Depression and Anxiety: Flip sides of the same coin, Part 1

In part 1 of this series of blogs on the relationship between depression and anxiety, I discuss how they are often related by their both being a response to a difficult task or issue.  In Part 2, I describe how depression and anxiety become such problems when dealing with difficult tasks or issues. Finally, in Part 3, I explain how my clients and I work together to rid their lives of depression and anxiety.

What’s “The Coin”

Therapists and therapy clients know that depression and anxiety often go together. I’d even say depression and anxiety are flip sides of the same coin. The difference between depression and anxiety often comes down to how we respond to certain kinds of problems, either by slowing down (depression) or speeding up (anxiety) or both (feeling anxious about slowing down when we think we need to be speeding up). I’ll get to the flip sides of depression and anxiety in the next blog, but first, let’s answer the question: what’s “the coin?”

Depression and anxiety can both be good coping mechanisms for dealing with a challenging situation. They become problems when we either slow down too much for too long or speed up in ways that feel or are uncontrollable. We slow down or speed up when we confront something that challenges our belief in our own capacities to deal with the challenge. The slowing down or speeding up can be unhealthy when the task either is or seems to be too difficult to deal with at that time. If we have an issue or problem we need to resolve or overcome, but don’t believe we have it within us to do it, we may slow down to get ready. This is depression. If you add a sense of urgency to this circumstance, you may end up feeling overly worrisome or anxious despite also believing that you are not ready or equipped to address the issue. This is anxiety.

So, the coin that binds depression and anxiety together is a task or set of tasks that are difficult and may seem impossible to complete, address or resolve. A common example of this kind of task in therapy might be initiating or finalizing the breakup of a relationship that you know you need to end, but you don’t because you don’t want to deal with the likely conflicts involved, or the aftermath (being alone). Another example might be hoping for the approval of a parent who’s never given it to you, yet you continue to try, and continue to set yourself up for failure. Whether the task ends up causing depression, anxiety or both, depends in large measure on whether the person confronting the task believes they have it within them to deal with it.  In either case, a person heads into depression or anxiety when they begin to feel overwhelmed by the task.  This might be due to the enormity of the task at hand, or a pervasive sense that they cannot face the task regardless of what others might think, or perhaps worst of all, not being able to identify the task or issue that is causing the anxiety or depression.

In part 2 of this blog series, Depression and Anxiety: Flip sides of the same coin, I will examine how we turn to either depression or anxiety, or both, when we are confronted with a difficult or seemingly impossible task or issue. Part 3 of the blog series will discuss ways to address and eliminate both depression and anxiety.