About Anxiety

Depression and Anxiety: Two Similar Disorders that Could Not Be More Different

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Depression and Anxiety: Two Similar Disorders that Could Not Be More Different

Mental health issues are notoriously complex. While psychologists have a successful manual to diagnose your mental health issues, those manuals are simply guidelines for treatment – they're not gospel regarding how you experience your emotional and psychological wellness.

With that in mind, many people experience more than one type of mental health disorder, often in different degrees. When someone has more than one mental health problem, it's known as "comorbidity," and by far the two most comorbid diagnoses are anxiety and depression.

Types of Anxiety/Depression

For many, anxiety and depression have a type of chicken and egg issue. Some people suffer from depression and develop anxiety. Others suffer from anxiety and develop depression. Others experience both at the same time. Many people also have temporary comorbidity – for example, experiencing a temporary bout of depression after a severe panic attack, or experiencing anxiety when they suffer from events that cause further depression – while others suffer through both of these issues for a long period.

The link is so strong that some anti-depressants are used to treat those that don't have depression and are instead living with anxiety disorders, and anxiety coping tips are often recommended for those with depression – even when the person doesn't suffer from anxiety. Other research has also indicated that the same neurotransmitters may also play a role in causing both anxiety and depression.

While research has varied, the following table shows the comorbidity of depression with other disorders:

Many of these individuals developed their depression as a result of living with their anxiety. This appears to be especially true of those with panic disorder, likely because panic attacks tend to cause feelings of severe fear, helplessness, and doom. Also, those living with anxiety may not be living the lifestyle they had imagined, thus reinforcing feelings that may eventually lead to depression.

The two disorders are very different, and yet the reasons they contribute to each other's development become more obvious the more you learn about them.

Depression: Cause and Effects

Depression, like anxiety, may be caused by any number of factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Upbringing
  • Trauma
  • Reinforcement
  • Social Learning

Depression is an emotional disorder, characterized either by periods of deep sadness or by a "lack of happiness." Not everyone feels emotionally sad, but those that live with depression often have a hard time of imagining a world that's happy. Some may even have a "flat affect," which essentially implies no emotions at all.

Depression may be temporary, or a long-term emotional disorder. After an intense breakup, for example, it's possible to have depression that may disappear as you learn to cope with the breakup. Anxiety makes it harder for that depression to disappear, because anxiety prevents healthy coping. Depression may also be a long-term disorder – one that causes intense feelings of sadness, worthlessness, loss of interest in life, and other depressive symptoms.

Depression is the most common stand-alone psychological disorder, affecting as much as 10% of the population. However, anxiety disorders combined compromise a larger percentage of the population, with some estimates putting the number of people living with some form of anxiety as high as 18% or more.

Anxiety: Causes and Effects

Like depression, anxiety may be caused by a whole host of different factors. There are also numerous types of anxiety, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Social Phobia
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Because of the broad range of anxiety disorders, there is an even broader range of anxiety symptoms. But anxiety can best be described by three issues:

  • Emotional Anxiety, of course, is a mental health disorder, and that means it affects your emotions and your thoughts. You'll often have fears or worries, and develop a type of negative thinking (which is one of the reasons anxiety may cause depression).
  • Physical Anxiety often comes with physical symptoms. Some of them are common, like an increased heart rate, sweating, and nausea. Others are less common, like leg pain, shoulder pain, and trouble holding your head up. It's also possible to experience physical symptoms of anxiety when no thoughts or emotional symptoms are present.
  • Behaviors Anxiety also has a tendency to affect behaviors. In some cases, these may be obvious – like compulsions that you need to complete to reduce your anxiety. Others may be less obvious, like avoiding various situations because you're afraid of the potential for anxiety.

Anxiety is one of the most diverse disorders in the mental health world, causing a host of different problems and comprising of numerous physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Its broad range of symptoms is one of the reasons that anxiety may cause depression.

What to Do if You Have Both Depression and Anxiety?

One of the most important things to realize is that it's genuinely possible to cure both anxiety and depression. But both disorders cause a feeling of there being no hope. It's crucial that you realize that depression and anxiety are going to make you feel like you can't get relief because that's what the disorders do.

That said, there is still a long road ahead. Both of these conditions require lifestyle changes, commitment to your recovery, and smart treatment decisions. Anxiety and depression often reinforce each other, so while you're recovering, both conditions may set you back and make it feel like the treatments aren't working. But thousands upon thousands of studies have confirmed that treating both conditions is possible for everyone.

Anywhere from 20 to 40 million people suffer from anxiety and depression in the United States alone, and millions more have recovered. While it may often feel like you're the only one that understands your pain and suffering, the truth is that these conditions are unfortunately very common. Yet millions have been able to recover by committing to effective, long-term treatment choices.

Taking the Steps to Cure Anxiety Depression

Because both anxiety and depression reinforce each other, the sooner you start your treatments, the sooner you can recover. Talking to a therapist should be your first step, and in the interim, learning strategies to control your mental health is crucial.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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