Why are anxiety and depression linked?

If we look at the base descriptions of anxiety and depression, they seem to be very different. Depression means feeling down, having low energy and a sense of lethargy. While anxiety feels like your body is overactive, on high alert and 'hyper'. So why do they go together in so many burnout cases? That's because they probably have the same source: our fight or flight response.

Everyone who has (had) a burnout will recognize a situation like this one: you're down but you scrape yourself off the couch anyway to do groceries. And then in the grocery store, all of a sudden you get high anxiety, even an attack. They are two totally different states of mind. Both very unpleasant. But today we will mostly focus on the weird fact that these two situations are combined. Scientists have researched this connection and are slowly becoming convinced that both anxiety and depression come from the same place.

The first clue is the fact that two-thirds of people who have a major depression disorder also have a general anxiety disorder. And the other way around: two-thirds with clinical anxiety also suffer from depression (source: Sci Show Psych). So, although the symptoms of both disorders are very different, there seems to be a clear link. Psychologists are now thinking they are two sides of the same coin: anxiety is our fight response, depression our flight response.

The source is always the same; survival. You feel threatened and your body has two choices for how they will react. The specific reaction - depressed or anxious - is based on the context. But the baseline is the fact that you somehow feel threatened.

It makes sense when we dig a little deeper. In a burnout or depression state, you 'shut down' so you give yourself time to face and fix the stuff that got you there. It's a typical - and to a degree even healthy - flight response. But this same survival mechanism puts your body and mind on high alert anyway - again usually a good defense mechanism - just in case you are again faced with a situation that burned you out.

So, you can both low in energy and on high alert. In case of burnout, that high alert is there to keep you in low energy mode. Your extra sensitivity has a function: to avoid situations that could jeopardize your restart. Of course, it is too exaggerated, but still, it's not a bad thing per sé, just very uncomfortable.

Don't get confused though, depression and anxiety are not the same thing. They are far from it in symptoms and need different tactics to combat during a burnout (for depression click here and for anxiety click here). Yet in the causes they are often linked. And that's important information. It means that for your burnout, you don't have to be alarmed when you suffer multiple symptoms that don't seem to match. They are all part of the same message:

Take it easy, as always.

And love.