What Is The Difference Between Anxiety and Depression?

Picture by: Josh Hulands (2012). WordPress.

**Disclaimer – This article has been thoroughly researched beforehand and could be seen as subjective, therefore, no offense is intentional.**

Anxiety and Depression are often two mental health disorders that are classed together, even though they are different. Individuals are able to have both of these conditions too, which can make living life very difficult. Due to both of these conditions being a part of the brain, it is not so easily treated and people who do not suffer from it, often say things that exacerbate a situation.


Mental health is complicated. While experts have created diagnoses for different types of disorders, the truth is that many of them overlap one another, which can make it difficult to differentiate between the two problems. Anxiety and depression fall into this category. Even though the two share a lot in common, they are separate conditions.

Depression and anxiety is a difficult subject because someone could easily have both or may have developed depression-like symptoms as a result of their anxiety disorder and vice versa. If you display combinations of both anxiety and depression, this could be called a ‘comorbid‘ condition, which is when you suffer from both conditions simultaneously.

Different Types of Depression and Anxiety:

Even though anxiety and depression are two of the main mental health disorders, there are subcategories to each condition (Not all are listed). See subcategories as below:


1) Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – This is the most common and widespread type of anxiety. Characteristically, GAD sufferers worry about everyday things almost all the time. The person with GAD expects the worst to happen, believes this expectation to be true then acts upon this belief by avoiding whatever provokes the anxiety. This is also known as ‘Chronic Worry.’ GAD is also common among individuals with panic and obsessive compulsive disorders.

2) Phobias – This is when you have an intense fear of something that does not really pose a real or immediate danger. A very common fear is the fear of spiders (arachnophobia). The fear far exceeds the actual danger and people who struggle with this type of anxiety disorder often feel embarrassed, knowing their fear is a excessive. Phobias generally bring about ‘disaster thinking,’ which is when you predict the worst case-scenario. However, ‘avoidance’ is the most common way for people to deal with a phobia. 

3) Social Anxiety Disorder – This is an irrational fear of social situations where unfamiliar people or situations are likely to be encountered. Individuals who battle with social anxiety often feel self-conscious and are afraid in social situations. Socialising with new people can evoke enormous anxiety and even thinking about anxiety could evoke it. People with social anxiety fear being judged or remarked on, which can result in acute self-consciousness and the fear of doing something ‘stupid‘ in front of others.

4) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – This is a very destructive disorder characterised by recurring, persistent thoughts, images and impulses. It is commonly identified by repetitive behaviors. ‘Obsessions‘ are thought base. They are a preoccupation with a specific thought (usually negative). ‘Compulsions‘ are behaviour based. There is a ‘need‘ to perform an action in a specific way. As hard as the person tries, it if very difficult to stop them from performing the behaviour. Compulsions can be linked with obsessions too. Example – an obsession could be a fear of germs and the compulsion would be to wash your hands.

5) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This is an anxiety disorder that arises after a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, the death of a loved one, a terrorist event, a bad experience or a violent personal assault. It can arise from both physical or emotional trauma. Example – many solders after World War II were diagnosed with ‘shell-shock,’ a diagnosis which is now referred to as PTSD.

6) Panic Disorder – Panic attacks can be part of a panic disorder and are often a fear reaction to a situation where no real danger exists, except in the person’s mind.

7) Agoraphobia – This is the fear of going out in public. It can involve a fear of open spaces or being in an unfamiliar place. The person with agoraphobia is often housebound and avoids travelling to unfamiliar places as it could result in a debilitating fear.


1) Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – This is also referred to as ‘clinical depression‘ and affects behaviour, mood, appetite and sleep. People who suffer from this can also feel as if life is not worth living. Even though sadness is a natural part of the human experience; individuals who suffer from MDD experience intense and persistent feelings of sadness for extended periods of time. 

2) Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) – PDD is a chronic type of depression in which a persons moods are regularly low, but symptoms are not as severe as major depressive disorder. 

3) Peripartum (Postpartum) Depression – Postpartum depression is a serious but treatable medical condition involved in feelings of extreme sadness, indifference and / or anxiety, as well as changes in sleep and appetite patterns. It carries risks for both the mother and child. ‘Peripartum‘ refers to depression occurring during pregnancy or after childbirth. 

4) Psychotic Depression – Psychotic depression stems from major depressive disorder, but a person with psychotic depression often displays mood-congruent psychotic features or mood in-congruent psychotic features. This conditions causes people to see, hear or believe things that are not real, which can result in psychosis.

5) Premenstrual Dysphoric Depression (PMDD) –  This is a condition in which a woman has severe depression symptoms, irritability, and tension before menstruation. 

6) ‘Situational‘ Depression – This occurs when you have not yet adapted to changes brought about by overwhelming situations and are incorporated into your overall life experiences.

7) Atypical Depression – This is a depression with atypical features, which means that your depressed mood can brighten in response to positive events. Despite its name, atypical depression is not uncommon. It can affect how someone thinks, feels and behaves, and can lead to both emotional and physical problems. You could have problems wit day-to-day activities or even feel that life is not worth living.

8) Bipolar Disorder – This is also known as ‘Manic-depressive illness,’ which is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy levels and activity levels. There are three basic types of bipolar disorder; ‘Bipolar I Disorder‘ – defined by manic episodes that last at least 10 days, ‘Bipolar II Disorder‘ – defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, and ‘Cyclothymic Disorder‘ – defined by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years.

What is the Difference Between Anxiety and Depression?

The easiest way to understand the difference between these two disorders is with the primary symptoms:

Anxiety – Those with anxiety often find themselves feeling like something bad might happen and they are worried that it will. Primary symptoms include – apprehension over what is about to happen and what could happen in the future, thoughts of worry or the belief that something will go wrong, and feeling like you need to run away from things that could cause further anxiety.

Depression – Those with depression often assume a bad future and do not expect anything else or think that there is anything worth preventing. Primary symptoms include – feelings of sadness about the future (hopelessness), the lack of belief that positive things will happen, and little worry, but instead a certainty of future negative emotions, including suicidal thoughts.

(Depression can occur after someone experiences anxiety, because someone that deals with severe anxiety may end up feeling emotionally drained once their anxiety attack is over. This is why the two conditions can be difficult to tell apart). 

 Picture by: Embogama (2016). Pediaa.

Compared to anxiety, depression actually tends to have fewer physical symptoms, but the mental symptoms can be so dangerous (suicidal thoughts) and the lack of energy so pronounced that many individuals with depression deal with immense struggles on a daily basis, that can rival the symptoms of anxiety.

Anxiety physical symptoms often include:

Fight or flight response systems (shaking, sweating or feeling the need to move), physical symptoms that resemble health disorders (especially if accompanied by health worries), fast heart rate, bowel issues, hyperventilation and other energy causing symptoms.

Both depression and anxiety can leave you feeling drained and fatigued, but in the case of anxiety, it tends to occur after intense anxiety attacks or general anxiety. On the other hand with depression, it tends to be more constant, without necessarily pulling any triggers.

Similarities Between Anxiety and Depression:

One of the many reasons that these two are so similar is because both conditions cause changes in neurotransmitter functions, especially serotonin. Low serotonin levels perform a role in these two disorders. Dopamine and epinephrine perform a role in both as well. 

Due to these shared neurotransmitters, they can also share similar symptoms, and the two can contribute to the development of one another. The most common is anxiety causing depression. Poor coping combined with intense anxiety symptoms can lead to a feeling of hopelessness that creates depressive-like symptoms, and when left unattended, it is possible that the depression becomes more severe.

It is important to note that both anxiety and depression can feel natural (because of the neurotransmitters involved), and both often do not receive adequate treatment. Someone who suffers from depression genuinely believes the emotions they feel are ‘true,’ whereas someone with anxiety are a bit more prone to realising that they have a problem.

 Picture by: Cadabams Hospital (2017). WordPress.

Profiles of Individuals Who Suffer With Mental Health Conditions (Anxiety / Depression being the main or side effect):

Rebecca Chapman,

EE Sales Assistant,

Borderline Personality Disorder:

“Living with depression is hard, especially when you are working, as most employers do not count depression as sickness. I work for EE and it is hard to be upbeat and happy when you are having a really bad day with Depression. However it is nice when you are feeling down and you still manage to do the job well.” 

Kerrie-Ann Ashford,

Catering Assistant and Degree Student,

Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder:

“Living with depression and anxiety is like being in a game of tug of war, you get pulled to either side. Sometimes you battle with one and other times you battle with both. Battling with both at the same time is the worst, you miss work or university but worry and feel guilty about missing it. You want to get out of bed and socialise but you have no energy to.”


Masters Degree Student,

Depression (not diagnosed):

“It is being fired up and ready to take on the world and then not being able to leave your bed, it is being hungry but not being able to cook and so you nibble or order in, it is loving the people around you but pushing them away because you do not feel you are worthy. It is soul destroying but it is who I am. With help from counselling and a good support network; most days I am fine. In fact some days I am great and you cannot tell, it gets better when I ask for help and look after myself but I have to think about it and work at it everyday.”


Further Education Lecturer,

Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder:

“I always considered myself a capable person who other people relied on. I prided myself on being the one that supported others. The hardest thing was admitting to myself that I no longer was that person and had nothing spare to give because it was taking everything I had to hold myself together. I was a shadow and did not recognise myself anymore. I never want to get to that point again but will always have a nagging doubt that I am not strong anymore and so will always risk falling again. If it was anxiety in the classic sense of just a form of paranoia I am not sure, but I hated how it made me act as I felt degraded and unworthy. Again, when I look back, I wonder who I was at that point in my life and wonder how I kept so much of it hidden.”

Liam Robinson,

Team Leader,

Social Anxiety:

“Anxiety, how would I describe it? Firstly, we need to talk about what triggers anxiety, it can be different for each person. Personally, mine is mostly little things such as phone calls, (embarrassingly) talking to girls and driving somewhere new etc. However, my main trigger is / has always been, social interactions, especially with people I do not know (small talk is awkward). For someone else it can literally be anything, triggers come in all sorts of situations in everyday life, including the abnormal. Now, with that in mind, how does it feel having to live and deal with these issues on a daily basis. Honestly, it can be tough (really tough sometimes).

There is an expression used by marathon runners “you have hit the wall,” applies to when they just cannot find the strength to carry on. Okay, now imagine being behind that wall every time you have to face these little (or big) obstacles in your life, it seems almost impossible to work around. What may seem like trivial everyday things to most people, are next to impossible to overcome, as irrational as it may seem. So, you are behind that wall, you are unsure of what to do next, so you shy away from that activity, who needs to talk on the phone right? Just text, you say, it is easier. You know it is no big deal in your mind, but you just cannot deal with it, it becomes a fear, it scares you now, you start to panic, all leading to an even bigger phobia of what at first seemed like, almost like a choice, per say.

There are several ways to combat this, or try to at least. Don’t be afraid to seek help, as scary as it can be however, people are out there and they will listen. Always remember, you are not alone. I have recently confided in a new friend, it turns out we both have different struggles we are dealing with. Talking with each other about these struggles has opened up opportunities to perhaps help one another. Another suggestion, which I personally have tried to some extent, is exposure therapy.”

(Exposure therapy – this is a psychological treatment that was developed to help people confront their fears. When people are fearful of something, they commit to avoidance patterns. Although this avoidance might help reduce feelings of fear in the short-term, over the long-term it can make the fear become even worse. In such situations, a therapist or psychologist may recommend ‘exposure therapy’ in order to help break the pattern of avoidance and fear).


Anxiety and depression are two separate conditions that are easy to get confused. Both conditions have symptoms that overlap into one another and both have low serotonin levels caused by neurotransmitters. However, these two conditions are different and there are a variety of other disorders that fall under them.

Thank you for reading.

What are your thoughts?


I am a freelance writer and aspiring author. My passion lies within UK adult education, stigmatised topics and mental health, however, I aim to keep an open mind.

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