The Vicious Cycle of Anxiety, Depression, and Negative Life Events

Anxiety and depression share many common symptoms. They both influence overall mood and can make people feel edgy, irritable, and tense. Additionally, the most common comorbidity of psychological conditions occurs with generalized anxiety (GAD) and major depression (MDD). Much research has been conducted into this unique relationship and the cause-and-effect dynamic that occurs. Studies have shown that many people with GAD eventually develop MDD, but the exact reasons for this are unclear. Matt R. Judah of the Department of Psychology at Oklahoma State University wanted to find out more about the relationship between GAD and MDD.

Judah enlisted a sample of college students and assessed their levels of GAD, MDD, worry, and negative life events at three different time points over a 12-week period. He looked at worry as it has been indicated as a risk factor for depression and as a common symptom of anxiety. Negative life events were also considered, but only events that were within the participants’ control, such as getting to work on time or finishing tasks. These activities have been shown to increase stress and anxiety, which can make people with GAD more vulnerable to depressive symptoms.

After evaluating all three assessments, Judah found that anxiety, depression, and negative events were part of a unique and vicious cycle. Specifically, the individuals with GAD at the first check-in were more likely to develop depression at check-in two and subsequently, had more negative events at the third check-in. Even though worry was not associated with increased risk for depression, it did prove influential of severity of GAD symptoms. Judah believes that symptoms of anxiety, which include muscle tension and other somatic issues, can increase stress, putting people at greater risk for negative mood states and depression. This, in turn, leads to self-induced negative events, such as missing class or work because of a low mood or fatigue. Finally, the negative life events then add to the depressive state, and elevate symptoms of both GAD and MDD. Even though more research is needed in this area, Judah believes his findings provide significant clinical revelations. “Overall,” he said, “These findings may be relevant to elucidating the sequential comorbidity of GAD and MDD.”

Judah, Matt R., et al. (2013). The prospective role of depression, anxiety, and worry in stress generation. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.4 (2013): 381-99. ProQuest. Web.

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  • austin


    April 12th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    and there are only bound to be some people who will be more susceptible to getting caught up in this kind of cycle.
    me, I am not a worrier so something negative can happen to me and I can shake it off pretty quickly.
    but my own brother is nothing like that, he always lets things eat away at him and he has battled serious anxiety and depression for a long time, really as long as I can remember

  • Jayma


    April 15th, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    There are times when any of us could easily sink into this repetitive cycle of anxiety and depression.

    There are those times when nothing seems to go right, it all feels pointless and that casts this self doubt and negativity onto every single thing that you attempt. But just knowing that these things can often all spin out another is a way to stop looking at everything that is bad and help you to focus more on the things in life that are good.

    This is not always a solution but at least it helps to refocus things a little more and help clear up the perspective a little bit.

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