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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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.

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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.

5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly) 13 Ideas on How to Help Depression That Just Won’t Go Away 10 Anxiety Relief Apps to Take the Edge Off When Stress Hits Hard Anxiety vs Depression: What’s the Difference and How to Deal with Them? What Does Anxiety Feel Like? (Types and Symptoms of the Invisible Killer)

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Published on May 25, 2021

How To Recognize the Most Common Types of Mental Illness

How To Recognize the Most Common Types of Mental Illness

Have you ever had chills, a stuffy nose, a sore throat, a cough, or perhaps even a fever? More than likely you must have experienced at least some of these symptoms at one time or another in your life. You knew that you were sick, perhaps with a common cold, maybe the flu, or possibly a viral infection of some sort.

Either way, no matter what the diagnosis might have been at the time, you didn’t feel well, and therefore, you probably took some form of action to help alleviate the symptoms so that you could feel better, perhaps some medicine, followed up with maybe a little chicken noodle soup, a glass of orange juice, and some bed rest. Nevertheless, when it comes to seeking treatment for symptoms of mental illness, there seems to be a big difference between the way that we look at healing the body and the mind.

First of all, there are some common stigmas associated with mental illness. People, in general, seem to have a hard time admitting that they are having a problem with their mental health.[1]

We all want our social media profiles to look amazing, filled with images of exotic vacations, fancy food, the latest fashion, and of course, plenty of smiling faces taken at just the right angle. There is an almost instinctive aversion to sharing our true feelings or emotionally opening up to others, especially when we are going through a difficult time in our lives. Perhaps it has something to do with the fear of being emotionally vulnerable, open, and completely honest about our true inner feelings—perhaps we just don’t want to be a burden.

Additionally, throughout history, many people with mental illness have been ostracized and subjugated as outcasts. As a result, some may choose to avoid seeking help as long as possible to elude being ridiculed by others or presumably looked down upon in some way. Furthermore, rather than scheduling an appointment to meet with a board-certified psychiatrist, many people find themselves self-medicating with mood-altering substances, such as drugs and alcohol to try and cope with their symptoms.[2]

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We all want to have a sound mind and body with the ability to function independently without having to depend on anyone—or, for that matter, anything else for help. Nevertheless, if you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, you may just have to find the will and the way to reach out for help before the symptoms become unmanageable.

Lastly, although we may all have the ability to gain insight into any given situation, it’s almost impossible to maintain a completely objective point of view when it comes to identifying the depth and dimension of any of our own symptoms of mental illness given the fact that our perception of the problem may in fact be clouded by the very nature of the underlying illness itself. In other words, even though symptoms of mental illness may be present, you may be suffering from a disorder that actually impairs your ability to see them.

As a professional dual-diagnosis interventionist and a licensed psychotherapist with over two decades of experience working with people all over the world battling symptoms of mental illness and substance abuse—combined with my own personal insight into the subject, perhaps now more than ever—I am confident that you will appreciate learning how to recognize a variety of symptoms associated with some of the most common types of mental illness.

1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent flashbacks and nightmares associated with previously experienced or witnessed life-threatening or traumatic events.[3] The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

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  • recurrent and unwanted memories of an event
  • flashbacks to the event in “real-time”
  • nightmares involving the trauma
  • a physical reaction to an event that triggers traumatic memories
  • avoiding conversation related to the traumatic event
  • active avoidance of people, places, and things that trigger thoughts of the event
  • a sense of hopelessness
  • memory loss related to traumatic events
  • detached relationships
  • lack of interest in normal daily activities
  • feeling constantly guarded
  • feeling as if in constant danger
  • poor concentration
  • irritability
  • being easily startled
  • insomnia
  • substance abuse
  • engaging in dangerous behaviors

2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent unwanted thoughts followed by urges to act on those thoughts repeatedly.[4] The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • anxiety when an item is not in order or its correct position
  • recurrent and frequent doubt if doors have been locked
  • recurrent and frequent doubt if electronic devices and appliances have been turned off
  • recurrent and frequent fear of contamination by disease or poison
  • avoidance of social engagements with fear of touching others.
  • hand-washing
  • counting
  • checking
  • repetition of statements
  • positioning of items in strict order

3. Major Depressive Disorder

Major Depressive Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by a persistent depressed mood that impairs the ability to function. The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • lack of interest or pleasure in activities normally enjoyed
  • overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • sleep disturbances such as both insomnia and oversleep
  • overwhelming feelings of restlessness and irritability
  • lack of concentration
  • lack of appetite as well as overeating
  • thoughts of suicide

4. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that may be characterized by uncontrollable mood swings ranging from severe depression to extreme mania. The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

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Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • easily distracted
  • racing thoughts
  • exaggerated euphoric sense of self-confidence
  • easily agitated
  • hyperverbal
  • markedly increased level of activity
  • overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • lack of interest or pleasure in activities normally enjoyed
  • overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • sleep disturbances such as both insomnia and oversleep
  • overwhelming feelings of restlessness and irritability
  • lack of concentration
  • lack of appetite as well as overeating
  • thoughts of suicide

5. Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a thought disorder characterized by a breakdown between beliefs, emotions, and behaviors caused by delusions and hallucinations.[5]  The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • delusions with false beliefs
  • hallucinations with a false sensory perception
  • disorganized thought with a meaningless unintelligible pattern of communication
  • disorganized behavior with catatonic appearance, bizarre posture, excessive agitation
  • flat affect
  • lack of eye contact
  • poor personal hygiene

6. Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat and excessive exercise. The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

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  • extreme loss of weight
  • emaciated appearance
  • eroded teeth
  • thinning hair
  • dizziness
  • swollen extremities
  • dehydration
  • arrhythmia
  • irritated skin on knuckles
  • extreme food restriction
  • excessive exercise
  • self-induced vomiting
  • excessive fear of gaining weight
  • use of layered clothing to cover up body imperfections

7. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight due to a distorted body image where large amounts of food are consumed and then purged. The symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with the ability to perform normal daily activities and fulfill personal responsibilities.

Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with this disorder:

  • self-induced vomiting
  • consuming abnormally large amounts of food with the intent to purge
  • the constant fear of gaining weight
  • excessive exercising
  • excessive use of laxatives and diuretics to lose weight
  • food restriction
  • shame and guilt

Final Thoughts

From bipolar disorder to bulimia, major depression to dysthymia, there is a mental health diagnosis to fit any combination of symptoms that you may be experiencing. There are also a variety of corresponding self-assessment tests circulating all over the internet for you to choose from.

However, if you are looking for a proper diagnosis, I strongly suggest that you make an appointment to meet with a well-trained mental health professional in your community for more comprehensive and conclusive findings. Similar to cancer, early detection and treatment may significantly improve the prognosis for recovery.[6] And like I said, it’s impossible to be completely objective when it comes to self-diagnosing the condition of your own mental health or that of a loved one.

Furthermore, although the corner pharmacy may have plenty of over-the-counter medications that claim to help you fall asleep faster and even stay asleep longer, at the end of the day, no medication can actually resolve the underlying issues that have been negatively impacting your ability to sleep in the first place.

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Just like in business—and in the immortal words of Thomas A. Edison—“there is no substitute for hard work.” So, try to set aside as much time as you can to work on improving your mental health. After all, you are your most influential advocate, and your mind is your greatest asset.

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Featured photo credit: Sydney Sims via unsplash.com

Reference

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