Why Anxiety and Depression Are Connected: Avoidance and Willingness With Painful Emotions



In this video, we’re going to talk about one way that depression and anxiety are linked – avoidance – and the antidote to avoidance – willingness.

Depression and anxiety are closely connected, with many people experiencing both at the same time. This isn’t a coincidence. Rather, the way we respond to stress and painful emotions may determine whether our anxiety or depression grows.
Avoidance can cause both depression and anxiety, but an antidote to avoidance is willingness, practicing the skill of allowing yourself to feel your emotions without needing to make them go away.

Why depression and anxiety are linked
Depression and anxiety comorbidity
Stuff you do that makes depression worse

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Therapy in a Nutshell, LLC, and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.

About Me:
I’m Emma McAdam. I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and I have worked in various settings of change and growth since 2004. My experience includes juvenile corrections, adventure therapy programs, wilderness therapy programs, an eating disorder treatment center, a residential treatment center, and I currently work in an outpatient therapy clinic.

In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction.
And deeper than all of that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ orients my personal worldview and sense of security, peace, hope, and love

If you are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local emergency services.
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30 comments

  1. Emma, this is incredibly useful. What a brilliant illustration of how our emotions work in times of distress. I totally get it, both for my own life and thinking of others. I work with children (aged 8-10) who are struggling in school with behavioural or emotional problems. Your video backs up all I have read about our emotions. Thank you so much. Definitely one to re-watch and add to my learning folder.

  2. After watching your video I tried to let myself experience some negative emotions and I reacted to those emotions with fear. Like I'm scared of feeling anything in case I go crazy

  3. This morning I knew I needed to sit with my difficult emotions. I contemplated, wept and listened to your healing and encouraging thoughts. Nicely done.

  4. What if you are 57 with a shit job you can't live on and no possibility for anything better? What if every time you try something new it just blows up in your face and everything gets worse?

  5. Oh. My. God. It's like you are right inside my head. I was nodding recognition all the way …. kind of yeah, yeah, yeah… But when you got to the Passion Project Disappointment story — BINGO!!!

  6. I think a huge factor in my developing social anxiety was spending too much time alone. So when I DID engage with people, I felt more pressure than I would have if I didn't isolate.

  7. Here's the cure. GET CENTERED. In other words, don't pick sides with regard to anything. As well, when you focus on RIGHT HERE, and RIGHT NOW, then there is nothing to worry about. Anxiety gone! And since you are RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, there is no yesterday, and no tomorrow. So Depression, gone! If you need some music to get you into the CENTERED POSITION, here's my new song featuring footage of Evel Knievel crashing up real good…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8Bkz1sBGxQ&t=61s

  8. For all my Christians out there, and for all those who aren't too just a scripture that backs up what she's saying.
    "For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility…having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin…Adam fell that men might be; and men care, that they might have joy." 2 Nephi 2.

  9. People who are more sensitive to emotions are prone to put up a wall and seem robotic. To those easy-going extroverts, highly intelligent introverts seem like soulless robots, when it is the exact opposite.

  10. "because I got hurt, I stopped caring" wow. This is so helpful .. thank you! I used to be so creative and happy, then I got hurt really badly so I stopped caring and feeling like nothing I did was worth anything. I need healing.

  11. 'Less avoidance' is so totally, frustratingly meaningless. It's one of those 1990s, self help catch phrases that for some reason still sells books in middle-class America. Like 'expand your emotional capacity'. FFS… There's nothing inherently wrong with you or with what you're doing, so take the pressure off yourself. You don't need to push yourself to follow vague, pseudo-psychological advice like this (and then blame yourself when you can't). Edit: the final quote… FFS, how awful. Do you really think sufferers of anxiety and depression lack motivation?

  12. Hi, Emma. I could use your clarity. I believe much of what hampers my joy centers on trust and control. I struggle to trust that I don't need to control every variable and outcome. All of this causes me to distrust others and pull away from making friends. If I can't control it, I avoid it because I fear unexpected outcomes. I wasn't always this way. I believe it started almost 30 years ago when I met and married my soulmate. I sometimes feel as though I can tolerate uncertainty and unexpected outcomes for myself, but my sense of responsibility to protecting my wife from this uncertainty bars me from exploring this side of myself. For example, I am willing to risk a career change, but the potential loss of income could negativrly affect her, so I won't try. How do I let go of the fear of uncertainty of outcomes affecting her? I want her to have the life she wants, so I try to control everyhing that affects her. She does NOT demand this from me, quite the opposite. This feels as though I am trying to control someone else's happiness so I can feel good about myself. How do I break free from this? Thank you.

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