Anxiety vs Depression: What Is the Difference?

January 26, 2022   •  Posted in: 

Approximately 40 million adults in the United States struggle with anxiety, and more than 16 million adults struggle with depression. [1]

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health challenges people in the U.S. (and throughout the world) face. There’s still a lot of confusion surrounding these two conditions, though.

For example, many people have found themselves asking questions like, “Is anxiety and depression the same thing?” and “What is the difference between anxiety and depression?”

If you’ve asked these kinds of questions yourself, keep reading. You’ll find answers to what you need to know about anxiety vs depression.


What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are characterized by intense, excessive, and persistent feelings of worry, fear, and dread.

People who struggle with anxiety disorders experience these feelings in everyday, non-threatening situations. They may also experience repeated episodes of anxiety, fear, and panic (these are known as panic attacks).

Occasional bouts of worry and anxiety are a normal part of life. When they start interfering with your daily life, though, or if they feel difficult to control, last a long time, or are out of proportion to actual dangers, you may be dealing with something more serious.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Several different disorders fall under the anxiety umbrella. The following are some of the most well-known:

    • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Generalized anxiety disorder involves chronic feelings of anxiety and exaggerated worry; these feelings are generally unprovoked.
    • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): People with OCD experience recurring, unwanted thoughts (or obsessions) and/or perform repetitive behaviors (or compulsions) to provide temporary anxiety relief; failure to perform these behaviors tends to increase anxiety symptoms.
    • Panic Disorder: Panic disorder involves repeated and unexpected episodes of fear or panic; these feelings are accompanied by physical symptoms like heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing.
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD typically develops after exposure to a terrifying event in which harm may have been threatened or occurred; triggering events include assaults, natural disasters, accidents, and military combat.
    • Social Anxiety Disorder: People with Social Anxiety Disorder experience overwhelming anxiety and feelings of self-consciousness that occur during everyday social situations; it can be limited to individual situations like speaking in front of a crowd, or it can be so broad that symptoms are triggered whenever other people are around.


What Is Depression?

Depression is another common mental health disorder characterized by a persistent depressed mood. If you’re struggling with depression, you may experience a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, and you may struggle to carry out basic activities of daily living because your mood and energy levels are so low.

Types of Depression

The most well-known type of depression is referred to as major depressive disorder. It lasts for extended periods (at least two weeks) and impacts your self-esteem and overall feelings of well-being.

In addition to major depressive disorder, there are a few other types of depression of which to be aware, including these:

    • Persistent Depressive Disorder: In those with persistent depressive disorder, symptoms last for at least two years with little to no relief.
    • Bipolar Disorder: Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of mania (extremely high energy, limited sleep, irrational behavior, etc.) followed by periods of depression (extremely low energy, excessive sleep, feelings of self-loathing, etc.).
    • Seasonal Affective Disorder: This type of depression typically occurs during the fall and winter when the seasons change, the weather cools down, and the days get shorter.


Can You Have Anxiety and Depression at the Same Time?

You can experience symptoms of anxiety and depression at the same time. In fact, panic disorder and other types of anxiety disorders are often accompanied by major depressive disorder. [2]

A recent worldwide study also showed that, of those who experienced major depression for 12 months, 41.6 percent of them also dealt with one or more anxiety disorders during the same period.

As you’ll see in the upcoming section, many of the symptoms of depression and anxiety overlap with each other, so it’s understandable why these two conditions are often diagnosed simultaneously.


Anxiety vs Depression Symptoms

There is some overlap when it comes to symptoms of anxiety and symptoms of depression, but there are also important distinctions of which you should be aware. Below are some of the most common symptoms of each condition:

Anxiety Symptoms

    • Excessive feelings of fear or worry
    • Frequently obsessing over situations or outcomes
    • Restlessness
    • Becoming fatigued easily
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Irritability or agitation
    • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
    • Frequent muscle tension

Depression Symptoms

    • Feelings of sadness
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
    • A lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
    • An increase or decrease in appetite
    • Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or sleeping too little)
    • Slow movements
    • Low energy
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Self-harming behaviors
    • Suicidal thoughts

Similarities and Differences

Difficulty sleeping and concentrating can be symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Frequent feelings of fatigue or low energy can also be attributed to either condition.

One of the key differences between anxiety and depression, though, is the difference in the way people move. Those with depression tend to move more slowly, whereas those with anxiety may be agitated and present jerky movements or rush around to try and calm their anxious feelings.

Anxiety and depression also differ when it comes to thought patterns. Those who are depressed are more prone to ruminating on the past, whereas those who are anxious are more prone to worrying and being afraid of what the future may bring.


Anxiety vs Depression Causes

Anxiety and depression, like many other mental health conditions, do not typically have one direct cause. However, the following are some potential reasons why you may develop either or both of these illnesses:

Anxiety Causes

    • Traumatic life experiences
    • Medical conditions (heart disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome)
    • Drug or alcohol misuse or withdrawal
    • Medication side effects

Depression Causes

    • Abuse
    • Tragic events
    • Social isolation
    • Drug or alcohol misuse
    • Medication side effects

Similarities and Differences

Misuse of drugs or alcohol can cause symptoms of depression and anxiety in certain people. Medications can also cause depression or feelings of anxiety as side effects.

There are also similarities between depression and anxiety when it comes to traumatic life events, abuse being a common cause. One person may be more prone to depression after going through a difficult event, whereas others may be more likely to develop anxiety symptoms, and some may develop symptoms of both conditions.

These outcomes vary quite a bit from person to person and often depend on other factors, such as genetic predispositions.


Anxiety vs Depression Risk Factors

Anyone can develop anxiety or depression, but mental health conditions may be more likely to occur in certain populations. If you fall into any of the categories discussed below, you may be more prone to anxiety or depression (or both) compared to others:

Anxiety Risk Factors

    • Gender: Women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders compared to men.
    • Trauma: Traumatic events like abuse as a child or adult, or witnessing a traumatic event happen to someone else (such as a parent or loved one), may lead to long-term feelings of fear and worry later in life.
    • Personality Types: People with certain personality types, such as “Type A” personalities, may be more prone to stress and, over time, may be more likely to develop anxiety disorders.
    • Other Mental Health Disorders: Those who struggle with other mental health disorders, including depression, may also develop anxiety disorders.
    • Family History: If other people in your family have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders, you may be more likely to be diagnosed yourself.

Depression Risk Factors

    • Gender: Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to men.
    • Age: Older people are more likely to be diagnosed with depression compared to younger people.
    • Trauma: Traumatic events may make you more prone to depression than those who have not experienced severe trauma.
    • Other Mental Health Disorders: Those who struggle with other mental health disorders, including anxiety, may also develop depression.
    • Family History: If other people in your family have been diagnosed with depression, you may be more likely to be diagnosed as well.

Similarities and Differences

As far as causes go, there are a lot of similarities between anxiety and depression. Trauma, gender, and family history all play a significant role in your mental health and can increase your risk of developing other issues.


Anxiety vs Depression Diagnosis

If you feel your anxiety or depression symptoms are beginning to interfere with your quality of life, you should seek help from a professional right away.

A doctor or another qualified professional can conduct an exam or mental health evaluation. This can provide a clear diagnosis and help you make a plan for managing your symptoms moving forward.

Explained below are the basic processes a professional will go through when diagnosing anxiety or depression:

Anxiety Diagnosis

Anxiety is typically diagnosed by performing a psychological evaluation. A physician or other trained professional will ask a series of questions, including questions related to your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, to help them determine whether or not you are exhibiting signs and symptoms of anxiety.

If you do not have any risk factors for anxiety (you don’t have a family history of anxiety, you don’t have any childhood trauma, etc.), or if your symptoms seem to have arisen out of nowhere, your doctor may also recommend a physical exam to ensure no medical issues are causing them.

Depression Diagnosis

Depression is also diagnosed using a psychological evaluation, which involves a series of questions related to your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. A physician or other professional might also ask questions regarding your family health history and your habits to ensure your symptoms aren’t being caused by medications or other potential health issues.

Similarities and Differences

The basic diagnostic process is the same for anxiety and depression. When you reach out to your physician or to a trained mental health professional, they will sit down with you to discuss your symptoms and ask a series of questions to help them come to a conclusion regarding your diagnosis.


Anxiety vs Depression Treatments

Your treatment protocol will vary depending on whether you’re diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or both. However, here are some general treatments that may be recommended based on your diagnosis:

Anxiety Treatment

Some physicians prescribe antidepressants to treat anxiety disorders (this is particularly common for those who are experiencing symptoms of both anxiety and depression). They may also recommend anti-anxiety medications like buspirone, as well as medications like benzodiazepines, which are meant to be used for short-term relief during severe episodes of anxiety.

As for psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of therapy recommended to those with anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you to challenge your thoughts and learn coping mechanisms to adapt your behaviors when you’re met with anxiety triggers.

Depression Treatment

Antidepressants are often prescribed to those struggling with depression. Antidepressants can help balance brain chemistry to increase or decrease levels of neurotransmitters that can contribute to depression symptoms.

Psychotherapy is often recommended to those with depression, too. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be helpful for depression, as can psychodynamic therapy, which helps people to find connections between past events and current challenges.

Similarities and Differences

As you can see, the treatment protocols for anxiety and depression are quite similar. Those who struggle with either (or both) conditions can often find a lot of relief from a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

In the case of both conditions, the combination of therapy and medication also seems to be more effective than either treatment option alone. [3]


Get Help with Anxiety and Depression Today

Now that you know more about the differences between anxiety vs depression, as well as how these conditions are similar, do you think you could be struggling with either or both? If so, we have a team of experts who are ready to help you at The Center • A Place of HOPE.

Ours is a Top Ten Facility for Depression Treatment, and we have more than 37 years of experience helping people like you overcome depression, anxiety, and more.

To learn more about our services, or to become a client, contact us today through our online form or give us a call at 1-888-747-5592.



Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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