Anxiety and depression are serious mental health conditions that can affect a person’s day-to-day life. Although the causes, symptoms, and treatments may overlap, there are some critical differences between the two conditions.

Doctors characterize anxiety as excessive worry and fear, whereas depression generally involves a deep feeling of sadness and despair. While people with anxiety often feel continually on edge, those with depression may feel numb and withdrawn.

Both conditions can also cause physical symptoms. For instance, a person with anxiety may present with chest pain or dizziness, and someone with depression may experience changes in their appetite or sleep patterns.

Despite the similarities between anxiety and depression, it is crucial to understand the key differences to ensure the best treatment and management approach.

Keep reading to learn about the key similarities and differences between anxiety and depression, including the symptoms, causes, and treatment methods.

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Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States, affecting about 40 million adults. Major depressive disorder (MDD), or depression, is less common but still affects more than 16 million individuals.

It is also important to note that anxiety and depression are blanket terms that cover various mental health disorders.

Anxiety includes the following conditions:

There are also various forms of depression, including:

  • MDD
  • persistent depressive disorder
  • seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • postpartum depression
  • psychotic depression

People with bipolar disorder also experience periods of low mood during which their symptoms meet the criteria for MDD.

People may experience anxiety and depression simultaneously. In fact, nearly 50% of people with depression also receive a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

The relationship between these two conditions is complicated, and one may occur because of the other. People with anxiety may avoid potentially stressful situations and become isolated, which can then lead to depression.

On the other hand, low mood and lack of energy can cause people with depression to become withdrawn and stop doing what they enjoy. When they attempt to return to a full daily life, they may feel at odds with the world, which can result in nervousness and anxiety.

Anxiety and depression may involve changes in the function of certain neurotransmitters, including serotonin and other chemicals, such as dopamine and epinephrine.

The two conditions have distinct mental and physical symptoms, and doctors may recommend different treatment options for each of them. However, the overlap of some symptoms means that certain treatments can help with both conditions.

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These are the key similarities and differences between the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Individuals with anxiety or depression may experience various mental and physical symptoms.

Anxiety

Individuals with anxiety are generally highly preoccupied and worried about potential risks and things going wrong. However, the specific symptoms vary by type of anxiety.

Symptoms that affect mental health typically include:

  • excessive worrying about things going wrong
  • fear of losing control
  • frightening thoughts
  • fear of injury, illness, or death
  • feelings of detachment or unreality
  • racing thoughts
  • situation avoidance
  • poor concentration
  • feelings of confusion
  • becoming easily distracted
  • poor memory
  • hypervigilance regarding potential threats

Physical symptoms include:

  • elevated heart rate
  • palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing
  • chest pain or pressure
  • feeling of choking
  • dizziness and lightheadedness
  • sweating
  • hot flashes or chills
  • digestive upsets
  • shaking
  • tingling or numbness in the arms and legs
  • dry mouth

Depression

People with depression may experience the following mental symptoms:

  • feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • feeling sad, anxious, or empty
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in hobbies or pleasurable activities
  • thoughts of death or suicide

Physical symptoms include:

  • moving or talking more slowly than usual
  • decreased energy
  • feeling restless
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • appetite and weight changes
  • aches and pains or digestive issues without another cause

A doctor may diagnose a person with depression if they have been experiencing these signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks.

An individual should discuss the treatment options for anxiety and depression with a doctor. Generally, these include medications and therapy.

Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is currently the gold standard of psychotherapy. CBT typically focuses on helping people identify and change the thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to their symptoms. However, the approach may vary when treating anxiety and depression.

When using CBT for anxiety, the aim is to stop people from avoiding situations and help them dismantle their fears. Likewise, in depression, CBT helps individuals experience positive emotions.

Another option is psychodynamic talk therapy. In these sessions, people talk openly about their past and present to help them think about the thoughts and conflicts that trigger their symptoms.

Medications

Doctors may recommend certain antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepines for both anxiety and depression.

SSRIs include:

These medications affect serotonin, a chemical that influences feelings of well-being and happiness. As a result, they can help people feel less depressed and anxious and reduce certain physical symptoms, such as sleep difficulties and muscle tension.

SSRIs build up in the body, so it may take several weeks before someone experiences consistent improvements in their anxiety or depression.

Benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Valium (diazepam)

These medications increase the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which plays a role in sleep, calmness, muscle relaxation, and reduction in brain activity.

Benzodiazepines ease depression and the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as muscle tension, panic attacks, sweating, and restlessness. They are fast-acting, but the effects do not last long. As a result, these drugs are suitable for targeted anxiety relief, such as during a job interview or presentation.

Benzodiazepines are not safe for long-term use, as this can increase the chances of physical dependence. Additionally, mixing these medications with alcohol can be dangerous.

Inappropriately discarded drugs can harm people, animals, and the environment. It is essential to dispose of any unwanted medication safely. Read our guide on medication disposal here.

Yes, about half of people with depression also have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is a possible symptom of depression, but people may also experience depression as a result of having an anxiety disorder.

People who notice that their moods change and they feel less like themselves should seek medical advice. Doctors can suggest a range of medications to treat anxiety and depression, alongside therapy and counseling.

Individuals experiencing anxiety or depression should seek help to limit the effects of the condition on their work, relationships, and life. Although people may feel isolated because of their symptoms, it is essential to know that they are not alone and that anxiety and depression are common. Finding support can help people recover.

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America provides a range of information and resources for individuals living with mental health issues. People can find help in person, online, or over the phone.

Doctors can often treat anxiety and depression, so it is important to seek help if symptoms of either condition occur.

Both depression and anxiety can contribute to high rates of suicide and other issues, such as substance and alcohol use disorders. They can also affect an individual’s social relationships and their overall quality of life. Additionally, continual anxiety increases the risk of heart problems.

Doctors may need to prescribe various treatments before finding one that helps ease symptoms. Among those with depression, nearly half of individuals do not respond initially to medications. These people will need to work with a doctor to find treatments that successfully control their symptoms and allow them to lead a regular life.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 800-273-8255.

Click here for more links and local resources.

Anxiety and depression are common mental health conditions. Anxiety causes feelings of excessive worry and fear, whereas depression involves feelings of hopelessness and despair. People may experience both conditions at the same time.

Anyone who notices changes in their mood or experiences symptoms of anxiety or depression should seek medical attention.

Doctors may take similar approaches to treat both anxiety and depression. For example, they may recommend CBT or psychodynamic talk therapy alongside antidepressant medications, such as SSRIs or benzodiazepines.

People living with anxiety, depression, or both can find help and support online and through in-person support groups. A person should remember that they are not alone and that help is available.