Anxiety and Depression


  • Muscle, bone and joint conditions, such as arthritis or back pain, often overlap with depression and anxiety 
  • They are the most commonly reported mental health issues among people living with persistent pain
  • There are a large range of treatment options to help you manage anxiety and depression and to reduce their impact on your life

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This information sheet has been developed to provide information about the impact living with a muscle, bone or joint condition can have on emotional health and wellbeing. 

It provides general information about anxiety and depression and offers practical advice about how you can manage them in order to minimise their impact on your quality of life.

Pain, anxiety and depression 

Everyone’s experience of persistent pain and chronic illness is different. Having the same condition as someone doesn’t mean you will have the same symptoms, experience the same levels of pain or have the same feelings about what you’re going through as they do. 

Depression, anxiety or low mood are common with chronic conditions, particularly those associated with persistent pain. 

People usually report feeling overwhelmed when they are first diagnosed. It can be difficult to accept that your condition will be long-lasting or that your life will change. Some people will react with denial or shock, for others the reality may not sink in until well after diagnosis. It’s common for people to feel anxious at this time because they are uncertain of how their condition will affect their life. It’s also common for people to have episodes of anxiety later as they grapple with changes in their condition and the levels of pain they are experiencing. Anticipation of negative events that may occur in the future, such as flare ups, may also trigger anxiety. If you’re experiencing anxiety you’re not alone. Many people living with muscle, bone and joint conditions have suffered from some form of anxiety and/or depression due to their condition.

It’s important to recognise signs of depression and anxiety and to seek help as early as possible. Together with your doctor you can develop a treatment plan that is catered towards your needs physically, emotionally and mentally. This type of holistic approach has been shown to be most effective in the treatment and management of muscle, bone and joint conditions. 

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Everyone experiences fear and worry from time to time. These are normal emotions in response to danger and uncertainty. These emotions can become unhelpful and counterproductive when we continue to experience them when there is no danger present. 

Anxiety is being in a state of constant stress and worry in the absence of an actual threat. People experiencing anxiety may feel uneasy, restless and overwhelmed by fear. These emotions can be difficult to control even when you recognise that they are unnecessary. 

Anxiety becomes a problem when it begins to interfere with day-to-day life. At this point it is said that a person is suffering from an anxiety disorder. These disorders are common and there are many types with varying symptoms.

It’s important to recognise these signs and symptoms because anxiety has been linked to the development of other disorders, as well as aggravating how we experience pain. Fortunately a range of treatment options exist and the sooner anxiety is recognised for what it is, the sooner help can be sought and treatment started.  

Symptoms of anxiety

While a range of different anxiety disorders exist, some common symptoms include: 

  • shortness of breath
  • rapid heartbeat
  • feeling jittery and/or shaky 
  • tightness in the chest
  • stomach pain 
  • poor memory or concentration
  • obsessive thinking and/or worrying 
  • nausea
  • insomnia
  • panic or anxiety attacks
  • feelings of impending doom
  • abuse of drugs and alcohol.

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Most people feel sad, lonely, unhappy and miserable from time to time. These are normal feelings in response to something that causes us emotional pain or stress. 

However some people experience these emotions frequently and very intensely for prolonged periods of time to the point where they lose interest and motivation in their lives. These people may be depressed. 

Depression is a serious condition that affects how a person thinks, behaves, feels and how they live their life. This can in turn affect their physical health and function. However help and treatment is available and is effective. 

Symptoms of depression

A person may be suffering from a depressive episode if they are feeling sad, miserable or unhappy and have lost their sense of interest or pleasure in their life or activities for more than two weeks, in addition to displaying symptoms such as: 

  • feeling miserable, anxious or empty for prolonged periods of time
  • feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • feeling guilty or worthless 
  • feeling irritable, restless or frustrated 
  • feeling unmotivated to do anything
  • loss of interest in once pleasurable activities or hobbies, including sex
  • sleep disturbance, either excessive sleep or wakefulness 
  • tiredness 
  • not wanting to get out of bed
  • fatigue and/or decreased energy levels
  • difficulty concentrating and getting things done
  • feeling overwhelmed, difficulty thinking and making decisions
  • changes in appetite and body weight
  • suicidal thoughts and tendencies such as carelessness for one’s safety and wellbeing
  • abuse of drugs and alcohol 
  • physical pain such as headaches, cramps and digestive problems that persist after treatment. 

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What can you do?

It’s important to seek help for anxiety and depression as early as possible in order to avoid prolonging your illness and making your symptoms worse. It becomes harder and harder to climb out of a depressive episode the longer you wait.  Similarly, the longer you put off seeking help for anxiety the more anxious you may become about taking that first step. If there are people you trust in your life, seek them out and ask for their support. 

There are many different types of treatment options available for anxiety and depression. The important thing is to find the right treatment and health professional that works for you. With the right treatment and support anxiety and depression can be overcome.

See your GP. Make a long appointment with your doctor. Be honest about how you feel. Discuss with your doctor the range of treatment options available and agree on one that is suitable for you. Different types of depression require different treatments. Mild depression can usually be managed through lifestyle changes, for more severe cases your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist who may prescribe you medication.  

Psychological treatments. This form of therapy not only aids recovery, but it also builds coping skills and minimises the risk of anxiety and depression returning. It includes the following:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) – this treatment helps people become aware of their patterns of thinking and the beliefs they hold that may be triggering anxiety. The aim is to make people think about, assess and change their thought patterns and how they react to different circumstances.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) – this treatment focuses on resolving interpersonal issues to help resolve symptoms, improve relationships and increase social support. 

Goal setting. Setting goals is an important step in recovery. It is an effective means of increasing motivation to achieve something. It can be used as part of CBT or on its own. Goals need to be specific, realistic, measurable and have a time frame. Goals can be short-term or long-term. Sometimes it’s useful to break down large or long-term goals into smaller steps or intermediate goals that can be achieved more quickly. These ‘small wins’ provide a sense of achievement and help you maintain focus. Breaking goals down into smaller steps also helps prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by large goals. 

Talk to trusted family and friends about what you’re going through. This may help alleviate your depression. If there is no one you feel you can trust and comfortably confide in, consider speaking with a counsellor or a psychologist.  

Join a support group. Meeting with people who know what you are going through and who have similar conditions and experiences, can be extremely beneficial. MOVE muscle, bone and joint health has a network of peer support groups. Most of these groups meet face-to-face, but there are several that you can access via websites or social media.

Journal symptoms of pain, sleep quality and mood. This can help you recognise patterns and identify triggers of depression or anxiety.

Learn about anxiety and depression and the way your body and mind work. This will help you understand what you’re experiencing and why. It will also help you take control over what is happening to you.  

Medication. Anti-depressant medication can be helpful in easing the symptoms of depression when used in conjunction with psychological treatments. It’s important to fully understand what treatment you will be taking and why. This means finding the right doctor or psychologist with whom you can have an open and honest discussion about the options suitable for you. 

Eat well. A healthy, well-balanced diet is vital for good health and energy. Not only does it help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the load on your joints, it can also help protect you against other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. We also feel much better in ourselves when we eat a nutritious, delicious meal. Talk with your doctor or dietitian for more information and advice. 

Take care of yourself physically by keeping as active as possible. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep. Consider joining an exercise class or exercising with a friend. You’ll get the benefits of exercise as well as the added social benefit of being with others.

Restore your sleeping patterns by getting up around the same time each morning. If you find yourself lying awake at night thinking about your worries, write them down to think about the following day – this will ease your mind and help you avoid overthinking. Avoid caffeine and alcohol for several hours before going to bed. Give yourself time to unwind before going to bed by doing something relaxing like meditating, taking a bath, going for a walk or reading a book. Avoid television and mobile devices. If pain is keeping you awake it might be worthwhile altering the timing of pain relief medication, using a heat pack on sore joints, and positioning pillows strategically for comfort with the advice from a physiotherapist. 

Learn how to breathe properly from your diaphragm and not your chest. When you are feeling anxious try and focus on your breathing and slow it down in order to avoid hyperventilation. 

Learn a variety of relaxation techniques to find the ones that work for you. Options include progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and breathing exercises, but you can do anything that puts your mind at ease such as tai chi, colouring in, listening to music, reading a book, going for a walk. 

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Carers and family

Family, friends and carers often experience the strain of living with someone and caring for someone with a low mood. As a carer or family member you may experience a range of emotions in response to your situation and these can be difficult to deal with. Be aware of your emotions. If you need help, seek assistance and discuss your situation with your GP,  a psychologist or the National Carer Counselling Program. 

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Where to get help

  • Your doctor 
  • Psychologist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Mental health nurses
  • Occupational therapists in mental health
  • Counsellor
  • Dietitian
  • Exercise physiologist
  • Physiotherapist
  • MOVE muscle, bone & joint health
    Help Line: 1800 263 265

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More information

Need information regarding your condition and commonly prescribed treatments? Or assistance navigating the health, disability and social services systems?  Do you want to speak to someone who has a chronic musculoskeletal condition, and can understand what you are going through? Contact our Help Line on 1800 263 265. 

Interested in finding out about our upcoming webinars and seminars and other events. Click here to learn more.

Download a PDF of this information. 

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Move - muscle, bone and joint health, the new voice of Arthritis Victoria

Welcome to MOVE muscle, bone & joint health, the new voice of Arthritis and Osteoporosis Victoria.

We may have a new name but since 1968 we have been the leading provider of supported solutions and trusted knowledge to the one-in-three Australians who live with these conditions.

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