Differences Between Anxiety and Depression

Goda Brzozauskaite
  • Jan 07, 2022
  • 6 min read
young man is mentally confused

Depression and anxiety are two highly comorbid conditions. Often, people are diagnosed with both disorders at the same point. However, one can experience either of the conditions separately. Due to their high interdependency, one might find the line that separates these two a bit blurry. 

The two might have some similarities, but there are some core differences that are worth knowing. This article will discuss the key differences between anxiety and depression. The focus will be on the physical and psychological differences.

How Are Depression and Anxiety Connected? 

Almost half of the people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety. The two conditions are closely related as they have the same biological basis.

Individuals diagnosed with both disorders exhibit changes in their neurotransmitter function. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation, is often affected. Several brain chemicals such as dopamine and epinephrine are also involved in both depression and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety can occur in response to the existence of the other, or they can co-occur. In the United States, about 40 million adults are diagnosed with anxiety, while around 16 million have depression. 

Sally R. Connolly, LCSW and therapist, says the two conditions are a cycle; when you are anxious, you feel like you have a problem and you are the reason why everything is not going well. Consequently, you are likely to get depressed.

Anxiety and depression can also occur together with other diagnoses such as burnout and substance use disorder.

Differences Between Anxiety and Depression

While closely related, the two conditions have distinct differences.

Anxiety is a constant feeling of fear and panic in situations where most people would not feel threatened. It can be described as an overwhelming and neverending anxiousness. In some cases, one experiences these anxiousness attacks without any clear triggers. 

People with anxiety feel like they are always under a threat that never goes away. This is different from situational anxiety, which one can experience when they have a big test or presentation coming up. 

On the other hand, depression is a constant feeling of sadness and loss of interest in things that one would normally find interesting. When depressed, one lacks the motivation to do a lot of things. Consequently, they spend most of their time at home or in bed. They can also experience hopelessness and discouragement, which result in them not pursuing their goals and dreams. 

The difference between anxiety, depression, and stress is also worth understanding, as the three are sometimes closely related. 

Stress and anxiety are often confused, but stress is a response to threatening daily pressures. Anxiety is a reaction to stress, and it does not have any clear trigger. It lasts longer than stress as stress often fades away once the pressure has been relieved. 

When you are not sure about how you are feeling, talk to a healthcare professional so that they can help you understand what you are feeling. 

Psychological Differences Between Anxiety and Depression

Differences between anxiety and depression are also evident in the psychological state of the affected individuals.

People with depression will likely experience:

Psychological symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Restlessness
  • Overthinking
  • Indecisiveness
  • Excessive worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Poor concentration

Physical Differences Between Anxiety and Depression

Both depression and anxiety have physical effects that can not go unseen.

Keep in mind that showing any one of these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean you have depression or anxiety. A registered healthcare professional is in a position to give you an accurate diagnosis. 

Physical signs of depression

  • Fatigue: People with depression often find themselves feeling tired and drained. They experience physical and mental exhaustion, which impacts their day-to-day lives.
  • Poor quality sleep: This can be either having low quality sleep, insomnia or sleeping for long periods of time and still waking up tired and unrested. Poor sleeping patterns can also be a result of medications that one might be taking to manage depression. 
  • Headaches: Some people experience headaches due to the emotions that are associated with depression. 
  • Low sex drive: Low sex drive is yet another sign of depression. Depressed individuals might have fluctuations in their sex drive, and in some cases, they can entirely lose interest in sex. This can cause anger and frustration as these people feel like they are failing to sexually satisfy their partners. 
  • Changes in appetite: Depression can result in a loss or a significant increase in appetite. 
  • Muscle ache: Research has shown a link between depression and muscle pain. When depressed, people often tighten their muscles resulting in muscle ache.

Physical signs of anxiety

  • Increased heart rate: This is one of the common signs of anxiety. Your body responds to the anticipated threat by increasing the release of adrenaline. Consequently, your heart rate increases in preparation to fight or flee from the “threat.” 
  • Poor sleeping patterns: Due to the constant racing thoughts and fear, one might have difficulties sleeping. The increased heart rate can also impact one’s ability to enjoy a peaceful night
  • Muscle ache: In response to stress, muscles tend to tense up. Due to being in a constant state of stress, the muscles are tense for prolonged periods resulting in muscle ache. 
  • Tight throat: Some people with anxiety tend to feel tightness in their throat. This feeling is known as globus sensation. In some cases, one can feel like they’re having difficulties with swallowing.
  • Gastrointestinal distress: Anxiety is also associated with gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhea, and nausea. 

Causes of Anxiety and Depression

Both anxiety and depression are caused by a wide array of factors. But, they share a common ground – genetics. People with a family history of these conditions have higher chances of experiencing them in comparison to those without a similar family history. 

Drugs: Some drugs, both recreational and medicinal, have a likelihood of inducing or enhancing depression and anxiety. These drugs change hormonal flow resulting in psychological conditions.

Stress: People who experience large amounts of stress are more likely to be depressed and anxious. Stress can be a result of losing a loved one, losing a job, or having a traumatic experience, among several other causes. 

Neurochemical changes: Changes in brain chemicals are one of the main causes of depression and anxiety.

Causes of anxiety

Environmental factors: Exposure to a traumatic experience can trigger anxiety. Over time, one’s fight or flight response becomes activated despite the fact that there won’t be any real threat. 

Causes of depression

Physical illness: Long-term physical illness can also lead to depression as people will start thinking that life will never get better, and they view their lives from a perspective of mystery. The fact that they are unable to do anything about the physical illness makes them more depressed. 

Treatment of Anxiety and Depression

Both disorders can have massive negative implications on one’s quality of life. Once you start suspecting that you could have either of the conditions, reach out to a healthcare professional so that you can get treatment as soon as possible. 

When the conditions are being controlled with treatment, you can lead your life with minimal interference from the illnesses. 

In-person therapy

Coping with mental illness can be a confusing journey, especially when trying to do it alone. People resort to avoiding encounters that trigger these disorders. This avoidance behavior can, in turn, make the conditions worse. 

Therapists are trained to make an accurate diagnosis and create treatment plans that are tailored to the needs of each patient. Therapy provides a platform that allows you to communicate with a therapist without being judged.

Once the therapist knows and understands how you are feeling, they will be able to offer you both long and short-term solutions that will help you cope with rather than avoid and ignore your diagnosis. 

Online therapy

Online therapy is an effective way to treat both depression and anxiety. This analysis of 19 studies showed that online therapy is equally as effective as face-to-face therapy. 

It is a comfortable and affordable way, as it can be done from home. The schedule can be altered to meet your needs and other commitments. Online therapy is confidential, and some services even offer anonymity. 

Depending on your personal needs, your therapist will choose the most effective form of therapy. Online counseling options for anxiety and depression treatment include: 

  • Psychotherapy 
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy
  • Psychoanalytic therapy


You can adopt and uphold lifestyle habits that can improve your mental health status. These include consuming media (e.g., books, podcasts) that facilitate personal development. 

Other personal changes one can consider include:

  • Exercising more
  • Getting some fresh air every day
  • Having a healthy diet
  • Getting sufficient sleep
  • Talking to family and friends


Psychologists and psychiatrists can also prescribe pharmaceutical medications that can be used to treat both depression and anxiety. There are several medications that are equally effective, so should one not work for you, there are many others that you can explore.

Keep in mind that medication usually takes about 4–8 weeks before becoming fully active. Be patient. 

Some of the available treatment options include 

  • SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) 
  • SNRIs (selective serotonin and norepinephrine inhibitors)
  • TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants)
  • Pregabalin
  • Benzodiazepines

To get the most out of these treatment options, it is best to use all of them or as many of them as possible. That way, they will fill in gaps that would have been left by the other and complement each other. 

How to Seek Help for Depression and Anxiety?

Both depression and anxiety are common mental health struggles, and there are many treatments adapted to help with them. 

If you think you might have depression or anxiety due to any symptoms, it is advisable to talk to your doctor or any other healthcare practitioner. This way, they will help you get the help you need. 

Should you consider online therapy, we are here to help you! We have skilled and experienced anxiety and depression therapists who will help you lead your life with minimal obstructions.

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