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Anxiety and depression: How they’re related and can be treated

Reviewed by Kirsten Davin

A sun-cloud mental health concept.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a mental health disorder that involves excessive and persistent fear and worry. While occasional anxiety is a normal part of life, increased anxiety can make daily life difficult and be hard to control without help. 

The focus of a person’s anxiety can vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder they are experiencing. Common anxiety disorders include:

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder associated with feelings of sadness, loneliness, emptiness, and hopelessness. Someone who struggles with depression may experience extremely low moods and overwhelming sadness that makes it difficult to enjoy life and maintain meaningful relationships. 

Common types of depression include:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
  • Postpartum depression (PPD)
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Psychotic depression

Depression may also be symptomatic of other mood disorders, including bipolar disorder.

Anxiety vs. Depression: How to Tell the Difference

Mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression often occur together. One study1 even suggests that nearly half of those who have either anxiety or depression also meet the criteria for the other. While anxiety and depression can occur simultaneously, having one condition does not necessarily mean that you have the other. 

Anxiety and depression are two completely different disorders despite some overlapping symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping and trouble concentrating. Anxiety typically involves excessive worry and irrational fear, while the main symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness. 

Determining if someone is struggling with anxiety, depression, or both can be a challenge. A mental health professional can help someone distinguish between the two disorders so they can begin the most effective treatment plan.

Symptoms of Anxiety & Depression

The symptoms of anxiety and depression often overlap. Anxiety can be a symptom of depression, while depression might be caused by certain anxiety disorders. 

Some of the most common symptoms of both anxiety and depression include:

  • Irrational and uncontrollable fear or worry
  • Feelings of sadness or  worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities 
  • Panic attacks
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Chronic fatigue 
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty relaxing

Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety involves a variety of emotional and physical symptoms that can make completing daily tasks difficult. The symptoms of an anxiety disorder extend beyond what’s considered normal worry and involve chronic concerns that impact many aspects of someone’s life. 

Common emotional symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Debilitating fears
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Feeling on edge
  • Uncontrollable worry
  • A sense of dread
  • Feelings of panic 

Common physical symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tense muscles 
  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • Difficulty sleeping

Depression Symptoms

Everyone feels sad or down from time to time. However, depression involves prolonged periods of sadness and other negative emotions, often with physical symptoms. 

Common emotional symptoms of depression include:

  • Lost interest in once enjoyable activities 
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • A loss of hope and sense of helplessness
  • Thoughts or talk of suicide (suicidal ideations)
  • Suicide attempt  

Common physical symptoms of depression include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sudden changes in weight or eating habits
  • Changes in sleeping habits 
  • Difficulty focusing and making decisions

Causes of Anxiety & Depression

Many factors can contribute to the development of depression, anxiety, or both. Someone who struggles with both may find themselves in a cycle of one disorder exacerbating the other. For example, someone might feel depressed due to uncontrolled worries associated with anxiety. 

Some common factors that can contribute to the development of both anxiety and depression include:

  • Genetics: Those who are genetically more susceptible to one disorder may be more susceptible to others as well. 
  • Anxiety disorder diagnosis: Anxiety often precedes depression. Left untreated, anxiety disorders can lead to depression. 
  • Environmental factors: Certain life events, especially traumatic ones, can contribute to the development of both anxiety and depression. 

Other mental health disorders: Other mental health concerns, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can increase someone’s risk for depression and anxiety.

Treating Anxiety & Depression

Medication

Several medication options are available for anxiety and depression. Some of the most commonly prescribed medications used to treat anxiety and depression include:

  • Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications can be used to minimize fear, worry, and other symptoms of anxiety. With these symptoms controlled, symptoms of depression might also lessen. 
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These medications aim to improve mood and reduce the negative emotions associated with anxiety and depression. 
  • Mood stabilizers: If antidepressants aren’t effective, mood stabilizers might be prescribed to help manage low mood and negative thoughts.

Psychotherapy

Therapy can also help people manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some of the most common types of therapies include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is commonly used to help someone who has both anxiety and depression. During CBT, clients learn how to gain better control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions to achieve stabilization. 
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy involves examining relationship patterns and self-reflecting in order to understand and address the root cause of anxiety and depression. 
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy involves exposing someone to their fear or phobia in a safe environment. This process can help reduce anxiety that is triggered by specific things, ideas, or situations.

How to Deal With Anxiety and Depression

Simple adjustments to your daily routine can help manage everyday anxiety and depression. Some helpful techniques for dealing with these mental health disorders include:

  • Meditating to promote relaxation and stop racing thoughts
  • Doing deep breathing exercises to calm the mind and body
  • Engaging in physical activity to increase feel-good chemicals
  • Eating nutritious foods
  • Creating and following a morning and evening routine
  • Practicing a healthy sleep schedule

When to Seek Help

Anxiety and depression can make daily life difficult and less fulfilling, especially when the two conditions occur simultaneously. If you are struggling with symptoms of anxiety or depression, a mental health professional can help. Seek help from your primary care physician or search for a therapist near you to begin managing anxiety and depression.

About the author

The editorial team at therapist.com works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.

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