Anxiety and depression are different conditions but have many co-existing symptoms, causes and treatments. Knowing which camp you fall in can be tricky at times to determine.
Anxiety and Depression Explained
This can get complex so I have tried to keep things super simple.. Depression is characterised by a sense of unhappiness, despair or sadness. Anxiety is a feeling of worry or apprehension, often in relation to normal parts of life.
Feelings of depression and anxiety are normal human responses to every day events. You may feel sad or unhappy (or ‘depressed’) when something disappoints us or we experience loss. If you have an upcoming event of significance, like an exam or job interview, it may lead to you feeling ‘anxious’. If these feelings persist over a period of time, it might be that you have an associated condition – known as depression (or mood disorder) and / or anxiety disorder.
The two are typically thought of as distinct, but there is a significant crossover. Below, I will break down the main differences and similarities in the symptoms, causes and treatments of depression and anxiety.
Can you have Anxiety and Depression at the same time?
In short – Yes. Many people will experience co-existing depression and anxiety. A World Health Organisation (WHO) World Mental Health Survey found that 41% of people with a year-long major depressive disorder also had one or more anxiety disorders over the same 12-month period.
Anxiety and Depression Symptoms
Depression and anxiety differ when it comes to some key signs and symptoms:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Intense feelings of sadness
- Worthlessness or hopeless
- Feeling trapped
- Fearful, paranoid and tense
- Extreme stress
- Shortness of breath and tightness in your chest
- Sense of worry, dread or apprehension
It’s important to recognise that, with depression and anxiety, you may have a totally separate set of symptoms than someone else. However, there are many areas where the two share similar symptoms.
Any of the following could be as a result of either anxiety or depression
- Fatigue, or a decrease in your energy levels
- General sense of irritability or anger
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Changes to sleeping patterns, be it a lack of sleep or oversleeping
- Decrease in your mood
- Unable to relax, focus or concentrate
What Causes Depression and Anxiety?
Depression and anxiety also share some potential causes and risk factors.
Environmental or social factors
Events that unfold in your life can be the ultimate trigger of a condition like anxiety or depression. Things like losing your job, experiencing a break-up or divorce, or having to deal with grief or bereavement can lead to you developing mental health problems.
Aspects of your lifestyle can have a big impact on you developing anxiety or depression. Socially, things like isolation or loneliness can trigger mental health issues. Use of alcohol and/or drugs can also play a big role in leading to issues with these mental health conditions. A maladaptive stress response can trigger an episode as can a prolonged conflict in values or lack of meaning and purpose in life.
Trauma or abuse
If you experience a traumatic event in your life, or have in the past, this can be a catalyst for depression and anxiety. In childhood, that might be neglect or abuse. As an adult, examples include being in a challenging relationship, being involved in an accident, medical emergency or involvement in highly stressful circumstances like war. Sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – I like to refer to this as Post Traumatic Stress Injury – a type of anxiety disorder – are more likely to struggle with depression also.
Genes can play some role in developing mental health disorders. If a close family member, like parent or sibling, has struggled with depression or anxiety, it can increase your chances of experiencing them too – but remember they don’t fully explain anxiety.
There are also other factors that could increase your level of risk to developing depression and/or anxiety:
- Age – older people struggle with depression and anxiety more. Factors include a general decline in health and the increased likelihood of isolation compared to younger people.
- Gender – statistics on mental health show women are more likely to develop mental health problems than men. Reasons include the hormonal changes women experience in life and that they produce more stress hormones than men. Women are also much more likely to speak about and seek treatment for mental health problems. As many as 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health.
- Existing mental health issues – if you already struggle with another mental health condition outside of depression and anxiety, this may increase the likelihood of you developing these conditions. An eating disorder is one example of a condition that can lead to depression and anxiety.
Does Depression Cause Anxiety or Vice Versa?
Anxiety disorders and depression can often interchange with those who are suffering with their mental health. Anxiety as a symptom (a general feeling of unease or worry) is commonly one of the symptoms of depression. If you experience anxiety consistently as a result of your depression, you might also develop a type of anxiety disorder.
Similarly, it’s common for an anxiety disorder to trigger a type of depression. Anxiety disorders can severely damage someone’s ability to lead a normal life, leading to the general sense of sadness and unhappiness that characterises depression.
There is some good news for anyone who has anxiety or depression. First, you should know that there’s help and effective treatment for both conditions. Learning what options are available and suited to you is step one.
It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for any mental health condition. It may take some time, and you may need to try a few different routes. With diligence and support, you can find a path that leads you to a healthier, more productive and peaceful life.
I am often asked if I have one specific way of working with clients with both anxiety and depression – the short answer is, No.
I do not advocate a particular method or specific framework as I tailor all of my therapeutic work around the person and how ‘they’ do their problem(s) – I do not treat labels.