Depression and anxiety each have their own sets of symptoms and challenges. And as if living with one of the conditions isn’t frustrating enough, research also shows that it’s not unusual to experience the two of them simultaneously.
“Unfortunately, having both anxiety and depression together is not an uncommon thing – nearly half of those diagnosed with one are also diagnosed with the other,” said Chad Perman, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Both mental health conditions can be managed through therapy, medication or both. But while treatment makes it entirely possible to live a healthy, fulfilling life, that doesn’t make the experience any less valid or challenging at times.
HuffPost reached out to people living with both depression and anxiety ― as well as experts who treat the conditions ― to explain how it really feels to live with them on a daily basis. Take a look at them below. (Then share it with others who could possibly benefit from gaining a better, more compassionate understanding of the experience, too.)
Living with anxiety and depression is a constant fight with yourself.
“I usually don’t experience one without the other. One moment I’m facing a cycle of racing, urgent thoughts and emotions and the next, I’m facing a vast void of nothingness. My anxious mind tells me that something is wrong with me and that I have to fix myself to save myself. My depressed mind tells me not to bother because nothing matters anyway. It’s like there are two parts of me fighting with one another ― but nobody wins.” ―Olivia LaBarre, 28, a practitioner withReiki Healing Works.
Negative stereotypes often keep you from talking about your experience.
“My clients who deal with depression and anxiety yearn for someone to connect with who genuinely understands their struggles and feelings of isolation. But the fear of letting people down or being viewed in a different light often keeps them from reaching out for support and assistance.” ―Erica N. Reed, a licensed clinical social worker.
You can care about everything and nothing at the same time.
“You’re continually trying to serve two masters and rarely finding any peace inside your own head. At times, it feels like no matter what you do, you just can’t win: Depression makes it hard to get out of bed some mornings, while anxiety keeps you worrying about the ever-growing to-do list piling up around you as you lay in bed. Depression whispers that you’re worthless, and that nothing really matters; anxiety screams that you’re not keeping up, or that something awful is about to happen and that everything, even the smallest of decisions, matters immensely.” ―Perman
Living with both conditions can cause physical symptoms.
“My biggest issue is with sleep. There are days when I constantly feel tired but I can’t fall asleep because my mind is wired; I’m constantly overthinking. My conditions are well managed now, after therapy and antidepressants, but there are still tough days. The physical symptoms don’t always go away. I experience a lot of tightness in my chest and stomach aches from anxiety. Those things lend themselves to a depressive episode so it feels like a never-ending cycle some days.” ―Alex Kuntz, 25, a public relations professional.
You often feel stuck in vicious loop.
“For me, anxiety isn’t just worrying about everything that could go wrong ― it’s an obsession with all of the things that need to go right. However, having depression at the same time means I’m often ‘stuck.’ I’m painfully aware of all of the things that could go wrong, desperate to make everything go right, and yet utterly helpless at making anything happen at all. It’s a vicious, self-feeding cycle and sometimes it’s hard to tell which came first ― the anxiety or the depression.” ―Nicole Starbuck, 29, an entrepreneur.
You get exhausted — physically and mentally.
“The first blade is the hardships of dealing with depression and anxiety, such as how depression can make you feel so physically and mentally tired and frustrated, but the anxiety will keep you up all night worrying about every little thing and wondering will the depression ever end.
“The second blade of the sword is having depression and anxiety as a minority. Being a black woman with mental health issues adds more stress because in the black community, we’re always being told we need to be strong and never talk about our mental health. I grew up with a ‘what happens in this house stays in this house’ mentality, as have many other black people with mental health issues. This to me has always been exhausting, because mental health issues in my community have always been so hushed.” ―Jasmin Christal Pierre, 25, creator and CEO of The Safe Place.
You sometimes end up withdrawing from everyone.
“Boundaries can become very restrictive. Isolation from loved ones and others can be used to control social anxiety. This can also lead to you feeling lonelier and more depressed. Having boundaries are important, but they should not be too loose or too rigid.” ―LaQuista Erinna, a licensed clinical social worker.
Depression and anxiety can affect how you perform in your day-to-day life.
“Anxiety has hampered my social and romantic lives; depression has weighed me down so much at times that it’s been hard to thrive after college. I wish I’d sought therapy and tried medications before age 38. The key for me was to become more proactive with my mental health. Setting big and small goals helps.” ―Stephen Cramer, 45, the founder of Brain Aid Fest, a non-profit festival that brings awareness to mental health.
You never know how your anxiety or depression is going to show up.
“You want to stay in bed for hours but you also want to get up first thing in the morning and overwork out of an overwhelming fear that you’ll miss out on a project or deadline. You care tremendously what everyone else thinks, and another part of you couldn’t care less. Some days you even have anxiety attacks when you’re out at social events, and others you can’t find the energy to socialise. It often feels like your brain is at odds with itself. You oscillate from feeling down to feeling a lot of tension, and this can manifest in different ways.” ―Beverly Friedmann, 30, a content manager.
You feel the need to accomplish something, but you don’t have the will to do it.
“Depression says, ‘You are a failure, you are a fraud.’ Anxiety says, ‘You need to do something about “this” [most recent request, email, comment, proposal, etc.] now!’” ―Lisa Dorenfest, 56, a financial services programme manager.
Living with both conditions causes intense worrying.
“They may find themselves ruminating ― worrying about how they are ever going to get things done, how others might perceive them. They may worry that they will never feel better.” ―Barbara Van Dahlen, a licensed clinical psychologist and the host of the podcast ”Inner Space with Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen”.
The illnesses make it hard to feel good in the moment.
“I have to try harder not to care about stuff too much and go with the flow. [It’s] harder for me to just be in the moment. That makes me have anxiety. I know I’m having a bout of depression because I wake up in the morning and I just don’t feel good about things.” ―Emily Johnson, 35, a sales associate.
You often avoid practising basic self-care because you don’t have the energy.
“Often times, I like to refer to the mix of depression and anxiety as the beast. This is the voice in our head, the feelings in our body, which tells us to do the complete opposite of the positive actions we need to be doing for ourselves and our self-care. For example, if you need to get out of bed, brush your teeth, take a shower, get dressed for work, get your papers together and go, the beast of anxiety and depression is telling you to do the complete opposite every step of the way.
“Here is where we must do everything opposite of what the beast wants. If it means simply rolling out of bed and onto the floor or making it to the couch, at least you’re not letting it control every step of the way. These small behavioural shifts actually help us in feeling better.” ―Katie Sandler, 33, an impact coach.
It completely sucks — but there is hope.
“Anxiety and depression have a way of shrinking your world. The first steps to expanding your life again are accepting that it is OK to not feel OK. It will take work, but you will heal and, one day, you will reconnect with how much you matter.” ―Matthew Emerzian, CEO and founder of Every Monday Matters, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people with self-worth
Some interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
“Living With” is a guide to navigating conditions that affect your mind and body. Each month, HuffPost Life will tackle very real issues people live with by offering different stories, advice and ways to connect with others who understand what it’s like. In May, we’re covering anxiety in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. Got an experience you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.