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Anxiety vs Depression: What’s the Difference and How to Deal with Them?

Anxiety vs Depression: What’s the Difference and How to Deal with Them?

Mental health awareness has come a long way in the past few years. Yet whilst anxiety, depression and the like are talked about far more now than they ever were, most conversations on the subject seem to lump all mental health issues together. The truth is that despite the tone adopted by any number of articles on the subject, anxiety and depression are not two interchangeable words to describe the same thing.

It’s possible to have anxiety and depression at the same time. It’s even possible that one could lead to the other. Yet that’s not always the case. It’s increasingly frustrating for those trying to get to the heart of their struggles and eventually get them under control.

Today, I’ll eliminate those frustrations for good by answering the key questions you have about anxiety, depression, and their relationship with one another.

Anxiety – when fight or flight goes awry

Believe it or not, a certain level of anxiety is actually helpful.

Left over from our days spent roaming the land as primitive cavemen, when every turn presented a possible threat to our existence, anxiety can prove useful in keeping us alert and focused, and in triggering a fight, flight, or freeze response when confronted with actual danger.

Healthy anxiety can be the body’s way of telling us to run the heck out of a burning building or, for a less extreme example, to bunker down and study hard if we’ve got a big test coming up.

Where anxiety becomes a problem, however, is when that fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered when no real danger exists, or at when said danger isn’t nearly as severe as the level of anxiety would seem to suggest.

That’s certainly not to say that those suffering from anxiety are over-reacting or that there isn’t a genuine problem. Rather, it’s that the situation triggers anxiety to such an intense level that, instead of being helpful, it becomes crippling.

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Take our earlier example of having an important test on the horizon. Again, a healthy level of anxiety might remind us that this is important and that we’d better study. However, our anxiety levels were too high, this could be so debilitating that not only does it prevent us from studying effectively (thus increasing the likelihood that we fail the test, thus, in turn, increasing the likelihood that we’ll be even more anxious about future tests) but create all manner of symptoms that stop us from functioning normally.

This is when we find ourselves with an anxiety disorder, a serious -albeit treatable- condition that can cause any number of symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilating/panic attacks
  • Muscle tension
  • Fast, strong, or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Sickness and/or nausea
  • A sense of dread
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Trouble sleeping

Depression – the lowest of lows

Contrary to what some may believe or have told you, depression is just feeling a bit unhappy every now and again, it’s a prolonged and mostly persistent sense of being severely low, often to the point that those going through a bout of depression will lose all sense of pleasure from things they previously enjoyed.

Whereas the world can seem very intense and relentless for someone dealing with anxiety, depression often makes the world seem slow, grey and miserable.

Such is the varying extent to which depression affects people that it would take (indeed, has taken) whole books to adequately describe all the ways that it could manifest itself in someone.

At one end of the scale, for example, you may experience depression as low mood, a loss of motivation and a general feeling of lethargy, whilst at the extreme end of the scale, you may experience severe symptoms such as a complete lack of hope and even suicidal thoughts.

That said, there are some common symptoms that may be familiar to many people suffering from depression. These include:

  • Little to no enthusiasm for doing things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling tired and sluggish all the time
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite or over-eating
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling hopeless
  • A bleak/pessimistic outlook and not being able to see a ‘way out’

Though it’s important to remember that anxiety and depression are not the same thing, that’s not to say that the two don’t occasionally cross paths.

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It’s not uncommon for anxiety to ultimately cause depression.

All that tension, panic, and being constantly on edge can be severely draining, leaving a person feeling lethargic and hopeless. It’s not uncommon for a bout of depression to follow on from a period of anxiety.

Even more common is experiencing anxiety and depression together, a dual blow that can be paralysing for those who suffer from it.

Though even the best medical experts have been unable to offer a concrete explanation as to why, it is often observed that not only do depression and anxiety disorders frequently occur together, but that when they do, their symptoms are often more extreme than in people who only suffer from one or the other.

The differences between depression and anxiety

Despite an overlap in the symptoms of both conditions -especially when they occur at the same time- there are a few noticeable differences between anxiety and depression.

If you’re trying to determine which one you’re currently dealing with, consider the following:

  • Anxiety often produces excess energy – Sweating, shaking, feeling fidgety, ‘on edge’ or like you otherwise have to keep moving around.
    Depression usually results in a loss of energy – feeling exhausted, lethargic, generally lacking any drive or motivation.
  • Anxiety often creates worry that bad things are going to happen – Those with anxiety disorders typically don’t want the bad thing to happen but are overly worried that it will.
    Depression can create a sense of hopelessness about the future – Depression sufferers often don’t worry as much because they believe they ‘know’ that bad things are inevitable and stop caring about the future because it seems bleak, desperate and unavoidable.
  • Anxiety can produce a ‘racing brain’ effect – Constantly thinking, projecting into the future, playing out scenarios in the mind. The mind can seem noisy, cluttered, and busy.
    Depression can slow down thinking – Rather than an overly-busy mind, the opposite occurs, the noise and clutter of anxiety is replaced with just a general sense of dread and despair about the future.
  • Anxiety can produce a whole wealth of emotions – Worry, anger, concern, nervousness, irritability.
    Depression often produces a lack of emotions – Other than a general, deep-seated sense of sadness and futility.

What to do if you’re suffering from anxiety or depression

The good news is that whether you’re dealing with depression, an anxiety disorder, or a combination of the two, both conditions are treatable, so you don’t have to suffer much longer.

A doctor may be able to prescribe anti-depressants, medication which addresses the chemical imbalance in the brain which is frequently linked to disorders such as anxiety and depression. They may also be able to refer you for counselling or other support such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which can provide you with powerful and effective techniques for managing and combating both conditions.

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Whilst you’re waiting for an appointment (or simply don’t want to go down the medication route) there are a number of things you can do right now to help alleviate your symptoms.

1. Get active

Did you know that exercise can be one of your powerful defences against depression and anxiety disorders?

Not only does exercise release dopamine which causes feelings of happiness and pleasure, but it can also leave you feeling calm and relaxed afterwards. A good, long workout can also tire you out, making sleep little bit easier.

2. Try yoga or Tai Chi

Prefer something a little less strenuous than an all-out, high-octane workout or a five-mile run? Research local yoga or Tai Chi classes and go along.

Most classes are extremely welcoming of beginners, and the gentle movements and breathing techniques can prove to be just as beneficial as more intense exercise when it comes to enhancing our mood and making us feel relaxed.

If you want to have a feel of how yoga helps anxiety and stress relief, check out this video:

3. Breathe deep

Speaking of breathing techniques, practising certain breathe exercises or even spending just a few minutes in meditation can prove to be highly effective in combating anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.

The best part is that you don’t even need to go to a class to learn a technique or a particular meditation. Websites like Youtube are full of really good guided meditations and breathing exercises that you can do anywhere.

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This video is a nice example of guided meditation:

4. Eat healthily

In 2017, researchers found a strong link between excess sugar consumption and depression in men.[1] Though the same link wasn’t found in women, cutting down on sugars and eating more fresh fruit and vegetables can have tremendous health benefits for both sexes.

Cutting down on sugars gives you more energy which can be very helpful in combating the feelings of lethargy and sluggishness which often accompany depression.

Both sugar and caffeine have also been known to increase feelings of tension and anxiety, so consider switching to water or decaffeinated tea to help you feel more relaxed. Here are 10 Stress Relieving Teas You can Brew at Home for you to choose from.

5. Reach out

Finally, always remember that you’re not alone.

Not everybody wants to reach out to a friend or relative, and some don’t have that option. But there are still countless support groups and helplines that you can reach out to.

If your feelings of depression are so severe that you feel you may harm yourself, please don’t suffer alone. Help is on hand no matter where you are in the world. Reaching out will mean you get all the love and support you need.

Summing it up

Anxiety and depression are different despite the similarities they share and the fact that severe anxiety may lead to depression.

The relationship between anxiety and depression can be complicated. But getting to know the differences and similarities between the two is a big step in getting the help and support you need.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Chris Skoyles

Coach, and trainee counsellor specializing in mental health and addiction.

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Last Updated on November 17, 2019

20 Creative Ways To Say Thank You

20 Creative Ways To Say Thank You

Saying, “Thank you,” can be difficult to do. Some things just demand a little something extra because of the magnitude of the favor or the depth of appreciation involved. But what can you do to say thank you in a meaningful way? Sometimes you have to get a little more creative than just firing off an email. Here are 20 creative ways to say thank you that your friends and family will remember and cherish!

1. Make a gift bag.

A unique, homemade gift bag with a custom label or a note is a simple but heartfelt way to show your appreciation for the wonderful things your friends or family have done for you.

2. Give a toast.

Many people fear public speaking more than death, giving this particular thank-you a little extra meaning. Composing a sincere, eloquent toast and delivering it is a nice way to show appreciation that truly comes from the heart.

3. Write a poem.

“Roses are red, violets are blue…” Uh, you could write that...but why not put a little extra zing in it? Find out what their favorite kind of poetry is: haiku, free verse, iambic pentameter, and so on. (Google them if you don’t know what they are.) Then write one that expresses why they deserve your thanks…and why you’re glad to give it!

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4. Create your own labels.

There are a number of websites that offer custom gift labels. Find one that fits your personality and that of your friends and create a personalized thank-you label!

5. Give a gift card.

Sometimes choosing what to give a friend can be tough. A gift card is a good way to get around this problem. As always, be sure to include a personalized note or card thanking the recipient for their friendship and help.

6. Send a letter.

Snail-mail is a largely lost art form. Don’t worry about how long the letter is, though. What really matters here is that you took the time to put pen to paper and express your feelings sincerely and honestly!

7. Use social media to send a special message.

If someone’s done something you think the whole world should know about, why not put out a social media blast? Use your blog, your Facebook, your Google+ account, and your Twitter to spread the word about why this person’s someone your friends will want to know too!

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8. Make your own digital greeting card.

While an email isn’t always the best way to go when saying thank you, a digital greeting card that you put time and effort into creating can really brighten someone’s day! Make the card reflect the recipient’s personality and compose a short message of thanks for their generosity.

9. Make a YouTube video.

Sometimes, actually hearing someone say, “Thank you,” can make all the difference. Why not take it a step further and create a special video of thanks for your friends, family, and those special people who helped make your day so important…or who helped you through that rough time?

10. Deliver cookies or candies.

Making something yourself is a fun and delightful way to say thank you to someone. Create a sampling of baked goods or homemade candies and decorate them with a simple message, or make them so they form letters! (Think Valentine’s candies, only situationally appropriate.) Attach a thank-you note or label and surprise those special people with the gift of your time and creativity.

11. Make surprise gifts for guests.

There’s no need to wait until “later” to send a thank-you message. Why not do it at the time? Create little gift packets or bags for your guests with surprises inside. This is a great way to say thanks to the people who attended your event, and make sure they won’t want to miss the next one!

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12. Put together a flower basket.

Whether you prefer fresh or artificial flowers, assembling a flower basket with a thank-you note is an excellent way to brighten someone’s day and show you appreciate them.

13. Take a picture.

Sometimes capturing the moment is the best way to put a smile on someone’s face. Have someone take a picture of you receiving that special gift or opening that surprise package and send the giver a copy with a quick but sincere note to say thanks!

14. Repay their generosity by paying it forward.

The best gifts come from the heart, and the best way to repay a gift is to pay it forward. If your friend has a special cause they care about or something they believe in passionately, why not make a donation in their name or volunteer some of your time to the cause? This will mean more than any number of cookies, candies, or thank-you notes because you’re taking your friend’s love and spreading it around to others.

15. Do something special for them.

Take them out to dinner. (See “make a toast.”) Give them that movie they’ve been wanting forever. Cook them dinner and give them a present when they arrive. Any of these are good options for showing someone you really appreciate them and how grateful you are to have them in your life.

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16. Reciprocate their help.

Everyone needs help sometime. Whether it’s holding their hand through a particularly traumatic incident or helping them replace the alternator in their car, being there when they need it shows you remember what they did for you and how much it meant. It also shows that you’re willing to be just as good a friend to them as they were to you!

17. Be there for them.

Not every thank-you gesture has to be a grand public spectacle. Sometimes just giving them a place to come hang out when they’re lonely or showing up to offer them a sympathetic shoulder means the world to a person.

18. Listen to them.

Listening is almost as lost an art as the handwritten letter. When your friend or family member needs to talk, listen to them. Ask questions when appropriate, but just letting them know you’re there and paying attention to them to the exclusion of all else for a little while is a great way to say thank you for the times they listened to you.

19. Say it in another language…or two…

A simple thank you is great…but why not spice it up a little? Instead of just saying, “Thank you,” write or make a video of you telling them thank you in different languages. Some examples might be, “Gracias! Merci! Danke schoen! Spasibo! Mahalo!” and any other ways or languages you can think of. (The ones listed above are Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Hawaiian, in case you were wondering.) If you want to really get tricky about it, say a short phrase in each language that conveys why you’re thanking them!

20. Show them some love.

A simple touch, a hug, or helping out when they need it without being asked may be the most powerful gratitude message you can send. Offer to take the dogs for a walk, sit for the kids for a few hours, or run to the grocery store so they don’t have to. The little things are often the most important and meaningful. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still send a note, but sometimes your simple presence and willingness to help is all that really matters.

Featured photo credit: Hanny Naibaho via unsplash.com

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