The Difference Between Anxiety and Depression

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: What is the Difference Between Anxiety and Depression?

Mental health diagnoses are not as simple as reading a throat culture, or identifying a bacteria or virus. Because we describe syndromes in the mental health field, many disorders have a great deal of overlap, which can make it fairly difficult to differentiate between two separate disorders. And two of the most common disorders that are difficult to distinguish are anxiety and depression. However, while they share some common symptoms, they are two distinct disorders.

What complicates mental health disorders is comorbidity, a condition in which an individual can have more than one disorder with overlapping symptoms. There are differences, however, and for clarification, I will attempt to make a distinction between the two. I will begin with primary symptoms:

Anxiety:

•Apprehension over what’s about to happen and what could happen in the future.

•Worried thoughts, or a belief that something could go wrong.

•Feeling like you need to run away or avoid things that could cause further anxiety.

Depression:

•Feeling of sadness about the future, as though it’s hopeless.

•Listlessness, and a lack of belief that positive things will occur.

•Little worry, but instead a certainty of future negative emotions.

•Possible suicidal thoughts.

You might notice that anxiety symptoms are worrying about something that might happen. In contrast, depressive symptoms assume a poor outcome and don’t see any way to prevent it. Depression can occur after someone experiences anxiety, because someone that deals with severe anxiety may end up feeling drained and hopeless once the anxiety has passed. That is one reason differentiating between the two can be difficult. It’s not unusual for both disorders to occur simultaneously, or for depression to follow anxiety.

It’s important to understand that both anxiety and depression can leave you feeling drained and fatigued. But in the case of anxiety, it tends to occur after intense anxiety, while with depression it tends to be more constant—the blahs—without any identifiable triggers. Other physical symptoms one might experience include:

Anxiety:

•Feeling nervous

•Feeling powerless

•Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom

•Having an increased heart rate

•Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)

•Sweating

•Trembling

•Feeling weak or tired

•Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

Depression:

•Severe lack of energy or drive.

•Flat affect (complete lack of emotion) along with slowed thinking and behaviors.

•Severe appetite changes, headaches, and sleep problems.

•Changes in sleep—you can’t sleep or you sleep too much

•Unable to concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult

•Feeling hopeless and helpless

•Unable to control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try

•Feeling irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual

•Consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior

•Experiencing thoughts that life is not worth living 

Depression can be more dangerous to the health of the individual than anxiety, especially if the person experiences suicidal thoughts.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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