Depression Versus Anxiety

By Michele C. Hollow @michelechollow
December 20, 2016

Depression versus anxiety: Some of the symptoms are similar; however, feeling sad and anxious are not the same. Here's what we know about the difference between anxiety and depression.

People who suffer from depression often experience nervousness and irritability, and can have problems sleeping and concentrating. The same can be said of those suffering from an anxiety disorder. That, however, doesn’t make depression and anxiety the identical.

All of us have felt anxious at one time or another. We may have to give a speech before a large crowd, which can make us nervous. Even something positive like a job promotion can cause a certain amount of anxiety. That’s normal.


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Depression versus anxiety

Anxiety comes in many forms. For someone on the autism spectrum, a change in routine can trigger an anxiety attack. For others, feeling anxious can make us feel vulnerable to the point of worrying excessively about unknown or future events.

Someone with clinical depression can feel so overwhelmed that all they want to do is shut everything out. They don’t worry about the future because they already believe the future is filled with negativity.

Symptoms of depression

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Lacking enjoyment in activities that used to be fun
  • Experiencing listlessness
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Having extreme changes in weight where one overeats or loses his appetite
  • Having changes in sleep patterns, either sleeping too little or two much
  • Having thoughts of suicide

While most people may feel those symptoms once in a while as a normal part of the human experience, pathological depression occurs when you have these symptoms excessively, over a long period of time, and when they return over and over again.

With anxiety, we feel overwhelmed. Most often we can manage those emotions. It’s when everything seems too much to handle that we may have an anxiety disorder.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders. The term “anxiety disorder” includes generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, and specific phobias.


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Anxiety disorders

General anxiety disorder is when you worry about life’s everyday events with no clear reasons. It’s when worrying gets out of hand.

Panic disorder or attack is when fear and nervousness overtakes us suddenly. Physical symptoms include a racing heart and excessive sweating.

Agoraphobia is feeling totally helpless to the point where one avoids being in public.

Social anxiety disorder is when someone has an unreasonable fear of being judged or closely watched by others.

Separation anxiety is when children have an abnormal fear of being apart from their mothers.

Other phobias can include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). OCD and PTSD are different types of anxiety disorders. People with OCD and PTSD can also experience depression.

With the similarities between the two, it’s easy to understand why we confuse depression with anxiety.

Some of the symptoms of anxiety

  • Apprehension of what’s going happen in the future
  • Worried that something will go wrong or something bad will happen
  • Feeling so depressed that you want to run away or avoid a certain situation
  • Experiencing exhaustion
  • Shaking or sweating
  • Excessive fear of being ill
  • Experiencing an unusually fast heart rate and hyperventilating

What are some treatments for anxiety and depression?

Treatments can be similar, too. If you think you suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression, talk to your doctor and have him recommend a therapist you can speak to. He may recommend that you join a support group.

Your therapist may also recommend exercise and meditation. An ongoing exercise routine can reduce bouts of depression and anxiety. Meditation and breathing exercises can also combat both depression and anxiety.

Talking to a therapist is essential when you feel overwhelmed from an anxiety attack or from depression. Friends have good intentions, but a trained professional will help you handle your depression or anxiety.

Therapists will often recommend selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are antidepressants used to treat anxiety and depression. SSRIs have been successful in treating both anxiety and depression. If you are clinically depressed, you may need to maintain cognitive behavioral therapy over a long period of time.


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April 06, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA