Making it all more complicated is the fact that depression and anxiety not only often overlap – people can have anxiety and depression disorder at the same time, just as people can have two or more of any other medical disorders, like high blood pressure and migraines - but they frequently exhibit similar symptoms, leaving you wondering, “Do I have depression, or anxiety?”
Like most medical issues, the answer is rarely simple; people who suffer from anxiety or panic attacks often feel depressed because the anxiety impairs their ability to function normally, complete daily tasks, or even leave the house.
Crying spells, for example, can be especially confusing (women in particular tend to be susceptible, while in early adolescence men lose the ability to try as an emotional release). While crying can often be a normal and healthy response, persistent crying spells can be an indicator of anxiety and/or depression.
You may think, “I am crying all the time,” or “I feel bad/worthless,” and conclude, “I must be depressed,” but the reality can be more complicated. Feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and panic attacks can often make you feel depressed, feel bad about yourself, and you may feel even worse because you aren’t able to simply “suck it up,” get a handle on things, and do what you “should” be doing.
Frequent crying spells are indeed one of the signs of depression, but panic attacks and anxiety (including persistent and all-consuming feelings of worry, fear, and dread) leave its victims feeling overwhelmed; crying is an entirely understandable response to these emotions, and may not necessarily mean you have a depressive disorder. It is “depressing” to feel bad about yourself, and to be unable to function well, but it is not always a sign that you have depression.
Amid all the confusion and overwhelming emotions, the questions inevitably follow: “So how do I know?” and “What do I do?” Like most medical problems, anxiety and depression are about balance - think of a see-saw; if you have high blood pressure, it’s a sign that your body has not been able to successfully control and keep your blood pressure in balance. A medication may be prescribed to bring your blood pressure under control, and restore your body’s equilibrium.
The same is true for panic attacks and anxiety; the right medication can be used to help control your anxiety – helping your body find balance, leaving you in a position to regain control of your life, and freeing you from the overwhelming feelings of panic, worry, fear, the resulting depression – and even the crying spells.
There is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach to treating a mood disorder; the ways in which anxiety and depression overlap and present themselves can be confusing, frustrating, and leave you feeling as though you are at the end of your rope. There is, however, always hope. The right physician and combination of medications can help you manage your anxiety. Once your anxiety (however severe) has been successfully managed with medications and the “dust settles,” it will become much easier to differentiate between symptoms related to anxiety and symptoms related to depression.
Because the differences between anxiety and depression can be nuanced, and further complicated by the way symptoms of severe anxiety can mimic or cause feelings of depression, it’s important to seek help from an experienced professional. Though the path to recovery is rarely linear, the right combination of medication and psychotherapy you can help you find balance, manage your symptoms, and get you back on the road to living a life free from panic and anxiety.