How To Understand The Difference and Similarities Between Anxiety And Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Because of this, it is sometimes tough to know whether someone is experiencing one of these mental illnesses versus the other. Depression can sound like being in a bottomless hole whereas anxiety can seem like a condition in which affected individuals are full of energy. For this reason, it seems counterintuitive that someone could experience them simultaneously. And yet, it is not only possible but also common. To reduce some of the confusion about the similarities and differences between depression and anxiety, here is a quick reference guide on how these illnesses manifest themselves in life.

Not One And The Same


Approximately eighty percent of individuals who have been diagnosed with depression have also been diagnosed with some sort of anxiety disorder. In addition, roughly thirty percent of patients with depression have also been diagnosed with a form of panic disorder. As a result, it may seem like most individuals with depression have an anxiety or panic disorder. But this is not entirely true; there are many individuals who suffer only from depression or only from anxiety. There is also some confusion about the differences between these mental illnesses because some individuals incorrectly use the terms 'depression' and 'anxiety' interchangeably. However, depression and anxiety are distinct mental illnesses with different symptoms.



When thinking about depression, it is important to differentiate it from short-term sadness or feelings of unhappiness. Depression is a long-term condition and is considered a disorder when sad feelings keep affected individuals from performing activities because they have lost interest in them or feel overwhelmed with sadness. Typical symptoms of depression can include body aches and pains, lethargy, feeling hopeless, chronic fatigue, and contemplating self-harm. If any of these symptoms persist over an extended period (even for a few weeks), it is important to talk to a doctor. They may provide a referral to a psychiatrist who can assess the patient more thoroughly and possibly prescribe medication to alleviate symptoms.



Although anxiety can also last for a long time, it often stems from a discrete or ongoing traumatic experience. In either case, anxiety is an emotional response that manifests in many ways, including through the body's receptors. Some typical symptoms patients with anxiety experience include agitation, lightheadedness, constant fear and worrying, self-doubt, and extreme mood swings. 

These symptoms can be triggered by an event and make the sufferer feel as if they are reliving a traumatic experience all over again. It is important for family members and friends to be considerate of events or situations that may trigger their loved one's anxiety. They can do this by avoiding conversations and activities that trigger an anxious response and by supporting their loved one during an anxiety attack.

Feeling Keyed Up VS Moving Slow


One important difference is in feeling keyed up versus moving slow. Anxiety leads to 'keyed up' feelings, while depression leads to slow moving and fatigue. When an individual is depressed, they may have trouble connecting with the world around them. Their physical movements may be slower than usual, and they might have trouble concentrating or following conversations that happen too fast. Tiredness is one of the key symptoms of depression. Meanwhile, anxiety can make an affected individual feel like they're on high alert. They may notice tons of little details around them and feel like their brain is on overdrive. Rather than struggling to pay attention, their mind may race or come up with catastrophic and unlikely scenarios.

Apprehension And Worry VS Listlessness And Hopelessness


Another difference between anxiety and depression is apprehension and worry versus listlessness and hopelessness. When an individual has anxiety, they tend to worry a lot. They may worry about the situation they're currently in and the ways it could go wrong. Patients with anxiety may also worry about the future, agonize over small mistakes they made in the past, or even make up completely impossible scenarios that cause them a lot of anxiety. They may avoid going out or engaging in other day-to-day tasks because of your apprehension.

With depression, on the other hand, there tends to be a sense of hopelessness and listlessness. Rather than being afraid of activities, patients simply don't have any interest in doing them. They may lose interest in social relationships, hobbies, and even taking care of themselves. Instead of being worried about the future, individuals with depression often have a sense of hopelessness and resignation about it.

One Can Result In The Other


Depression and anxiety often occur together. Though the symptoms can develop at the same time, it's also possible that one can result in the other. If individuals originally have depression, they may feel hopeless and lethargic and uninterested in the world. These feelings can cause their work, school, and social life to suffer, which can, in turn, lead to anxiety. Patients may also be anxious because they're worried they will never feel okay again.

If individuals originally have anxiety, they may feel apprehensive and worried about themselves and the world. These constantly elevated stress levels take a toll on both their physical and mental functioning. This may also lead patients to start avoiding activities they previously enjoyed. When anxiety is having a significant impact on an individual's life, and they're constantly feeling overwhelmed and upset, it's common for that to lead to the same hopelessness found in depression.

Similar Physical Changes And Symptoms


It's estimated that somewhere from forty-five to fifty percent of adults with depression or anxiety actually have both conditions at once. In some ways, both issues have similar physical changes and symptoms. This can make it hard to tell whether an individual is experiencing anxiety or depression or both. Patients with depression and anxiety both tend to have trouble sleeping, and they may struggle to stay asleep throughout the night. This can lead to exhaustion and increased stress levels during the day. 

Depression and anxiety also both cause irritability and difficulty with emotional regulation. It's also hard to concentrate with both disorders. With anxiety, this is because increased stress levels inhibit memory function. With depression, it's because the brain isn't making the same connections at the same speed as a neurotypical brain.

Treatment Options For Both


There are multiple treatment options for both disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to help patients face anxiety and deal with depressing thoughts. Talk therapy is helpful for working through both depressed and anxious feelings. Some antidepressants are also used to treat anxiety disorders. Similarly, some anti-anxiety medications can be used to treat depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, also known as SSRIs, can treat both anxiety and major depression. It should be noted, though, SSRIs should not be used for bipolar disorder without a mood stabilizer. 

Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs, target both norepinephrine and serotonin neurotransmitters. They can help with both depression and anxiety. Benzodiazepines are typically used for panic disorders and anxiety disorders on a short-term basis, but aren't recommended for long-term use due to their risk of dependency. Both depression and anxiety can be treated by tricyclic antidepressants as well, though these have many potential side effects and should be monitored carefully.