Anxiety Vs. Depression: What’s The Difference?

Updated October 4, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content warning: Please be advisedthatthis article contains mentions of suicidal ideation. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7.

People often talk about anxiety and depression in the same sentence. It may have you wondering exactly how similar they are, especially if you think that you may have one or the other.

In this article, we'll take a look at anxiety and depression and talk about their similarities and differences. We'll also talk about what to do if you think that you may have either of the conditions.

If You Have Anxiety, Depression, Or Both, There Are Ways To Cope

Anxiety and Depression as Disorders

Before we launch into our discussion of anxiety and depression, we should take some time to clear something up. Feelings of anxiety and depression are both natural and healthy human emotions. It is normal to feel anxious before a meeting with your boss and it is normal to feel depressed following the loss of a loved one. Feeling anxiety or depression does not necessarily mean that you have an anxiety disorder or a depressive disorder. However, if you have feelings of anxiety or depression for weeks at a time and it impacts your ability to function, then you likely could benefit from talking to a counselor and exploring further to see if you could benefit from treatment. It is important to talk to a professional rather than to try to diagnose yourself.

To be clear, when you see "anxiety" or "depression" in this article, it's referencing disorders. That's separate from "feelings of anxiety" or "feelings of depression" which reference the emotions but not necessarily the disorders.

Depressive Disorders

Depressive disorders are characterized by having feelings of depression for more than at least two weeks. Feelings of depression can include hopelessness, extreme sadness, lack of motivation or initiative, weight changes, sleep changes, thoughts of suicide or wanting to die, or not being able to enjoy things that you once enjoyed. It's normal to experience feeling sad or lack of motivation from time to time, but if they hang around for a while and impact your life and work, it could be time to talk to a healthcare provider. It is not normal to feel suicidal or want to die, so if you feel this way, you should seek help immediately. The fastest is way is reaching out to your local emergency services.

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifelinecan be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available to assist 24/7.

Depression can be caused by several things, including a death in the family, loss of a job, physical or emotional abuse, or other major life events. For some, the feelings pass and for others, they do not. It doesn't mean that you are weak or lacking in something if you find yourself still struggling after you feel like you should feel normal. Everyone is different and respond differently to similar situations.

Depression can also be the result of changes in your body. These could be the result of moving to a new location, your body's hormonal balance changing as you age, or even a change in diet. Sometimes depression can also be caused by another problem in your body that affects how your body produces or your brain interactions with chemical messengers called "neurotransmitters" that affect your mood. This kind of depression can impact anyone but is most likely to affect you if you have a family history of depression.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are characterized by feelings of anxiety that persist for more than a couple of weeks. Feelings of anxiety include excessive worry and fear. Similar to depression, feelings of anxiety are normal and to be expected when dealing with a stressful situation. However, if once the situation has passed and you still feel the same, it could be time to talk to a healthcare provider. There is also generalized anxiety which does not have to have a triggering event and is when a person feels anxious and does not understand why or feels anxious over things that do not typically make people anxious. If you are unsure if this describes you, these are good questions for a healthcare professional.

Some common signs of anxiety in addition to worry and fear and an inability to control the worry are: irritability, difficulty concentrating, problems sleeping, and muscle tension.People with anxiety disorders may also experience panic attacks characterized by shortness of breath, a fast heartbeat, and other symptoms.

Anxiety disorders can be caused by prolonged stress as well as major life changes like a new job or moving to a new place. It can also be caused by physical or emotional abuse or being the victim of a crime. Like Depression, anxiety can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. These can come on unexpectedly due to environmental reasons or even for no clear reason.

A Quick Note On PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or "PTSD" is similar to anxiety and can happen at the same time as depression. It is neither an anxiety disorder nor a depressive disorder, but it has a lot in common with both of them.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a result of a chemical imbalance in the same way that depression or anxiety can be. It also isn'tcaused by some of the things that can cause anxiety or depression like a job change or a move. It is the result of exposure to a traumatic, life threatening event. While PTSD has largely been most often associated with war veterans, it is not limited to those who experience war. It is diagnosed in people following abuse, violent crime, traffic accidents, and other traumatic events.

If You Have Anxiety, Depression, Or Both, There Are Ways To Cope

Comorbidity of Anxiety and Depression

"Comorbidity" sounds scary but it just refers to when two things happen at the same time.

As we've discussed above, anxiety and depression are farther apart than most people may think. However, they can - and often do - occur simultaneously. According to some estimates, as much as sixty percent of people with anxiety or depression will also have the other disorder.

There are several theories as to why this is the case. One compelling argument is that because they can both be caused by some of the same things, some events may cause both of them at once. Similarly, both can be caused by similar biological factors.

To some degree, anxiety and depression can also cause - or at least exacerbate - one another. Depression may cause one to fall behind at work resulting in feelings of anxiety. Similarly, anxiety may interfere with one's work leading to feelings of depression. The social stigma that people struggling with these disorders often faces certainly doesn't help this complication.

Traditional Treatment Options

Treatment options for anxiety and depression (and PTSD) are similar.

In some cases, a healthcare provider will prescribe medications to help to ease the symptoms of these conditions. Another common option is therapy. Therapy can help people learn how to cope with these disorders. Therapy will often focus on helping the patient to evaluate their emotional response to the events or feelings that are causing their feelings of anxiety or depression. In many cases, people who feel high anxiety or depression following certain events feel those feelings because of larger underlying issues that they may not be aware of. Talking with a therapist can also help to uncover these underlying factors.

Finally, probably the most effective way to treat these conditions for many people is with a combination of prescription medication and therapy. Medications can help to keep symptoms under control while giving therapy time to be beneficial. Further, medications often encourage neuroplasticity that is, the ability of the brain's physical structure to change. This makes therapy more effective. It can also reduce the period of treatment. Some people are reluctant to get on medication because they don't want to be on medication forever. This is something you should talk to your doctor about. Some people do find that they do best on some form of medication long-term, but many people are on these medications for 12 months or less. The important thing is to talk to your prescriber and follow guidelines for getting on and off medications safely. Just don't feel that because you are prescribed medication means you will have to take it for the rest of your life.

However, these aren't the only options. Many communities have support groups where groups of people with a similar condition meet to talk about what they do to manage their symptoms. These groups may be hosted or moderated by a healthcare expert. While they lack one-on-one time with a therapist that most people associate with talk therapy, they can still be a valuable solution, and they are usually free. Even if you aren't undergoing therapy or don't have a diagnosis, you may be able to help you find resources like this in your community.

Online Therapy

BetterHelp's goal is to increase awareness of mental health issues and solutions. BetterHelp makes therapy affordable and available by connecting individuals with licensed professional counselors over the internet. Online therapy can also be an ideal supplement to medication for anxiety or depression. To learn more about how working with an online therapist or counselor who can help you to manage your anxiety and depression, visit You can get started anywhere you have an internet connection.

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