Understanding the Difference Between Depression & Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are both mental health disorders; however, many people are confused because they share a lot of commonalities. Knowing what the symptoms are for each disorder may help to understand the differences.

Definition of Anxiety

Anxiety makes an individual apprehensive about bad things that could happen in the future – whether it’s in five minutes or twenty years down the road. These worrisome thoughts create a strong belief that things will go wrong even though there is no basis for it. People who are anxious may feel the need to run away or avoid situations or people that will cause further unease. Some of the common types of anxiety are:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Definition of Depression

The symptoms of depression are darker when compared to the symptoms of anxiety. Someone who is depressed feels persistently sad with no hope for the future. They have lost the belief that positive things will occur in their lives. This in turn, makes them listless and unproductive. Someone who is depressed doesn’t necessarily worry because about the future because they are consumed by their present negative state of affairs. There may even be thoughts of death or suicide. The three types of depressive disorders are:

  • Major depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder (formerly dysthymia)
  • Bipolar disorder (formerly manic depression)

Read the following articles for a better understanding of What Depression Looks Like and the Eight Causes of Major Depression.

Physical Symptoms

There are distinct physical symptoms that characterized by anxiety and depression. Both typically leave an individual feeling drained and exhausted, although this occurs differently with each disorder. For example, fatigue follows an intense anxiety attack; whereas, lethargy seems to be a constant presence in those suffering from depression.

With anxiety, some individuals’ natural “fight or flight response” will be more active making them restless or feel the need to run.  This includes shaking and sweating. There may also be an increased heart rate and hyperventilation during an anxiety attack which can cause other health concerns, such as bowel issues or nervous energy.

The physical symptoms of depression tend to be the opposite of anxiety.  Instead of being agitated, a depressed individual will have no energy or motivation. Their thought process slows down, as does their emotional responses. Normal behavior and patterns change as they lose interest doing things that were previously enjoyed.  They may also experience sleep issues, develop headaches, and have changes in appetite. While depression may have fewer physical symptoms than anxiety, the mental symptoms can be more dangerous, especially when suicidal thoughts are involved.

Sometimes the lines between the two disorders become blurred because the same type of cognitive behavior therapy and/or medication is used. This is why it’s important to understand the difference between anxiety and depression. It may also help to know that it’s not uncommon for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder may feel depressed because of how their anxiety is affecting their life.

If you suspect that you may be suffering from anxiety or depression, seek the help of a qualified mental health professional.  Do not try to diagnose it yourself.  Be honest with your therapist about your mental and physical symptoms so the right diagnosis can be made.  Effective treatment will depend on determining which disorder you are suffering from.