Guest blog post by Sally Curran, BA
Worry and sadness are part of the human condition, and it is entirely normal to feel anxious or depressed from time to time. Even mundane. But when worry or sadness become chronic, you may have crossed over into having an anxiety or depression disorder – or even both! So how do you differentiate between these two common disorders? A bit of sleuthing is required when it comes to differentiating depression vs anxiety.
To solve any mystery, you must recognize each piece of the puzzle and understand how it fits into the whole. So let’s take a look at the big puzzle pieces of an anxiety disorder and of a depressive disorder. Generally speaking, if you’re feeling down and not finding interest or pleasure in usually exciting things, depression is the likely culprit. On the other hand, anxiety is marked by panic and ongoing feelings of being on edge.
Before we dive in more deeply, though, it is worth noting that while depression is generally categorized as one of several known mood disorders. Anxiety is different. It is its own category of mental disorder covering a broad range of disorders of anxiety.
Anxiety Signs You Should Know
Let’s start with anxiety. While we all worry from time to time, the hallmark of an anxiety disorder is a chronic worry that impacts a person’s ability to function each day. Anxiety can present as persistent worrying, overthinking, indecisiveness, restlessness, fear, phobias, insomnia, or as trouble in concentrating. Usually the focus of the anxiety is out of proportion to the level of anxiety that is felt. For example, a store clerk’s odd comment might cause you a few seconds or even minute of concern. But if you have anxiety, hours of worry and rumination likely will ensue.
Related Reading: Can Depression and Anxiety be Cured?
If you suffer from anxiety, you likely work hard to avoid anxiety-provoking situations or environments (for example, taking surface roads to avoid expressways). While this can bring temporary relief, avoidance only strengthens the fear response in the brain associated with the trigger. Moreover, the anxious feelings can persist even after the stressor is gone.
One of the reasons that avoidance is such a common “strategy” for trying to cope with anxiety is because anxiety usually includes uncomfortable physical symptoms like heart palpitations or racing, excessive sweating, nausea, pain, or dizziness. You think by avoiding the situation or environment that you can avoid the anxious symptoms. And it works – temporarily. But anxiety always wins, and your world becomes smaller and smaller as you avoid more things.
So how is anxiety caused? Anxiety has roots in things like fear of the unknown, unrealistic expectations, physical problems, and insufficient coping skills. Furthermore, genetics, brain chemistry, and certain life events all play a role.
Conversely, rather than the fear and worry of anxiety, depression is manifested through excessive, persistent sadness or numbness. More than just an every-once-in-a-while period of a few blue or sad days, depression affects your ability to find joy in once-rewarding activities and hobbies.
Simple, everyday tasks (think showering or doing laundry) feel insurmountable. Those affected by depression experience life as though they are weighed down, dragging lead weights behind them. Feelings of sadness and hopelessness, low self-esteem, and overwhelm are common if you are struggling with depression.
This disorder affects how you think, feel, behave, and function. Like those who have anxiety, people with depression often experience similar symptoms, such as nervousness, irritability, and problems sleeping and concentrating.
Physical symptoms of depression include loss of or increased appetite, changes in sleep, and low energy or fatigue. For an official diagnosis of depression, symptoms must have persisted for more than 2 weeks. Note that there are several types of depression, and each type exhibits different clusters of symptoms.
Depression is complex and has many causes, including experiencing childhood or adult abuse or neglect, unresolved conflicts, loss, genetics, major life events (even good ones), and serious illness. Like many disorders, genetics may be a factor, as well.
Anxiety vs Depression
Further muddying the waters is that anxiety and depression can overlap as they have some common symptoms and often present concurrently. Depression can lead to worry, and constant worry can lead to depression. It’s truly a chicken-or-egg situation.
There is no evidence that one disorder directly causes the other. However, as anxiety can cause a person to isolate themselves from triggers of their symptoms, in turn, that isolation can itself lead to depressive symptoms in addition to a lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyed.
Related Reading: What it Means When Depression and Anxiety Team Up
Distinguishing features of depression include flattened or dulled reactions. Anxiety is somewhat the other end of the spectrum as sufferers often seem ramped up in an effort to manage racing thoughts. Those with anxiety often have a great fear of the future and ruminate about any number of “what if’s.” On the other hand, people with depression are resigned to believing that things will continue to be bad, so therefore are less likely to perseverate on future events.
Ultimately, depression and anxiety are not the same. While they share some overlapping symptoms (including nervousness, irritability, and problems with sleep and concentration), each disorder has its own causes and emotional and behavioral causes.
Anxiety and Depression Treatment
Mindfulness practices can be incredibly helpful in combating anxiety. These practices train your mind to battle stress by remaining focused on the here and now rather than on what-if scenarios. This guide on mindfulness exercises is a terrific place to start.
And there are ways to start to break the cycle of depression, as well. You may find this guide on finding happiness helpful.
You can go a long way in battling both anxiety and depression by staying active, getting regular sleep, eating a healthy diet, restricting social media consumption, and getting outdoors into nature. Japanese physicians even prescribe the latter, in a practice called shinrin-yoku or forest bathing.
Also, remember that you are not alone. Anxiety and depression are extremely common conditions, particularly given current world events. Anxiety alone affects 40 million US adults annually (nearly 20% of the population). Likewise, more than 17 million Americans experience depression (almost 7% of the population).
Related Reading: 6 Things to Know if You Have Anxiety and Depression
Treatment modalities for depression and anxiety abound and can be highly effective. Still, studies have found that only one in five people who deal with anxiety or depression seek out treatment. Untreated, anxiety and depression can be difficult to deal with, affecting relationships, productivity, and general outlook on life. If you’re struggling to decide whether or not it is anxiety or depression affecting you, we are here to help untangle the web and shine a light on the path forward.
Both anxiety and depression are highly treatable. If you’re ready to break free of your anxiety or depression, determine whether it is anxiety vs depression affecting you most, and find the best path forward, we’d love to help guide your way. Each Life Care Wellness therapist is trained in a variety of effective treatments for anxiety and depression. Reach out to us at Life Care Wellness at 630-423-5935 to schedule your first depression or anxiety therapy appointment today. We have three Chicago-area locations (Glen Ellyn, Jefferson Park, and Sycamore) to serve you.