Depression and Anxiety- Similarities & Differences

Updated February 24, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety and depression are common disorders, affecting 4.1% and 10% of adults in the US in 2022, respectively. Mental health campaigns from organizations like the CDC, NIMH, and more are committed to raising awareness about the disorders. However, many people still aren’t aware of the difference between the two. 

This may be because many with anxiety often develop depression and vice versa; roughly 60% of people diagnosed with anxiety also display symptoms of depression. Although depression and anxiety are different medical conditions, their symptoms, causes, and treatments can often overlap.

Depression And Anxiety Don’t Have To Be Overwhelming

Symptoms Of Depression

According to the diagnostic criteria for depression as listed in the DSM-V, individuals experiencing a major depressive episode usually display five or more of the following criteria for two weeks or longer. Individuals experiencing a minor depressive episode usually display 2-4 for two weeks or longer.

The most common symptoms of depression include: 

  • Depressed Mood – In this case, a depressed mood is much more than sadness or low mood and lasts much longer. 

  • Lack Of Interest – A person who is experiencing depression usually has little to no motivation to do the activities they used to love doing.

  • Marked Increase Or Decrease In Appetite 

  • Insomnia Or Hypersomnia- Patients with persistent insomnia often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night. Recurrent episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged nighttime sleep characterize hypersomnia. 

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  • Lack Of Energy – People with depression often report constant fatigue. 

  • Unfounded Feelings Of Guilt Or Taking Blame

  • Trouble Concentrating 

  • Recurrent Thoughts Of Death, Suicidal Ideation– In severe cases, depression can be life-threatening, with suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7, or you can text the word “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

Symptoms Of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life and may even be helpful in low doses, an anxiety disorder is often harmful to those experiencing its symptoms, both mentally and physically. According to the DSM-V, an anxiety disorder diagnosis must include three or more of the following symptoms lasting more days than not for six months or longer:

  • Excessive, Heightened Worry 

  • Restlessness, Edginess

  • Fatigue 

  • Lack Of Memory And Difficulty Concentrating

  • Marked Change In Appetite 

  • Anger And Irritability 

  • Sleep Disturbances- Including difficulty staying or falling asleep and restlessness while sleeping.

  • Muscle Tension Without Physical Cause

Treating Anxiety & Depression

Treatment for depression and generalized anxiety disorder looks similar, with few exceptions. For example, extreme cases of comorbidity with other conditions like panic disorder, associated phobias, PTSD, etc., may (but not always) require specialized types of psychotherapy. 

The Diagnostic Process

If you feel that you may have symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both, treatment begins with contacting your doctor. Usually, a doctor will complete a physical and perhaps order lab tests to assess whether your symptoms may be caused by something else. After your physical exam, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist for further consultation. 

Upon speaking with your psychiatrist, you’ll likely be asked about any family history of mental health issues or specific concerns you have. From there, your psychiatrist will administer a self-assessment questionnaire and conduct a preliminary interview to gain more insight into your thoughts, feelings, symptoms, and other relevant information needed to arrive at a diagnosis. Depending on the nature of your symptoms, with permission, your therapist may want to speak to your close friends and family for a complete picture of your mental health and its effect on your relationships. 

During this time, your psychiatrist will determine if your condition overlaps with other related disorders (called comorbidities) that will require specific treatment techniques. 

After this assessment, the psychiatrist will cross-reference the info with the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) criteria on anxiety and depression. Once they’ve determined the diagnosis, a psychiatrist will usually refer the patient to a psychotherapist to work with the patient on a tailored treatment plan. 


Several forms of therapy are effective for treating anxiety and depression, the most common being cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). The basis of CBT is rooted in the assumptions that:

  • Psychological issues are likely a result of unhelpful or flawed ways of thinking.

  • Psychological problems may also be the result of unhelpful or flawed learned behavior.

  • People with psychological disorders can resolve them by developing coping mechanisms to recognize and address these unhelpful thoughts and behaviors. 

CBT sessions are designed to help the patient: 

  • Recognize the cognitive “distortions” that lead to unwanted thoughts and behaviors, then reframe them to develop coping mechanisms that better align with reality.

  • Learn to use problem-solving skills to cope with challenges as they arise. 

  • Learn to better understand the motivations and behaviors of others. 

  • Develop self-confidence in one’s abilities and relationships. 

  • Develop confidence to face fears instead of avoiding them.

CBT practitioners often help patients change unhelpful behavioral patterns by using role-playing exercises, mindfulness relaxation/meditation, and assigning tasks like keeping a daily journal outside sessions. 


Your therapist may also pair with your psychiatrist to prescribe anti-anxiety meds, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, or other kinds of medication if they feel it’s necessary. Research indicates that anxiety and depression respond well to treatment combined with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors).

Lifestyle Strategies

While you work with your therapist, they may recommend things you can do on your own to help lessen your symptoms and aid the therapeutic process:

  • Meditation, relaxation techniques, mindful breathing.

  • Develop a regular exercise routine, healthy diet, and sleep routine.

  • Read any recommended self-help materials.

  • Communicate with friends and family about your treatment strategies and ask for help if needed. 

  • Join a local or online support group as recommended. 

Depression And Anxiety Don’t Have To Be Overwhelming


Despite its importance, some people don’t seek treatment from a mental health professional for their anxiety and depression. The reasons for this are many, beginning with the fact that it isn’t always easy to recognize that you have a problem and need help in the first place. 

Because of social and/or familial stigma, some people are uncomfortable encountering others in the therapist’s office- or they may feel uncomfortable confiding in a therapist face-to-face. 

Some have difficulty commuting to a therapist’s office, and some who live in remote rural areas may not have a nearby therapist at all. Problems fitting therapy into a schedule packed with work and family obligations are common, as are financial restraints. 

Online therapy is an excellent solution to these barriers to treatment. Virtual therapy allows patients to attend appointments from home or anywhere with a reliable internet connection via text, phone, online messaging, and video chat. Platforms like BetterHelp connect patients to licensed, accredited mental health professionals with experience using psychotherapy techniques like CBT to treat a host of disorders. You can speak to a BetterHelp professional when it’s convenient for your schedule, and if you need help in-between appointments, they’re available to respond 24/7.  

Several studies indicate that online therapy is as effective for treating conditions like anxiety, depression, trauma-related disorders, and more. Research also suggests that those who choose virtual therapy are more likely to adhere to their treatment plan.  

Taking charge of your mental health can take courage. If you’re ready to begin your therapeutic journey, reach out to the mental health professionals at BetterHelp. 

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone. Our Experienced Counselors Can Help.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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