Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health conditions we see. And though they’re frequently confused, they’re actually different classes of disorders. Some of the confusion stems from an overlap in symptoms and in the fact that they often co-occur. But despite sharing some symptoms, there is a significant difference between anxiety and depression in the actual definition of each condition.
On a high level, anxiety involves excessive worrying or stress about the outcome of a situation. Depression, on the other hand, is a mood disorder that causes overwhelming feelings of sadness or apathy.
We’ll dive into the key differences below and review each mental health condition in more detail.
What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and Depression?
Part of the reason why anxiety vs depression can be difficult for many people to identify is that there are overlapping symptoms in the two conditions. Also, keep in mind that many people diagnosed with major depressive disorder may also have an anxiety disorder. In fact, nearly half of all people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
So, what is the difference between anxiety and depression?
While there are many common symptoms between anxiety and depression — such as fatigue, changes in appetite, and difficulty concentrating — there are also some blatant differences. For example, excessive worry is more common with anxiety, whereas thoughts of suicide are more prevalent with depression.
Anxiety and depression also fall into different classifications of disorders. Anxiety is its own class, and depression is a separate mood disorder. Finally, another difference between the two conditions is that they’re sometimes treated with different medications.
To best understand the differences listed above, it’s important to review these disorders in-depth.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety, in and of itself, is a natural reaction to overwhelming stress or fear. It’s a normal response that occurs any time we’re exposed to a perceived potential danger. Feeling anxious can actually be good sometimes. It’s our body’s reactive, natural warning sign to threats. But anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million American adults, and they can become debilitating if not treated.
“If, over a prolonged period of time, you notice you’re having any trouble sleeping, or experiencing excessive worry that feels difficult to control, or you can’t seem to stop overthinking things (ruminating), or you seem to get sick often, these could be some signs you might be struggling with anxiety.”
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including:
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety?
If you’re wondering what is the difference between anxiety and depression, looking at the signs and symptoms of each can help. First, let’s start with the signs and symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety can present itself in any of the symptoms below:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Panic attacks
- Isolating yourself from others
- Anxiety chest pain
- Obsessive thought patterns
- Changes in appetite
“The mind-body connection is real, so sometimes we’ll feel physical signs and symptoms of a mental health condition like anxiety because our bodies are going into a “fight or flight” mode. This could look like increased heart rate, appetite changes, stomach pain, and muscle tightness.”
Keep in mind that anxiety in teens and children may look a bit different than it does in adults. Your best course of action is to speak with a mental health professional, like a licensed therapist.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that’s more than just feeling down, or having a bad day. People who are clinically depressed have extreme sadness or apathy that lasts for several days, weeks, or even months on end. Their feelings will be persistent through the day, and will occur more days than not. Depression interferes with daily functioning and can result in feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.
Like anxiety, there are different forms of depression and depression-related conditions. Some common forms of depression include:
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression?
If you think you may have depression and are wondering what depression feels like, start with learning some of the common symptoms. Some of the major depression symptoms and signs may include:
- Feeling sad or anxious more often than not
- Having (often uncontrollable) bouts of crying
- Sleep difficulties, including sleeping too much or not enough or having a hard time falling or staying asleep
- Having unexplained aches and pains, headaches, or stomach problems for no apparent reason
- Fatigue even after sleeping
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Change in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Having a hard time remembering things
- Finding it extremely difficult to make decisions
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Feeling helpless
- Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
“Signs of depression can sometimes be clear, like crying more than usual for you, or difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. And sometimes, signs of depression can be a bit more gradual, like if you’re overly stressed and burning out, it can be hard to notice when these subtle changes turn into months of not feeling like yourself. If you haven’t been feeling like yourself, it can be helpful to check in with yourself by journaling or recording a voice memo in your phone, or checking in with a trusted person in your life, to see if they’ve noticed any changes in you recently.”
How to Know if You Have Anxiety or Depression
Despite being different conditions, it’s so common for anxiety and depression to occur simultaneously. Therefore, knowing which you have can be tricky. The answer may be both.
“It’s normal to experience symptoms of anxiety during stressful times, like if you’re moving or about to give a big presentation. But if you’re noticing you’re feeling anxious for a more prolonged period of time, it might be helpful to consult with a trained mental health professional for an assessment. From there, you can ask for treatment options and recommendations. There’s lots of support out there for you, and you deserve it,” Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC said.
Diagnosis of either anxiety or depression requires a persistent time period of experienced symptoms and an appointment from a licensed therapist. Anxiety symptoms will likely be present for several months, and depressive symptoms generally must exist for at least several weeks. Additionally, symptoms must cause impairment. That is, they need to be interfering with your daily life and your ability to function.
How to Seek Treatment for Anxiety or Depression
There is some good news for anyone who has anxiety or depression. First, you should know that there’s help and effective treatment for both conditions. Learning what options are available to you is step one.
It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for any mental health condition. It may take some time, and you may need to try a few different routes. With diligence and support, you can find a path that leads you to a healthier, more productive, peaceful life.
Treatment options if you have anxiety:
Wondering how to deal with anxiety? The following treatment methods can help you deal with your anxiety symptoms:
- Medication: Medication alone is not often a cure for anxiety disorders, but it can help with many symptoms. Prescription medication commonly used to treat anxiety disorders may include anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, or beta-blockers. Choosing the right medication can take time and needs to be done under the guidance of your psychiatrist.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, has been proven effective for people with anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy is directed at your specific anxieties, and it’s customized to improve your individual needs and goals for therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of psychotherapy that’s often used to treat anxiety disorders. Through CBT, you learn how to change your thinking and behavior.
- Support groups: Support groups can be beneficial for some people with anxiety disorders, but this option alone may not be enough.
- Stress management and relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, journaling are all great ways to help ease anxiety. Exercise and healthy sleep patterns are other potential options that have shown great success. Again, these techniques by themselves may not be adequate treatment. When used in combination with psychotherapy and/or medication, however, they might be very helpful.
Treatment options if you have depression:
Need help figuring out how to manage depression? You can also use one or all of the treatment below.
- Medication: Antidepressants — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and others — can offer some relief to people with depression. They can help improve your mood and energy levels. Prescription medication must be taken exactly as directed, and should not be discontinued without the supervision and guidance of a licensed in-person or online psychiatrist.
- Psychotherapy: Therapy is beneficial to many people who are clinically depressed. Working with a licensed therapist can help you learn coping skills as well as identify and change behaviors that may be contributing to your depression. In-person or online therapy can allow you to manage your stress, improve your relationships, and ultimately live a healthier life.
- Lifestyle changes: Making small lifestyle changes like getting enough sleep, making it a point to exercise, and eating healthy can all help with depression symptoms.
“You want to make sure you’re working with a mental health professional that can help you address both the immediate and long-term strategies to manage your depression and/or anxiety. Working on getting some immediate relief, as well as developing an understanding of what might have contributed to the mental health condition so you can work to manage or prevent this in the future, are equally important to your overall health and wellbeing.”
Knowing how to deal with anxiety vs. depression (or how to handle both) can feel overwhelming in the beginning, but you can find a way to manage and treat both conditions. There’s help available, and even just researching and learning more about them, as you have today, shows you’re on the right track.
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