While psychologists look at mental health in terms of specific disorders, the truth is that mental health isn't always so black and white. Often there are relationships between different types of disorders that can make it complicated to diagnose, and some people may experience more than one disorder at a time (known as "comorbidity.").
Two of the most common disorders in the world are anxiety and depression. Both also have their own sub-disorders. While they are technically different disorders, they also share a lot in common, and their similarities and relationship may affect your treatment.
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Do You Have Anxiety, Depression, or Both?
It's actually very common to suffer from both anxiety and depression at the same time, especially if you have severe anxiety or panic disorder. Often the anxiety comes first, and the impact that anxiety has on your life ends up leading to the development of depression and depressive symptoms.
Take my anxiety test to find out more about your likelihood of suffering from anxiety, and if you believe you have depression, may sure you also seek the help of a qualified therapist or counselor.
How the Two Are Different
Anxiety and depression are different disorders. Anxiety is characterized by fear and apprehension. There are often worried and nervous thoughts, and a significant attention on both the present and future. Anxiety creates a feeling of discomfort and often has a lot more energy. Those with anxiety tend to think very negatively, but they do so about things that might happen. Often the basics of anxiety are the fear that something will make their life worse.
Depression, on the other hand, doesn't have that fear. Depression centers around the idea that life is already bad, with less hope about getting better. It's less worried about the future because it involves less hope. Those with depression may suffer from suicidal ideations, severe fatigue (ie, less energy), and fewer emotions - although like anxiety these emotions are often very negative.
Anxiety is best described as the belief that things can go wrong and make life worse, and depression is best described as the belief that nothing can go right and make life better. Physically, anxiety tends to cause an activation of feelings and sensations (rapid heartbeat, sweating, the feeling of panic) while depression seems to cause an absence of feelings and sensations (no positive feelings, feeling like it's not worth getting up, like of energy.
How the Two Are Related
There are still many similarities between the two conditions, and remember that in some cases one can cause the other. For example, after a severe panic attack some people find themselves so drained of energy and so emotionally upset that they develop temporary (and sometimes even long lasting) depression as a result, as though their emotions and happiness are drained out of them.
Both involve a considerable amount of negative thinking. While those with anxiety tend to fear the future and those with depression see the future as more hopeless, both believe that the worst is likely to happen. Both anxiety and depression are related to the same neurotransmitters as well, which is one of the reasons they have similar thoughts (since neurotransmitters affect thinking and perception).
They sometimes even have similar physical symptoms, including:
- Nausea and stomach issues.
- Aches and pains for no apparent reason.
But the other symptoms often differ enough that it's clear to psychologists whether or not someone suffers from one, the other, or both. The reason there is often comorbidity between the two conditions is because not everyone suffers from the condition every day, and because not all depression and anxiety exhibits itself in the same way. For example:
- Those with depression may still fear the future getting worse, or be afraid something bad will happen despite otherwise having less hope.
- Those with anxiety may have depression symptoms often as a result of their anxiety - enough that they qualify for depression - but anxiety is the major condition (especially true of panic attacks).
- Those with depression and anxiety often have their ups and downs. Not everyone deals with one or the other each and every day, every moment of the day.
- Some show symptoms of both, but not all. For example, some may feel life is not worth living (depression) because nothing good is happening. They have hope or wish good things will happen though, which is less indicative of depression and more common with anxiety. But then when those things don't happen, they continue to have their suicidal ideations.
This is why anxiety vs. depression is so complicated, and why it's important to recognize how often the conditions are different and how often they're similar. Psychologists generally look at both and try to differentiate the major problems, as well as figure out how to treat them.
Anxiety vs. Depression: Treatment
One of the most amazing things about both anxiety and depression, however, is that they're both treatable. Very treatable. In fact, there have been countless studies proving that those willing to commit to a treatment will find their conditions lessened or eliminated.
The problem is that:
- Both anxiety and depression change your way of thinking, so that you often feel as though they're untreatable. That's what the condition does - affect thoughts and hope so that it doesn't and can't feel as though they'll ever go away, despite mountains of evidence that they can.
- There is no one size fits all approach to treating anxiety and depression. That means that you may go through some treatments that fail first before you find relief. You need to know that going in, and not feel disappointed or quit seeking treatment if one you try doesn't work for you.
- Anxiety and depression require long term treatments. They won't have immediate results, because they involve changing everything about how you see the world, which is not something that's easily done right away.
- Both will have their setbacks. Those with anxiety are going to have a few episodes of anxiety or panic even after their anxiety is cured. Those with depression with as well. Because the two conditions cause negative thinking, these setbacks can lead to feelings of hopelessness that cause people to quit treatments, even though setbacks are a natural part of recovery.
- Many treatments on the market that people turn to when they're desperate don't work, and that means that when they don't work people will continue to believe that there is no hope for treatment. That's a problem, since again, there are many treatments that do work.
Anxiety and depression are incredibly treatable - so much so that if you're willing to commit to effective treatments you will eventually get relief. But those treatments can take time, and during that time you need to make sure that you are doing everything you can to commit to effective treatments and looking for ways to improve your life.
Anyone that has suicidal thoughts or ideations, or is losing hope in life should contact a doctor or psychologist immediately. Never forget that neurotransmitters create that feeling, not anything about the world, and so it's important that you never let those neurotransmitters take hold of you. A listing of suicide hotlines can also be found here: http://www.suicidehotlines.com/.
If you have anxiety, there are ways to treat it at home or with a psychologist.
I've helped many people overcome their anxiety starting with my free anxiety test, so try taking the test right now and learn more about how to control your anxiety symptoms.
Maier, W., and P. Falkai. The epidemiology of comorbidity between depression, anxiety disorders and somatic diseases. International clinical psychopharmacology 14 (1999): S1.
Pini, Stefano, et al. Prevalence of anxiety disorders comorbidity in bipolar depression, unipolar depression and dysthymia. Journal of affective disorders 42.2 (1997): 145-153.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.