Many of us will feel anxious or sad from time to time in our daily life. Things like starting a new job, a loss of a loved one, a medical condition or other stressful events in our lives can have a significant impact on our mental state, but ongoing feelings of anxiety and depression can be a sign of an underlying mental health disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or depressive disorder.
Anxiety and depression are different conditions, but it isn’t uncommon for them to occur together. People with depression often experience symptoms similar to people experiencing anxiety and vice versa.
As such, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. We break down the differences between anxiety and depression – both the mental markers and physical symptoms – how to tell if you have both and what treatment options are available.
Symptoms of anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are two different mental conditions with varying mental and physical symptoms.
Someone living with an anxiety has a constant feeling of fear, tension and worry about something with an uncertain outcome. It can cause significant problems in all areas of life, including school, work and social situations (social anxiety disorder).
Mental markers of anxiety may include:
- Worry about the immediate or long-term future
- Thinking about a problem over and over again and unable to stop
- Wanting to escape a situation
- Thinking about death due to the perceived risk of certain dangers or outcomes
Physical signs of anxiety may include:
- Difficulty concentrating due to agitation or racing thoughts
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep due to thoughts, which result in feeling tired
- Gastrointestinal distress, such as constipation or diarrhea
- Increased heart rate, trembling, sweating and muscle tension
The feelings of depression are more than just feeling sad. Those with depression may not worry about what might happen in the future but may feel they already know, and they believe it will be bad. They can’t imagine a different scenario or a way of preventing the negative outcome.
Mental markers may include:
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness and worthlessness
- Thinking about death or suicide due to a persistent belief that life isn’t worth living or they are just a burden to others
Physical symptoms of depression may include:
- Changes in appetite – weight loss or weight gain unrelated to diet
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities they once enjoyed
- Suffer from headaches, back pain and aching muscles
How to tell if you have anxiety, depression or both
As you can see from the symptom descriptions, there is some cross-over between the two. In mental health, one of the more common comorbidities is that of depression and anxiety. This means that more than one disease or condition can be present in the same person at the same time.
“Anxiety and depression can occur sequentially, one after another, or they can co-occur,” said Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. “This is because the same neurotransmitters, including serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine, are involved in both.”
To meet the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder or a major depressive, however, symptoms must be persistent and impairing.
“For anxiety symptoms, these must persist for several months, and for depression a couple weeks,” Dr. Fox said.
To assess the severity of your symptoms, Dr. Fox suggests the following:
- Ask a trusted family member or friend if they have noticed changes in your behavior.
- Recognize the severity of your symptoms: mild, moderate or severe.
- Track your thoughts and symptoms. How often are you getting sick? How often are you having racing thoughts? How often are you having difficulty getting out of bed?
Treatment for anxiety and depression
The good news is that if you believe you are suffering from anxiety or depression or a combination of both, these mental health conditions are incredibly treatable.
“For anxiety, treatment is used to minimize avoidant behaviors and help you change your thoughts of feared consequences,” Dr. Fox said. “For depression, the goal is to help you feel positive emotion and increased energy to have a happier outlook and disposition.”
There is no one plan that works best for all patients, but oftentimes treatment is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a mental health professional and medication, such as SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs and other anti-anxiety medications depending on your symptoms. Long-term, combined treatments are typically recommended for those with co-occurring anxiety and depression.
“Your doctor will look at what’s necessary to get you at a functioning level with minimal or no symptoms,” Dr. Fox said. “A good therapist can help you unravel your symptoms and help you develop the skills to manage and overcome your anxiety and depression.”
Additional tips for managing depression and anxiety symptoms
In addition to therapy and medication, there are many other ways to help you live your life without depression or anxiety controlling you. Here are a few tips to help you manage your symptoms:
- Eat right, sleep right and exercise daily. There is evidence that even walking a mile a day can be helpful.
- Avoid things that may worsen the condition, especially excessive alcohol and drug use. While in the short-term these things may seem to help, they can wreak havoc on your brain chemistry and can worsen depression and anxiety.
- Stay connect with others. Feeling isolated and disconnected can worsen depression.
- Find a sense of purpose by providing for others. This can be difficult to achieve when living with depression and anxiety. By connecting and helping others — try volunteering — you may begin to feel a sense of purpose.
- Challenge your thinking. Depression and anxiety can cause distorted thinking to the point where you find yourself focusing only on the bad things. Challenge yourself to find good things in every situation, rather than fixating on the negatives.
- Connect to your higher power. If spirituality or religion is important to you, focus on your spiritual health through whatever means works for you.
The bottom line
If you are suffering from anxiety or depression or another mental health disorder, you aren’t alone. Get the help you need through the most difficult times.
To find a licensed behavioral health specialist near you, visit the Banner Behavioral Health website at bannerhealth.com or call the Banner Appointment Line at 800-254-4357.