How are depression and anxiety related?

Treating Depression and Anxiety

Healthy eating and exercise can balance the brain's chemicals, but it may be beneficial to see a doctor or therapist to help find the motivation to be healthier.
Healthy eating and exercise can balance the brain's chemicals, but it may be beneficial to see a doctor or therapist to help find the motivation to be healthier.
Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Because they have a strong psychological basis, clinical depression and anxiety disorders can be difficult to cure, but they can be successfully managed. Strategies may involve the mind, body or both. Here, too, a similar approach seems to work equally well for both conditions, albeit tailored to the specific disorder, its severity and the patient's motivation.

A course of treatment often starts with a thorough physical checkup to identify any biological causes. For example, a growing body of research points to the role of nutrition in mental health. Vitamin B6 and carbohydrates encourage the production of serotonin. Folate, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids are all critical to maintaining the central nervous system (the nerves and the brain). Exercise acts as a neurotransmitter by causing the body to release mood-elevating chemicals called endorphins.

While changing lifestyle habits can be helpful, overcoming depression and anxiety disorders usually requires a change in thinking habits. Replacing negative thoughts and self-defeating behavior with positive responses can be achieved through therapist-guided cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In therapy, patients may learn to recognize unfounded assumptions about themselves and others that increase anxiety. They may learn self-help strategies to ward off depression, like journaling or volunteering.

Medication is a third and powerful antidote to depression and anxiety. Psychotropic drugs (drugs used to treat mental disorders) commonly prescribed for these conditions include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). This class of drugs temporarily blocks nerve cells from reabsorbing serotonin after releasing it, thus improving the overall balance of serotonin in the brain.

Another type of drugs, beta-blockers, is used to control symptoms of anxiety disorders. Beta-blockers prevent nerve cells from responding to epinephrine and other neurotransmitters that trigger physical reactions like sweating, shortness of breath and a racing heart. By reducing these reactions, they allow people to regain emotional control of a stressful situation.

Mood disorders are a varied and complicated family of illnesses. Treatments may take some time to refine and take effect. Emotional support and understanding from family and friends are also essential to coping and recovery.

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