The Link between Worry and Depression

I’ve been dealing with bouts of depression since my early teenage years. There have been period of my life where even getting out of bed felt like an impossible task. Things were much worse during my two decades of heavy drinking, but I continue to have periods of depression seven years after giving up alcohol. I’m getting better at managing my symptoms, but it can still feel like there is a blackness out there waiting to swallow me up. In recent years, I’ve noticed that these periods of depression will nearly always occur at times when I’m worrying about something – usually my finances.

How Worry Leads to Depression

There is a recognized link between worry and depression. What is believed to happen is that worry makes us less able to tackle our problems. This negative emotion uses up too much of our mental resources, and it gets in the way of taking constructive action to deal with the threat. This obsessive thinking about the obstacles in our life also means we are unable to sleep at night. This triple whammy of tiredness, inability to act, and anxiety means that we end up feeling completely helpless and overwhelmed – from there it is almost inevitable that we will slide into depression.

This slide from worry to depression can happen very fast for me. I do sometimes wonder if worry is a symptom of an impending depression rather than the other way round. I say this because on many occasions there has been no obvious trigger for the worry – nothing has really changed, but I’m suddenly fretting over some aspect of my life. Perhaps the fact that my mood is already starting to deteriorate makes me more susceptible to worry – I’m not sure. Of course, there are also times when there are legitimate things to worry about, and at these times it can be a struggle to remain free of the black cloud.

How I Juggle Worry and Depression

I’m not sure about the exact relationship between worry and depression, but I do know that they are closely related for me at least. If I allow the two of these to feed into each other, I can end up in real trouble. I can become worried about being depressed, and this drives me further into feelings of despair. In a recent post, How Letting Go Could Save Your Life, I discussed my strategy for dealing with worry. When it comes to depression, my strategy is not to resist it. I just accept that this is how I’m feeling at the moment, and I just do what I can. This approach means that I don’t make things any worse than they already are, and I’m usually able to function reasonably well despite my low mood.

I would love to be able to say that I’ve managed to overcome depression in the same way that I managed to overcome my alcohol addiction. There have been some definite improvements and the symptoms are now bearable, but there is still plenty of work for me to do in this area of my life. I’m not sure if it will ever be possible to completely remove the black cloud from, but I’m convinced that it will be possible for me to become so good at managing it that it will no longer be an issue.

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12 thoughts on “The Link between Worry and Depression

  1. Also, the way you describe worry leading into depression reminds me of how mania leads into depression in bipolar disorders and anxiety and sleep issues are a part of this, too. I pretty much think that mood issues in general tend to have bipolarity of some sort. By the time I feel depressed it is sometimes a relief not to be all keyed up and freaked out by stress although at this point in my life I can’t afford to let it envelop me and I go for a walk/run and it helps me to regain perspective and my belief that I’m up to the challenge. It helps to listen to music that is just a notch or two above my mood, like Beatles Abbey Road was good for my walk yesterday.

    1. Good points Liz, I also find that music can have a significant impact on my mood. I have to avoid people like Nick Drake when I’m feeling down. I haven’t listened to Abbey Road in years – maybe I’ll put it on my playlist for today.

  2. Paul, I’m sure this post will resonate with a lot of readers, it certainly does with me. Worry over finances / job security triggers my worry and depression probably 90% of the time. Like you, putting the bottle down was only the beginning of the battle. I think its actually somewhat common from what I’ve read that it can take years, maybe even a decade or more to deal with mental health issues after sobering up.

    And I *definitely* hear you about the insomnia and lack of sleep.

    In my experience there are tools that have helped me over time, but I have yet to win my battle with depression and anxiety, far from it. Exercise, relaxation, hobbies, socializing, relying on cognitive thinking activities…they’ve all been beneficial. But depression keeps reeling me in.

    Its really an ongoing battle, and I think it takes a lot of effort and personal challenge to deal with effectively. What I mean by personal challenge is that dealing with depression and anxiety might mean having to do something or confront some part of you or your environment that would be uncomfortable or difficult to do.

    Personally, I think I’m still struggling with that aspect – identifying what the issues are, and then how to deal with them. That can be really difficult for someone like me, since I know one of my real weaknesses or tendencies is to avoid change or challenge that makes me uncomfortable. Who’d have thought for an alcoholic, eh? (sarcasm).

    Anyway, you are certainly not alone at all!

    1. Thanks Tan, it is good to know that I’m not alone. A few months ago, I read the autobiography of Bill Wilson (the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous), and he suffered badly from depression even decades after sobering up. Like you, I am picking up plenty of tools to help me deal with anxiety and depression. I’m getting better at managing the symptoms, but I just wish there were no symptoms to manage. I also strongly suspect there is a solution and it does involve facing our demons – or perhaps learning to see through our demons. I think all of this is tied in with self-absorption. I remember once hearing that depression is ‘anger turned inwards’ and those of us who are self absorbed spend too much time focused inward.

  3. Hi Paul. I’m not familiar at all with AA or its history. I never participated in it or even wanted to, mainly due to some pretty negative experiences a good friend of mine had with them. I’m wondering, did the founder ever find a way to defeat his depression? What happened to him later in life?

    I hear what you mean about finding the tools but not the solution. I do wonder at times if I will ever be able to completely beat depression and anxiety, or if it will always be a case of just being able to successfully minimize or manage it.

    For the past year or so, I’ve been wavering in that grey area where its always there in the background, but some days I do better and some days worse (and sometimes much better and sometimes much worse). The tools I have found over time have been helpful at chipping away at the negativity in my thinking, but at times I feel like it’s a battle of me trying to cut a field of grass with a pair of scissors.

    I also struggle with the whole notion of what IS the end point with battling depression? Now and then I do meet incredibly happy people who don’t seem to have an ounce of care or worry in their body. I don’t think I could ever be that kind of person and frankly I don’t know if I *want* to be like that.

    At the same time, I also am not sure how sustainable a course of “managed coping” can be, which might be a good way to describe where I am. I’m able to go about and do daily business, go to work, etc., but the anxieties and depression are lurking always. I wonder if it will ever get significantly better. I certainly hope it will.

    By the way I was also what they call a “high functioning” alcoholic for many years, whatever that means. So having secret demons to deal with behind a veneer of normalcy is something I am used to.

    I wanted to tell you – over the past few months I’ve been thinking on and off about being more intentional about putting my thoughts down in writing, and I’ve finally decided just this morning that I’m going to start keeping an online diary, as you’ve suggested.

    I think I need to spend more time basically focusing on my mental and emotional well-being, and I think writing is a good way to do that. For a long time, I’ve been short changing my mental well-being through a mix of denial and just plain lack of focus and time on my part. I’m hoping that the writing will help serve as a “big tool” for me.

    As you say, I think just putting thoughts down in words is an important first step to admitting your problems, identifying them, and hopefully addressing them successfully. I think it will be particularly important for me because I’ve had so many feelings of shame, secrecy, and pain in my life – things that are frankly too embarrassing for me to talk about openly with people, that I think the writing will help me deal with, even if I’m just writing to an audience of one.

    It goes without saying that your writing and podcasts have been inspiring me to do this. I’ve often found comfort in reading and responding to your thoughts, and various other sites with similar content that I visit occasionally. Who knows where it will take me.

    1. Hi Tan, Bill W. did suffer from some major episodes of depression after giving up alcohol. I read his autobiography, and he did seem to overcome this problem later in life. Here is something he wrote about it:

      Last autumn, depression, having no really rational cause at all, almost took me to the cleaners. I began to be scared that I was in for another long chronic spell. Considering the grief I’ve had with depressions, it wasn’t a bright prospect.

      I kept asking myself, “Why can’t the Twelve Steps work to release depression?” By the hour, I stared at the St. Francis prayer … “It is better to comfort than to be comforted.” Here was the formula, all right, but why didn’t it work?

      Suddenly I realized what the matter was … My basic flaw had always been dependence, almost absolute dependence on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came so did my depression

      I’ve come to a similar conclusion myself. It is my obsessive thinking about how things ‘should be’ that is the real cause of my problem. Reality differs from how I think it should be, and I suffer as a result. I’m convinced that the solution involves learning to stop setting myself up for a fall – it is my expectations for life that is the real poison. I know all this already, but the problem is fully applying it in my life. Just learning to live with depression isn’t enough for me – it’s not what I signed up for 🙂

      I’d delighted to hear that you are starting to blog Tan. Please provide a link to it – unless you want to be introverted online 🙂 Starting your blog is going to be like going on a journey, and there is no telling where it is going to take you – that’s my experience anyway.

      BTW – thanks once again for giving me an idea for a blog post. You better have time after writing your own blog to keep writing on here, or I’ll be screwed 🙂

  4. Hi Paul. Thanks for digging up the quotes from the AA founder. I’m always intrigued to learn more about long-term developments in recovery.

    I have come to agree with you 100% about expectations, and how our expectations can set us up for both anxieties and depression (I’ve started to see them as both same sides to the same coin).

    Like you, I also “already know” how this pattern of thought has worked historically against me. Finding a way to interrupt that pattern and think in a different way really is the key. My problem is not being able to do that regularly and often enough to send me in another direction completely.

    I’m also starting to think that there are other facets to mental and emotional well-being as well that I haven’t explored as much. I believe self-esteem plays a huge role in well-being, as does the whole notion of “control” over one’s environment and life. Its very much somewhat related to expectations. Slowly building that tool kit….

    I’ll certainly pass on my blog to you as soon as I get things started. I’m exploring platforms right now, and after establishing a space I like somewhere I’m planning to just start writing. I don’t have a clear thought yet as to content or style or format, or even objective, but I think those things will become clearer to me as time progresses.

    Really, I think the writing is an end to itself since I do find it to be therapeutic for me generally. And yes, I will definitely continue to follow your blog and podcasts regularly. 🙂

    Its just a struggle with time. I may have mentioned before, I work full time (really over time since I typically put in 9 hours of work at the office a day) and at nights I have other projects I work on. I’m developing a small hobby business on the side, plus I have a regular exercise regimen I try to keep disciplined to.

    So, its really rare that I have the time to spend on reading and writing in this area. Like I said before, not being able to devote time or energy to my mental well-being has been a problem for me historically. The realization that I need to devote more time to self-care is what leads me to follow your blog regularly, and start my own.

  5. Great cartoon Paul! I always enjoy cartoons that can depict lessons in life so perfectly…

    Well, I think I’ve finally settled on a platform for my blog after doing some experimenting (hopefully). I’ll buzz you later after I get settled in to it. Hope you have a great week!

  6. Divert attention away from the depression. When you are thinking about other people and things, you will think less about your depression. Doing this will take away some of the power it has in your life.

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