The Difference Between Depression And Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are sometimes confused. While they are different medical conditions, they share similarities. The symptoms, causes and treatments of depression and anxiety can overlap. It’s also not unusual for people to suffer from both depression and anxiety.
In this post we look at the difference between depression and anxiety – and the similarities.
difference between depression and anxiety

How Depression and Anxiety Feel

When we have depression, everything can feel very muted and dull. We often feel very low. Everything can feel very slowed down, including our thoughts and reactions to things.

When we have anxiety, everything can feel very heightened. We often feel very jittery and on edge. Our thoughts can speed up and it can feel as though our reactions to everything can feel very extreme.

While these initial descriptions seem distinct, depression and anxiety do share some symptoms. Issues like irritability, nervousness, noise sensitivity arise with both conditions. Problems with concentration, eating and sleep  can come with both depression and anxiety.
While these symptoms can feel alike, they may present themselves for different reasons.  With noise sensitivity, someone with depression might need absolute quiet. They might find that even the tiniest sounds feel incredibly loud. With anxiety, it could be that our thoughts are already so loud that adding in another noise can tip us over the edge.

When Depression and Anxiety Overlap

Sometimes the symptoms of depression and anxiety can feed into each other.

As an example: depression can cause low mood and low energy, which makes it hard to leave the house. When do eventually come to leave the house, we feel really anxious and panicky. We might worry about not having the energy to complete our trip, or about seeing someone we know and having an awkward conversation. These anxieties might prevent us from going out out, further contributing to our low mood and feelings of isolation.

In cases like this, it’s hard to know whether our symptoms are depression or anxiety based, because they are so interlinked.

What Causes Depression and Anxiety

There isn’t a single, straightforward cause for either depression or anxiety. Life events can trigger both. Stress, low self-esteem, and long-term physical health conditions can play a part. Our genes can also contribute to our likelihood of developing either condition.
There’s still a lot of research to do about the biology of depression and anxiety. However it’s thought that imbalances in our brain chemicals can contribute to both.
Evidence suggests that low levels of serotonin and dopamine can contribute to depression. Norepinephrine can also play a part in depression, though research varies. There’s some evidence that low levels of norepinephrine contribute to depression. But some depressed people show hyperactivity within the neurons producing norepinephrine.
It’s thought that an imbalance of serotonin and norepinephrine causes anxiety. Anxious people also show overactivity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour.

Treatment for Depression and Anxiety

Treatments for depression and anxiety vary, depending on our symptoms and circumstances. Our location can also be a factor. However medication and talking therapies are commonly offered for both.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is widely used for both anxiety and depression. Mindfulness can also help both conditions.
Some medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are prescribed for both anxiety and depression.
Other medications, such as pregabalin or benzodiazapines are only used for anxiety. Some other antidepressants are only prescribed for depression.

Side-effects of medication

Sometimes medications have side effects that mirror symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Many common anti-depressants can have side effects including feeling agitated, shaky or anxious. This can mirror symptoms of anxiety.
Pregabalin is a common anxiety medication. It can have side effects including drowsiness, weight gain and headaches. These can contribute to low mood and mirror some symptoms of depression.

Getting help

Whether we suffer from depression or anxiety – or both – help is available to us.  As a first port of call, we can talk to our GP about how we’re feeling. We can also talk to people with similar issues.

Depression and anxiety are both serious conditions. We don’t need to struggle alone. We deserve help, whatever difficulties we’re facing.

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