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What is the Difference Between Anxiety and Depression?

Anxiety and depression

Clinical anxiety and depression are two forms of mental illnesses each with their own sub-type disorders. Examples of anxiety disorders includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety and specific phobias and more. Examples of depressive disorders includes seasonal affective disorder (SAD), major depressive disorder (MDD) and clinical depression and others. Both anxiety and depression are very common mental illnesses, affecting millions in the United States alone. It is important to be able to identify each and know the information to be able to differentiate between the two. Anxiety and depression have different symptoms, forms of treatment and, depending on the subtype, different causes.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety deals with the uncertainty of the future and causes intense feeling of distress, worry, fear and panic when exposed to a certain stressor (major life changes, medical environments, new situations, etc.) For some people, anxiety is caused by an underlying medical condition such as thyroid problems, heart disease, drug abuse or withdrawal, chronic pain and more. Anxiety can also be a side effect of certain medication. Scientists and medical professionals have speculated that anxiety may also be hereditary. Factors that increase your risk of developing an anxiety disorder include:

  • Trauma, especially in children
  • Stress due to a health condition or illness
  • Large amounts of stress in your daily life
  • Other mental health disorders
  • Having relatives with an anxiety disorder
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol

Symptoms of anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety can differ greatly from depression and include:

  • Feelings of nervousness, panic or restlessness
  • A feeling of impending danger or doom
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Fatigue or feelings of weakness
  • Trembling

What is depression?

Depression is characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness, apathy and loss of interest in your normal activities. People with depression may have difficulty regarding motivation to complete daily activities or experience a sense that life isn’t worth living. Depression, like anxiety, has a wide variety of causes. It has been noted that people with depression have physical changes in their brains and their brain chemistry is different (i.e. a chemical imbalance in the brain). Changes in hormones can trigger depression such as puberty, pregnancy or during the weeks or months after pregnancy (post-partum depression). Depression is although thought to have a hereditary gene (as of yet unidentified), as it is more common to have depression if you have relatives who also have depression. Certain medications can also cause depression. Risk factors of depression include:

  • Traumatic or stressful events
  • Unsupportive environments, particularly if you are a minority or part of the LGBT population
  • History of other mental health issues such as anxiety
  • Certain personality traits (pessimism, perfectionism, dependency or low self-esteem)
  • Bipolar disorder (depression is the lower end of the emotional spectrum in bipolar disorder)
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Long-term (chronic) health issues such as dysautonomia, cancer and chronic pain

Symptoms of depression 

  • Feeling sad or empty
  • Loss of interest in normal activities that were once enjoyed
  • Unusual loss or gain in appetite
  • Severe fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia
  • Feelings of hopelessness, irritability, anxiety or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) issues
  • Aches, headaches and generalized pain