I wrote in an earlier blog piece that depression seems to bring other disorders with it more often than not. These include anxiety disorders, eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction and attention-deficit disorder. The most common of these companion illnesses is any type of anxiety disorder. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adult Americans in any given year.
Several different disorders fall under the anxiety category. These include Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, PTSD (Post TraumaticStress Disorder), phobias (including social phobia) and Agoraphobia.
I'm going to focus on Generalized Anxiety Disorder, since it very often accompanies depression. GAD is less dramatic than its close cousin Panic Disorder, but potentially just as disabling. The symptoms of GAD are:
- Constant uncontrollable worry
- Physical tension, leading to sore muscles
- Being shaky, unable to relax and easily startled
- Physiological changes that are similar to a fear reaction: rapid heart beat, sweating, clammy hands, upset stomach, diarrhea and light-headedness
- Fatigue, irritability, impatience, problems concentrating and insomnia.
You might think after reading these symptoms that you definitely have GAD. I know that I did when I first learned the symptoms of GAD. For most of my life I've experienced bouts of physical tension (knots on the back of my neck), constant worry, accelerating heartbeat with no apparent cause and feeling shaky and hyperactive.
So I assumed that I had GAD, but the more I read about it and depression, the less sure I was. The problem is that the relationship between depression and GAD is complicated by the fact that they have some symptoms in common, or symptoms that may feel similar. Among them are insomnia, fatigue and physical aches and pains. The pessimism of depression can feel like GAD's extreme worry. So if you have clinical depression, you might just have depression with anxiety and not GAD. This is something that a qualified mental health professional can help you to determine.
I started realizing that the only times I experienced the GAD symptoms was when I was suffering from depression. Even the mildest bout of depression, such as the kind I get inevitably after a difficult illness, such as a week-long flu, can bring on the GAD-like feelings. This was actually a big relief to me, because I would rather not have yet another disorder. If it's part and parcel of depression, so be it. My psychiatrist concurred that my symptoms didn't fit the GAD mold exactly, especially as I only experience them during a depression.
Treatment for GAD includes medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both. Medication is a short-term fix, but is often essential to keep the GAD sufferer from becoming incapacitated and/or unable to participate fully in therapy.