(Fifth in a series on taking steps away from depression.)
I used to think of depression and anxiety as two unrelated problems.
But I realized, at some point, that depression often followed a time of anxiety. Then I made the connection that anxiety often set in as I was emerging from a time of depression.
Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out whether they just take turns, depending on what’s going on in your life, or if they actually trigger one another.
There is a Connection
I’m convinced, at least in my own case, that anxiety wears me down to depression. When many tasks of life are seen as a big hurdle, triggering shortness of breath, a sense of dread, a feeling of incompetence, a fear of rejection, trouble focusing – that drains me to a point where I feel so down I want to quit stuff.
One study described in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders states that anxiety and depression are often highly correlated with each other, and that depression can follow anxiety years later. People with lifetime anxiety had lifetime depression 73 per cent of the time, and people with both had worse illness and functioning than those with only one.
This article also pointed out that past depression predicts future avoidance, and avoidance predicts anxiety. A huge study of over 6000 adolescents over 14 years demonstrated that avoidance behaviors occurred in between times of anxiety and depression a significant percentage of the time.
Avoiding Makes it Worse
We kind of know that intuitively, don’t we? If my 13-year-old self chickened out and skipped a party because of social anxiety, I had to deal with a residue of shame, a sense of failure, loneliness and hopelessness that soon added up to depression.
On the other hand, if I went to the party, chances are I would have some positive experiences there in addition to all the awkwardness, and I would feel prouder of myself afterwards.
I would probably also learn a few things, whether or not I was aware of it, that would make me a little more hip to how I should behave at a party, which would make the next experience less scary.
Conquer a Little at a Time
So it goes. If we can gradually expose ourselves to what makes us anxious, our window of fear gets smaller.
I used to be terrified of getting onstage and saying or doing any little thing. Now I’m only scared if I’m performing at a big convention with video screens. The setting is usually a lot smaller than that, so having succeeded at the convention, I no longer dread a crowd of 200.
That’s how we anxious types need to march through life. The worse thing that happens is that we aim too high and we fail at something. So we learn, and we take our challenges in smaller chunks.
And when depression starts to take us down, we don’t avoid that reality either. We take care of ourselves and get as much help as we need, so the downward spiral changes direction.
It seems that often our greatest anxieties are attached to our giftedness. It’s so frustrating to see a marvellous athlete quit just because she failed in one competition. Or a wonderful musician stop playing because his performance anxiety wore him down to exhaustion.
Don’t Give Up!
Please don’t give up on yourself. Don’t let yourself get too busy, or make yourself a slave to others’ expectations, but don’t quit either.
Then you can get off the anxiety/depression seesaw and just focus on one thing at a time.
It’s so rewarding to get to a place where you can function in your strengths, and even get a handle on a few weaknesses, only to discover that they no longer stress you out.
For the previous post, press here.
3 thoughts on “The Seesaw of Depression and Anxiety”
Such wise advice, Colleen! When we push ourselves just beyond our comfort zone, the zone grows as well as our confidence–a much more interesting way to live. Yes, there may be hiccups along the way, but most people will be understanding and forgiving (Those who aren’t, don’t need to be on our Good-Friend List!) Parents would do well to encourage their children to reach beyond their comfort zone–while they’re still young.
Well said, Nancy.