Anxiety vs. Depression: Telling the Difference

Depression and anxiety are two of the most frequently diagnosed mood disorders. Each involves emotions that commonly occur for everyone from time to time. When sadness or worry begins to interfere with your daily life, it may indicate an anxiety disorder or depressive disorder.

Key takeaways:
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    Recent statistics show that more than 19% of U.S. adults had an anxiety disorder in the previous year.
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    There are five major anxiety disorders.
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    Research from the Pew Research Center suggests that 13% of U.S teens (between ages 12 and 17) experienced depression in the previous year.
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    Statistics from the American Psychological Association show that depressive disorders affect 11% of the population each year.
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    There are several depression diagnoses, with six being more common than others.
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    Researchers suggest that up to 60% of people with anxiety experience depression symptoms and vice versa.

What is anxiety?

While it is true that anxiety is a normal human emotion, anxiety can also evolve into something overwhelming and emotionally harmful. When feelings of anxiety due to everyday stressors or a particularly traumatic event do not go away on their own, it may indicate an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is often temporary, but symptoms of an anxiety disorder are pervasive and can disrupt your life. Data from the National Institute of Health tell us that anxiety disorders are common in the United States. Recent statistics show that more than 19% of U.S. adults had an anxiety disorder in the previous year.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders. However, unique symptoms that help distinguish between the conditions characterize each type or diagnosis. There are five major anxiety disorders:

  • Panic disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social phobias (social anxiety disorder)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

How does anxiety feel?

Anxiety is a mood disorder characterized by overwhelming feelings of worry and fear. You may have an anxiety disorder if you feel any of the below symptoms or emotions.

  • Feeling as though you have “lost control”
  • Irritable or on edge
  • Feeling overwhelming or debilitating worry
  • Sweating
  • Shaking

What is depression?

Feelings of sadness or "the blues" occur for everyone from time to time. Like anxiety, however, these emotions often resolve themselves. Depressive disorders, on the other hand, involve persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Major depressive disorder is a severe mental health condition that can lead to many emotional and physical health challenges. Depressive disorders can cause you to lose interest in activities and hobbies you once enjoyed and inhibit your ability to participate in your daily tasks and obligations.

Unfortunately, depression is a common mental health diagnosis. Statistics from the American Psychological Association show that depressive disorders affect more than 11% of the population each year. The same report also indicates that one in six people, or 16.6%, will experience depression. Depression can affect anyone, regardless of age. Research from the Pew Research Center suggests that 13% of U.S teens (between ages 12 and 17) experienced depression in the previous year.

Types of depressive disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, lists several depression-related diagnoses. Of those, six are generally more prevalent than others. They are:

  • Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive disorder)
  • Major depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder (previously called dysthymia)
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Perinatal depression
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)

How does depression feel?

Depression can be debilitating. During depressive episodes, many people experience:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Aches and pains
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Feeling like nothing in life provides pleasure or happiness
  • Overwhelming hopelessness
  • Reduced self-esteem
  • No energy
  • Poor appetite

Anxiety vs. depression — how to tell the difference

Depression and anxiety share similarities. The critical difference between depression and anxiety is the symptoms one experiences. Persistent and overwhelming feelings of sadness characterize depressive disorders. Sadness is generally coupled with little to no energy or interest in those things that once gave you pleasure.

Anxiety, on the other hand, involves intense feelings of uncontrollable worry. Depending on the specific type of anxiety, worry may involve everyday occurrences or events you fear could happen.

Anxiety and depression are common mental health challenges faced by millions of people every year. It is important to remember that they often co-occur, meaning it is possible to experience both an anxiety disorder and a depressive disorder simultaneously. Researchers suggest that up to 60% of people with anxiety experience depression symptoms and vice versa. If you have an anxiety disorder, you are at a greater risk of developing depression.

How to get help with anxiety or depression

Effective treatment programs for depression and anxiety involve a combination of talk therapy and mental health medications. Providers may also recommend lifestyle change and other holistic therapy models to help reduce the impact of symptoms on your day-to-day life. It is important to talk to your provider about your symptoms to ensure they develop a treatment plan that considers your treatment needs and goals.

Anxiety and depression are related but different conditions. The best way to determine whether your symptoms relate to an anxiety disorder or a depressive disorder is to consider the type and duration of the symptoms. Talking to a medical or mental health provider about what you are experiencing is also essential. They can assess your condition and help you choose the best path to begin healing.

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