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Anxiety vs. Depression: What is the Relationship?

Sally-Anne Soameson, Psychiatrist
Anxiety vs. Depression: What is the Relationship?

While psychologists look at mental health in terms of specific disorders, the truth is that mental health isn't always quite 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. This is 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.

Do You Have Anxiety, Depression, or Both?

It's 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 or depressive symptoms.

How the Two Are Different

Anxiety and depression are different disorders. Anxiety is characterized by fear and apprehension. These are often worried and nervous thoughts where significant attention is paid to situations that have happened in the past alongside worries about what is going on in the present and the future. Anxiety creates a feeling of discomfort and releases substantial energy throughout the body. Those with anxiety tend to think negatively and many worry about everyday occurrences unnecessarily. Often anxiety presents itself with feelings of unease and uncertainty.

Depression,on the other hand, centers around the idea that life is already bad, with little hope for the future. There is less worry about the future because it involves less hope. Those with depression may suffer from suicidal ideations, severe fatigue, less energy and fewer emotions; and like anxiety these emotions are often very negative.

Physically, anxiety tends to cause an activation of feelings and sensations (rapid heartbeat, sweating, the feeling of panic) while depression may cause an absence of feelings and sensations (loss of interest and pleasure, low self worth and energy.)

There are also similarities between the two conditions, and in some cases one can cause the other. For example, after a severe panic attack some people find themselves drained of energy and emotionally upset which may develop temporary (and sometimes even long lasting) depression. The experience may leave the person feeling traumatised and alone.

Both involve a considerable amount of negative thinking. While those with anxiety tend to fear about 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:

The reason there is often comorbidity between the two conditions is because not everyone suffers from the condition in the same way, and not all depression or anxiety presents itself the same. For example:

This is why anxiety and depression may be complicated to diagnose, 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

Fortunately anxiety and depression are both treatable. Studies have shown that those willing to commit to a treatment will find their conditions will become less or better still cured.

Anxiety and depression are treatable, but those treatments can take time so it is important that you are committed to the therapy, treatment or both that is suitable for you.

Anyone that has suicidal thoughts or ideations, or who is feeling very low should contact a doctor or psychologist immediately. A listing of suicide contacts can be found here: http://www.suicidehotlines.com/.

Article Resources
  1. Maier, W., and P. Falkai. The epidemiology of comorbidity between depression, anxiety disorders and somatic diseases. International clinical psychopharmacology 14 (1999): S1.
  2. 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. 
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