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Published on April 6, 2018

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 20, 2018

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

10 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

A new year beautifully symbolizes a new chapter opening in the book that is your life. But while so many people like you aspire to achieve ambitious goals, only 12% of you will ever experience the taste of victory. Sound bad? It is. 156 million people (that’s 156,000,000) will probably give up on their resolution before you can say “confetti.” Keep on reading to learn why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to succeed).

Note: Since losing weight is the most common New Year’s resolution, I chose to focus on weight loss (but these principles can be applied to just about any goal you think of — make it work for you!).

1. You’re treating a marathon like a sprint.

Slow and steady habit change might not be sexy, but it’s a lot more effective than the “I want it ALL and I want it NOW!” mentality. Small changes stick better because they aren’t intimidating (if you do it right, you’ll barely even notice them!).

If you have a lot of bad habits today, the last thing you need to do is remodel your entire life overnight. Want to lose weight? Stop it with the crash diets and excessive exercise plans. Instead of following a super restrictive plan that bans anything fun, add one positive habit per week. For example, you could start with something easy like drinking more water during your first week. The following week, you could move on to eating 3 fruits and veggies every day. And the next week, you could aim to eat a fistful of protein at every meal.

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2. You put the cart before the horse.

“Supplementing” a crappy diet is stupid, so don’t even think about it. Focus on the actions that produce the overwhelming amount of results. If it’s not important, don’t worry about it.

3. You don’t believe in yourself.

A failure to act can cripple you before you leave the starting line. If you’ve tried (and failed) to set a New Year’s resolution (or several) in the past, I know it might be hard to believe in yourself. Doubt is a nagging voice in your head that will resist personal growth with every ounce of its being. The only way to defeat doubt is to believe in yourself. Who cares if you’ve failed a time or two? This year, you can try again (but better this time).

4. Too much thinking, not enough doing.

The best self-help book in the world can’t save you if you fail to take action. Yes, seek inspiration and knowledge, but only as much as you can realistically apply to your life. If you can put just one thing you learn from every book or article you read into practice, you’ll be on the fast track to success.

5. You’re in too much of a hurry.

If it was quick-and-easy, everybody would do it, so it’s in your best interest to exercise your patience muscles.

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6. You don’t enjoy the process.

Is it any wonder people struggle with their weight when they see eating as a chore and exercise as a dreadful bore? The best fitness plan is one that causes the least interruption to your daily life. The goal isn’t to add stress to your life, but rather to remove it.

The best of us couldn’t bring ourselves to do something we hate consistently, so make getting in shape fun, however you’ve gotta do it. That could be participating in a sport you love, exercising with a good friend or two, joining a group exercise class so you can meet new people, or giving yourself one “free day” per week where you forget about your training plan and exercise in any way you please.

7. You’re trying too hard.

Unless you want to experience some nasty cravings, don’t deprive your body of pleasure. The more you tell yourself you can’t have a food, the more you’re going to want it. As long as you’re making positive choices 80-90% of the time, don’t sweat the occasional indulgence.

8. You don’t track your progress.

Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an “I CAN do this” attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time. Improving your best performance on a regular basis offers positive feedback that will encourage you to keep going.

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9. You have no social support.

It can be hard to stay motivated when you feel alone. The good news? You’re not alone: far from it. Post a status on Facebook asking your friends if anybody would like to be your gym or accountability buddy. If you know a co-worker who shares your goal, try to coordinate your lunch time and go out together so you’ll be more likely to make positive decisions. Join a support group of like-minded folks on Facebook, LinkedIn, or elsewhere on the internet. Strength in numbers is powerful, so use it to your advantage.

10. You know your what but not your why.

The biggest reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail: you know what you want but you not why you want it.

Yes: you want to get fit, lose weight, or be healthy… but why is your goal important to you? For example:

Do you want to be fit so you can be a positive example that your children can admire and look up to?

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Do you want to lose fat so you’ll feel more confident and sexy in your body than ever before?

Do you want to be healthy so you’ll have increased clarity, energy, and focus that would carry over into every single aspect of your life?

Whether you’re getting in shape because you want to live longer, be a good example, boost your energy, feel confident, have an excuse to buy hot new clothes, or increase your likelihood of getting laid (hey, I’m not here to judge) is up to you. Forget about any preconceived notions and be true to yourself.

  • The more specific you can make your goal,
  • The more vivid it will be in your imagination,
  • The more encouraged you’ll be,
  • The more likely it is you will succeed (because yes, you CAN do this!).

I hope this guide to why New Year’s resolutions fail helps you achieve your goals this year. If you found this helpful, please pass it along to some friends so they can be successful just like you. What do you hope to accomplish next year?

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