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Anxiety vs Depression: What is the Difference?

written by Skye Kalil Written by Skye Kalil
Skye Kalil

Skye Kalil

Skye likes writing about mental health, nutrition, and wellness. She is passionate about sharing information that will educate, and positively affect people's lives.

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reviewed by Dr. Katalin Karolyi Reviewed by Dr. Katalin Karolyi
Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Katalin Karolyi, M.D. earned her medical degree at the University of Debrecen. After completing her residency program in pathology at the Kenezy Hospital, she obtained a postdoctoral position at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Orlando, Florida.

August 23, 2021 Read Time - 9 minutes

What Is the Difference Between Anxiety and Depression?

As mental health awareness increases and the stigma surrounding mental health diminishes, anxiety and depression are commonly used terms. However, having a mood disorder is a particular mental health disorder, and different from having infrequent fleeting feelings of anxiety or depression. 

Anxiety and depression are both mental health conditions and commonly occur together, however, they are two separate afflictions. The main differences between the two are how they are experienced, and their mental markers, or how symptoms are expressed. Anxiety and depression can co-occur, or one can emerge in reaction to the other.

Anxiety and depression can have similar causes, typically involving neurotransmitter disparities, such as low serotonin levels, or other brain chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine. 

They have similar treatments: both are best treated with a combination of medication and psychological counseling. Different people experience various symptoms of depression and anxiety, and there is no one fix for everyone. It might take some time through a trial-and-error process to find the treatment that works most effectively for you.  

Here is a comparison of the symptoms and signs of anxiety and depression, and the commonalities that they share: 

Anxiety Both Anxiety and DepressionDepression 
Feeling nervous or powerless Trouble concentrating, thinking, or making decisions Feeling worthless and sad 
Feeling a sense of impending danger or panic Excessive worrying Irritability and frustration 
Increased breathing and heart rate Restlessness or agitation Loss of interest in normal activities 
Trembling and sweating Unexplained physical symptoms like headaches or stomach issues Tiredness or differences in sleep patterns 
Avoiding situations that could trigger anxiety Thoughts of death or suicide Moving or talking slower than normal 
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What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of dread, fear, or worry, and can be a normal part of life at times. But having an anxiety disorder involves fear that does not go away and can be overwhelming. People who have anxiety disorders regularly have intense and persistent concern and uneasiness about everyday situations. Symptoms can interfere with daily tasks like work, school, or relationships. Sometimes sudden feelings of severe anxiety or terror will cause anxiety attacks. 

Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety symptoms are experienced differently by people with anxiety. Some people will only experience a few things on the list below. However, what categorizes an anxiety disorder from the feeling of anxiety that everyone experiences is the intensity, and unrelenting feeling of these symptoms that interfere with daily life.

Common mental signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Worrying about the short or long term future
  • Having uncontrollable thoughts about impending danger or panic
  • Feeling nervous or restless 
  • Feeling the urge to avoid situations that could trigger anxiety 
  • Having trouble concentrating 
  • Thinking about death, or anticipated danger

Common physical signs and symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating
  • Feeling weak or tired, trembling, or dizziness 
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation) or shortness of breath
  • Muscle tension
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal problems (nausea, diarrhea, or constipation)

Anxiety Causes

There is no one diagnosable cause of anxiety, as the causes are not fully understood. However, there are some life experiences that can be a trigger for anxiety disorder to develop. Some risk factors for an anxiety disorder to arise are: 

  • Traumatic events, especially in childhood 
  • Stress buildup due to a health condition, work, or a death in the family
  • Certain personality traits, such as being shy or withdrawn 
  • Family history of mental illness, often anxiety 
  • Specific physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or arrhythmia

Anxiety Treatment

The two most effective treatments for anxiety are psychotherapy, medication, and in the best cases, a combination of the two. 

Psychotherapy for Anxiety

Psychotherapy is also called talk therapy, or counseling. People with anxiety work with a therapist to help reduce anxiety symptoms, or get to the root of where the anxiety is manifesting. The most effective form of psychotherapy of anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on teaching you coping skills to help you deal with symptoms of anxiety when they arise. Most therapists practice CBT.

PlushCare offers online therapy, where you can speak with a licensed therapist virtually. Click here to learn more about telehealth online therapy at PlushCare. 

Medications for Anxiety

There are medications that can be prescribed to relieve symptoms, depending on what kind of anxiety you are experiencing. Some options are: 

  • Certain antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications (like buspirone)
  • Very rarely, your doctor could prescribe a sedative, like benzodiazepines or beta blockers. These controlled substances cannot be prescribed online, and are only for short-term relief of anxiety symptoms

Read More: What is Anxiety and How is It Treated?


What Is Depression?

Depression, also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a mood disorder. It is common, but can be very serious, affecting how you feel, think, and act. Having clinical depression is different than just feeling sad. It is a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest. To be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must be present for two weeks or more.

Depression Symptoms 

Symptoms of major depressive disorder are severe enough to noticeably affect day to day activities like work, school, or socializing. From person to person the severity and frequency of symptoms will vary, and while some people only experience a few symptoms, others experience many. 

Common mental signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Thinking nothing is worth trying 
  • Thinking about death, or that life is not worth living 

Common physical signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Lack of energy 
  • Moving or talking slower than usual 
  • Difficulty with concentration, focus, memory, and decision making 
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or sleeping much more or much less than normal 
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause 

Depression Causes

Although depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the US, there is no exact known cause of depression. Like many mental illnesses, typically there are a variety of factors involved. Risk factors for depression include: 

  • Inherited traits, personal or family history of depression
  • Environmental factors, like major life changes, trauma, or stress
  • Psychological factors
  • Certain physical illnesses and medications
  • Biological differences, brain chemistry, or hormones

Read: What is a Depression Screening?


Depression Treatment

The most effective treatment for depression is medication and psychotherapy. The earlier that depression is treated, the easier it is to treat. 

Psychotherapy for Depression

Psychotherapy is also called talk therapy or psychological therapy, and is a general term for treating depression by talking to a therapist about mental health issues. Talking to a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, can be very beneficial for people with depression. 

Medications for Depression

Medications to treat depression are called antidepressants. There are many kinds of antidepressants that do different things in the brain, like improve how the brain uses certain chemicals, or stabilize your mood. Antidepressants take time to work, and you will need to wait two to four weeks before feeling any change, and may have to try multiple medications before finding one that works well for you. 

Some examples of antidepressants are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Atypical antidepressants
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Related: Medicine for Depression


Can You Have Anxiety and Depression at the Same Time?

Yes, you can have anxiety and depression at the same time. Although they are two separate and distinct mental health issues, they commonly occur simultaneously. Sometimes, someone can have both an anxiety disorder and a major depressive disorder. In other cases, anxiety can be a symptom of depression. In other cases, depression may cause anxiety. They are two interrelated mood disorders, and frequently there is some degree of overlap. 

Is There a Difference Between Anxiety and Depression Medication?

Yes, there is a difference between anxiety and depression medication. There are anti-anxiety  medications specifically for treating anxiety symptoms, and antidepressants specifically for treating depression symptoms. 

One kind of medication that has shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Because side effects are typically less noticeable than other antidepressants, SSRIs are typically the first medication your doctor will prescribe. Other medications that could treat anxiety and depression include tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and anti-anxiety medications.

Therapy for Anxiety and Depression

Therapy can be a helpful tool for people with anxiety and depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), has shown to be one of the most effective types of therapy. For both anxiety and depression, CBT involves talking through behavior patterns, and helps to teach people with these mental illnesses how to deal with symptoms. For anxiety, it can uncover what kind of avoidant behavior you are aware or unaware you are doing. For depression, it can help you experience positive emotions. 

The majority of treating anxiety and depression with therapy is overlapping. Utilizing evidence-based approaches specific to the treatment of mood disorders, like CBT, and consistently talking to a therapist will help those with anxiety, depression, or both, make noticeable improvements.  

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Can You Get Treatment for Anxiety and Depression Online? 

Yes, you can get treatment for anxiety and depression online. PlushCare now provides teletherapy, and PlushCare’s licensed therapists are specifically trained to provide virtual support to patients. Many specialize in treating anxiety and depression. 

To check if PlushCare provides therapists in your state, click here

PlushCare doctors have extensive experience in evaluating people for mental health struggles virtually, and can help those who need it get a prescription for antidepressants after a medical consultation. If a doctor determines that antidepressants should be prescribed as part of a treatment plan, then the prescription can be electronically sent to a local pharmacy for pickup.

To make an appointment to talk to a PlushCare doctor online, click here


Read More About The Difference Between Anxiety and Depression 


Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

National Institute of Mental Health. Depression. Accessed on August 10, 2021 at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/

Mayo Clinic. Depression and Anxiety: Can I Have Both? Accessed on August 10, 2021 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/depression-and-anxiety/faq-20057989

Cleveland Clinic. Anxiety vs. Depression: Which Do I Have (or Both)? Accessed on August 10, 2021 at https://health.clevelandclinic.org/anxiety-vs-depression-which-do-i-have-or-both/

Harvard Health Publishing. What Causes Depression? Accessed on August 10, 2021 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression

Help Guide. Anxiety Medication. Accessed on August 11, 2021 at https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/anxiety-medication.htm

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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