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Difference between Depression and Anxiety

What is the Difference between Depression and Anxiety?

If you take a minute to look at the picture of mental health in the US, you’ll notice that anxiety and depression are among the most prevalent concerns. The National Institutes of Health states that over the past year, around 19.1 percent of US adults struggled with an anxiety disorder. While major depression affects a smaller chunk of the population at around 8 percent, recent years have seen a substantial increase in its prevalence.

Even if you or someone you know doesn’t have these conditions, it’s likely that you’ve heard of them — most likely in similar contexts. But does that make them similar? When you’re seeking mental health treatment from a facility like URP Behavioral Health, your diagnosis makes a big difference in the therapies you receive. So. let’s take an in-depth look at anxiety and depression to understand the differences and similarities between them.

What is Anxiety and Depression?

To start off, both these terms mean different things. Generally, anxiety refers to the feeling of being anxious. In medical terms, it’s a group of different disorders. These include panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety disorder.

On the other hand, depression usually refers to a single condition, major depressive disorder, also known as major depression. Depression is characterized by sad, empty, or irritable mood and is accompanied by somatic and cognitive changes that can affect your ability to function.

Differences in symptoms

Differences in Symptoms

Whether you’re discussing an anxiety disorder or depression, the diagnostic criteria for each involves specific symptoms. Here’s how these symptoms differ:


When you experience anxiety, it activates your body’s fight or flight response, causing physiological changes like increased heart rate, rapid, shallow breathing, and sweating.

Meanwhile, depression can cause psychomotor retardation, which is when your mental and physical activities are slowed down. You may also have low levels of energy and physical symptoms like vague pains and aches.


The differences in mental symptoms point to the most significant distinction: anxiety disorders involve excessive worry that is disproportionate to the situation, while depression means feelings of hopelessness.

Additionally, having anxiety can lead to racing thoughts about encountering the feared situation, while depression can cause a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed.

Overlapping Symptoms

Both mental health concerns can involve displaying similar symptoms, which make it difficult to pinpoint a specific diagnosis. Let’s look at a few:


Both people with an anxiety disorder and depression show physiological signs and symptoms like:

  • Changes in appetite and weight: Stress and mood imbalances can affect your appetite, causing you to over or under-eat. The resulting weight loss or weight gain is not the result of an intentional diet.
  • Sleep disturbances: Having anxiety or depression can result in sleep disturbances that make it harder to get restful sleep. This insomnia refers to experiencing difficulty in falling asleep, and hypersomnia refers to excessive feelings of tiredness during the day.
  • Digestive issues: Both anxiety and depression can contribute to digestive problems such as nausea, constipation, or diarrhea.

Emotional and Mental

Whether you’re anxious or depressed, it’s likely that you’ll have these mental symptoms. Although they overlap, you don’t experience them the same way in each condition.

  • Poor concentration: Anxiety can make it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand because you’re preoccupied with worry and fear. But when you have depression, you experience a lack of interest in activities, which makes it difficult to concentrate.
  • Irritable mood: Depression and irritable mood have shared environmental and genetic risk factors. Similarly, excessive anxiety may leave you feeling overwhelmed, and you may become irritable when things don’t go your way.

Similarities in treatments

Similarities in Treatments

In terms of treatments, medication and psychotherapy are effective for both conditions. Although there will be differences in the specific formulation and psychotherapy approach your practitioner recommends, the overall concept is similar.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is one of the most common groups of medication prescribed for depression and anxiety. They work by regulating neurotransmitter activity in the brain to help you manage symptoms. Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and Serotonin make up another class of antidepressants used for treating symptoms of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. These work by controlling the activity of both serotonin and norepinephrine.


In psychotherapy, you work with a licensed practitioner to change your thoughts and behaviors. The most common approach is CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy, which reframes the negative thoughts underlying depressive and/or anxious symptoms.

Talk therapy is effective because it increases your awareness about negative thought patterns that contribute to feelings of helplessness or excessive worry. This form of treatment can take place in individual or group settings, each of which comes with its own benefits.

Holistic Therapy

In holistic therapy, your practitioner will combine evidence-based treatment with approaches meant to improve your sense of wellness. For instance, exercise, balanced nutrition, recreation, and relaxation therapies. The purpose is to promote an overall sense of well-being instead of focusing on the mental and emotional aspects.

Co-occurring depression and anxiety

Co-Occurring Depression and Anxiety

Now that we’ve looked at the similarities and differences between the two, you may be wondering if you can have both anxiety and depression at the same time. Yes, anxiety disorders, whether it’s social anxiety disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, and depression can co-occur. And it’s not just possible but rather common for both conditions to co-occur. Research on generalized anxiety disorder shows that it has a high lifetime co-morbidity of 63 percent with mood disorders like major depression.

In some cases, you only develop one of the disorders but have some symptoms of the other (however, you don’t meet the criteria for the second condition). Statistics by the NIH indicate that about 85 percent of people with major depression also have anxiety.

Treating Co-Occurring Depression and Anxiety

Having co-occurring anxiety and depressive disorders can make either one much more difficult to treat. It also leads to a much more long-lasting and severe disturbance. Therefore, you’ll need to seek treatment for both.

If you struggle with major impairment in daily functioning due to your diagnosis, you may want to consider seeking professional help at a residential treatment center. Inpatient care is designed to deliver holistic treatment that combines both evidence-based therapies and methods focused on physical and emotional well-being.

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