufferer in times of strife. While that assistance could be tremendous, it doesn’t always have to be – sometimes its as simple as creating a safe space and being a listening ear.
Effects on Students
When we talk about mental health and adolescents, we have to bear in mind that 50% of of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin developing by age 14. ⁴ Furthermore, in a study done by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, college students and those entering college reported elevated levels of stress, fatigue, sleep difficulties, and a rise in depression.
The study also reported that 30% of students experienced more stress, 20% cited anxiety as being a daily struggle and 14% described depression as a fixture in their lives as students. The impact of these complications result in other issues, such as reduced concentration, reduction in coursework output, and difficulties with others. In extreme cases there are concerns of student burn outs as well as suicide attempts.
Effects on Pregnancy
Many mothers who are currently pregnant or just finished pregnancy have experienced rumination, exhaustion and, bouts of unescapable depression. Fears and frustrations account for a large amount of the mental toll on women in this category, with about 10-15% developing and exhibiting signs and behaviors of either perinatal depression or perinatal anxiety. ⁵
Perinatal Depression & Anxiety
Perinatal depression (more commonly known as post-partum depression) usually affects new mothers after their baby is born. The cause of perinatal depression could be due to the imbalance of hormones that occurs during pregnancy in expectant mothers.
The symptoms of perinatal depression resemble those associated with depression, such as low energy levels and lack of motivation. However, it can also include pregnancy-specific issues such as a lack of care for the pregnancy or newborn and a possible lack of attachment to the newborn.
Perinatal anxiety runs along the same lines as perinatal depression, wherein the development of symptoms usually occur before or directly after childbirth. The symptoms may be hard to distinguish between perinatal anxiety and just regular worries due to a new life change, like for example, welcoming a new little one into the world. However, they can be sought out and defined as perinatal anxiety which is defined as excessive, uncontrollable worry that can cause functional impairment. ⁵
Postpartum depression and anxiety have, in recent years, become more discussed and there as been a renewed effort to spread awareness and understanding of the disorder. Due to these efforts, more and more mothers of newborns have felt encouraged to come forward with their own tales of suffering from their challenges with perinatal depression.
Postpartum depression can worsen into a much more concerning condition called postpartum psychosis wherein the patient will develop a psychosis on top of the depression which can lead to the following symptoms: ⁶
- Auditory or visual hallucinations (or in rare cases, both simultaneously)
- Delusional thoughts or beliefs
- Harmful or suicidal thoughts or actions
- In extreme cases, the homicidal thoughts or actions related to the newborn.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare but concerning condition that should be treated with the utmost care and consideration for not only the sufferer but for their loved ones as well. Postpartum psychosis cases should be taken directly to a medical professional and the sufferer should be placed in restrictive emergency care for the safety of themselves and their newborn child.
What are the Effects of Anxiety and Depression Medication?
When it comes to treating anxiety and depression, there is good news and bad news. The good news is there are a number of ways to ease these conditions. The bad news is there is no way to completely treat these conditions so that it never comes back.
Mental health professionals will suggest medications that can help to ease some of the more severe symptoms. Most medications are safe when prescribed in conjunction with some sort of talk therapy and overseen by a professional in order to monitor and intervene if necessary.
The most common types of medication that is utilized in order to try and ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety are antidepressants. It’s also common for those that have depression or anxiety to be prescribed two or more antidepressant mediations in conjunction with each other in order to treat as many symptoms as possible. Taking multiple medications is common in cases where there are two or more mental health conditions present. ⁷
The side effects of these medications are well documented and the most common effects that these antidepressant medications bring about include: ⁸
- Difficulty with sleep (insomnia)
- Feeling or becoming sick
- Low sex drive
- Slowed movements
It’s worth mentioning that many of the medications prescribed for anxiety and depression are addictive substances when taken improperly. With that said, we highly advise you use them with caution and only under the circumstances of what your prescriber recommends.
Anxiety and depression bring a number of changes to one’s life that are often extremely difficult to overcome. Not to mention, many of these effects can fuel the mental illness further. For example, by losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, you may become more depressed due to your lack of participation.
Luckily, there are ways to overcome anxiety and depression with the right treatment options. However, it’s important to understand that treatment is only possible if you put in an effort to overcome the changes brought upon by these mental health conditions.
Still have questions concerning the effects of anxiety and depression?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also like to hear from you.
¹ Anxiety.Org: What Is Anxiety?
² National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Prevalence of Major Depressive Episode Among Adults – Stats & Figures
³ MindJournal: Depression Isn’t A Choice, It’s A Kind Of Brain Damage
⁴ Anxiety & Depression Association of America: Anxiety and Depression in Teens and College Students
⁵ Illinois State Department of Health: Facts on Postpartum Depression
⁶ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Perinatal Depression – Signs & Symptoms
⁷Anxiety & Depression Association of America: Depression & Anxiety Medication Facts
⁸ UK National Health Services: Antidepressants Side Effects & Feelings