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Depression vs Anxiety: How To Recognise the Difference

Ever feel like you’re walking an emotional tightrope, teetering between extreme worry and overwhelming sadness? You’re not alone. Many of us find ourselves in this high-wire act, trying to balance our feelings of burnout while juggling the demands of daily life.

But is it anxiety or depression? Or both?

These two mental health conditions often coexist, making it challenging to identify which one is causing what feelings. In this article, we’ll discuss the key differences between depression vs. anxiety and how to recognise the symptoms.

Depression vs. Anxiety: What’s the Difference?

Have you ever found yourself asking, “Am I depressed or anxious?” You’re not alone. Depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental health disorders, affects millions of people worldwide. Both can cause distress and interfere with daily functioning, but they have distinct differences that set them apart.

What is Depression?

Depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), may present as a general lack of motivation, loss of interest and persistent feeling of sadness. Living with depression can feel like navigating a dark and never-ending tunnel. The weight of the condition is often all-encompassing, affecting various aspects of a person’s life, including relationships, work, and overall well-being.

The symptoms of depression vary from person to person, but common signs include:

  • Appetite and weight changes: Depression can affect appetite, leading to weight loss or gain.
  • Fatigue and decreased energy: Depression can drain you of your physical and mental energy. This may result in constant tiredness and difficulty concentrating.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt: You may experience overwhelming feelings of guilt and worthlessness, even when there’s no rational basis for these emotions.
  • Loss of interest: Previously enjoyable activities may lose their appeal, and you may feel disconnected.
  • Persistent low mood: You may experience sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness for extended periods.
  • Sleep disturbances: Excessive sleeping or insomnia may interfere with your daily routine.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide: In severe cases, depression can lead to persistent thoughts of death or suicide.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety can present as excessive worry, fear, and apprehension. While it’s normal to experience these emotions in response to stressful situations, anxiety disorders involve intense and chronic feelings of unease. Living with this type of disorder can feel exhausting and isolating.

The constant worry and anticipation of feeling anxious may prevent you from fully engaging in life and pursuing your goals. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Avoidance behaviours: You may avoid situations that trigger your anxiety, which can interfere with daily life and limit opportunities for connection and growth.
  • Excessive worry: Worry may consume you, even over minor issues.
  • Panic attacks: You may have sudden episodes of intense fear or panic, often accompanied by sweating, trembling, chest pain, and a sense of impending doom.
  • Physical symptoms: You may experience physical discomfort, like a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, or gastrointestinal distress.
  • Restlessness and irritability: You may feel on edge or easily agitated and find it difficult to relax.

Overlapping Symptoms and Co-Occuring Conditions

It’s important to note that depression and anxiety often coexist, and many individuals experience symptoms of both conditions simultaneously.

The relationship between these disorders is complex, and they share common symptoms, which include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances

This overlap can make differentiating between the two disorders challenging, leading to potential misdiagnosis or delayed treatment.

Types of Depression and Anxiety

Understanding the types of anxiety and depression can provide further clarity on these conditions. It also helps ensure appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Let’s explore some of the variations.

Types of Depression

  1. Clinical depression: Clinical depression is a diagnosis a doctor gives when a person experiences symptoms of depression that meet specific criteria and last for at least two weeks.
  2. Cyclothymia: This type of depression involves less severe but more frequent mood swings.
  3. Depressive episode: A depressive episode is the name a doctor gives to a period when someone experiences symptoms. The doctor may describe an episode as mild, moderate, or severe.
  4. Manic depression: Manic depression, or bipolar disorder, presents as episodes of extreme highs (mania) and lows (depression).
  5. Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) or dysthymia: PDD may present as constant feelings of sadness and hopelessness that can last for years rather than weeks or months.
  6. Prenatal (antenatal) or postnatal depression: Prenatal depression affects women during pregnancy, while postnatal occurs after childbirth. Postnatal depression can also affect fathers.
  7. Psychotic depression: Psychotic depression, a severe mental health disorder, may involve delusions or hallucinations.
  8. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): SAD is a mental disorder related to changes in seasons, often occurring in the fall and winter months when there are fewer daylight hours.

Types of Anxiety

  1. Agoraphobia: Agoraphobia involves the fear of being in situations where it’s hard to escape or where help may not be available in the event of panic attack symptoms.
  2. Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD): GAD is characterised by excessive and uncontrollable worry about multiple aspects of life, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as muscle tension and insomnia.
  3. Health anxiety: Also known as hypochondriasis, this type of anxiety involves excessive fear or worry about one’s health, often leading to frequent visits to the doctor and concerns about potential illnesses.
  4. Panic disorder: This refers to an intense, sudden feeling of terror that can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness.
  5. Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder involves an extreme fear of social situations that can significantly affect daily life and relationships.
  6. Specific phobias: These are intense fears of objects, situations, or activities that may seem irrational to others but are very real to the individual experiencing them.

Anxiety and Depression Treatment Options

You can treat depression and anxiety through a combination of medication and therapy. There are a few common treatment options.

Medication

A mental health professional may prescribe medication, like antidepressants, to help manage symptoms. It can take up to two weeks or more for medications to start working, so patience is key.

Here are some common types of medication used to treat anxiety and depression:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs are the most prescribed type of antidepressants and work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. They include medications like Lustral and Cipralex.
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Like SSRIs, these medications also increase serotonin levels in the brain and affect another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. Examples include Effexor and Cymbalta.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs): These are older antidepressant medications that work on serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Doctors don’t commonly prescribe TCAs because of their side effects, but they may be effective for some individuals. Examples include Elavil and Pamelor.
  • Benzodiazepines: Doctors prescribe these medications short-term to relieve anxiety symptoms. They work by increasing GABA, a neurotransmitter called GABA that helps calm the brain. Examples include Xanax and Ativan.

A review of antidepressant use found that between 70% and 80% of people with depression can significantly reduce their symptoms with the proper treatment.

However, a medication’s success rate and effectiveness can vary from person to person. Some may respond well to one medication, while others may not see any improvement or experience unpleasant side effects. Work closely with your doctor to find the right medication for you.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves talking to a counsellor or therapist regularly to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in a safe and supportive environment. You can attend therapy sessions individually or in a group setting.

Common types of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT is a talk therapy that helps you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours. A 2020 study found that successful CBT treatment for GAD, social anxiety disorder and PTSD led to low relapse rates, ranging from 0% to 14%
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing triggers or fears in a controlled environment to help you learn how to cope with them. In a 2020 study, 80% to 90% of participants responded positively to in vivo exposure.²
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): This therapy helps improve relationships and communication skills to help you manage symptoms. A 2020 review found that IPT had initial response rates of up to 60%, showing it’s just as effective as antidepressants in acute phases of MDD.³

Holistic Therapies

Aside from medication and talk therapy, there are holistic therapies available. These alternative treatments focus on the mind-body connection and aim to improve overall wellbeing.

  1. Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (DTMS): This non-invasive procedure involves the using magnetic fields to stimulate the brain’s nerve cells and is an effective treatment for depression.
  2. Dual diagnosis: This approach addresses mental health disorders and substance abuse issues, which often occur together.
  3. Ketamine-assisted healing: This emerging therapy involves the use of ketamine to help individuals process and overcome traumatic experiences.
  4. Lifestyle psychiatry: This holistic approach recognises the connection between mental health and lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management.

Looking For a Holistic Approach? We Can Help!

At APN London, we offer several holistic therapy options to help you manage your mental health. Our team of specialists works together to create personalised treatment plans to address the root causes of mental health issues rather than simply masking symptoms with medication.

The therapies we offer include:

A holistic approach is essential for long-term mental health and wellbeing. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, contact us at 0203 984 7699 or complete the online contact form. Let us help guide you towards a healthier and happier life.

References

  1. van Dis EAM, van Veen SC, Hagenaars MA, Batelaan NM, Bockting CLH, van den Heuvel RM, Cuijpers P, Engelhard IM. Long-term Outcomes of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Anxiety-Related Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 Mar 1;77(3):265-273. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.3986. Erratum in: JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 Jul 1;77(7):768. PMID: 31758858; PMCID: PMC6902232. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6902232
  2. Thng CEW, Lim-Ashworth NSJ, Poh BZQ, Lim CG. Recent developments in the intervention of specific phobia among adults: a rapid review. F1000Res. 2020 Mar 19;9:F1000 Faculty Rev-195. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.20082.1. PMID: 32226611; PMCID: PMC7096216. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7096216
  3. Lemmens LHJM, van Bronswijk SC, Peeters FPML, Arntz A, Roefs A, Hollon SD, DeRubeis RJ, Huibers MJH. Interpersonal Psychotherapy Versus Cognitive Therapy for Depression: How They Work, How Long, and for Whom-Key Findings From an RCT. Am J Psychother. 2020 Mar 1;73(1):8-14. doi: 10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.20190030. Epub 2020 Mar 3. PMID: 32122161. https://psychotherapy.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.20190030