The Differences Between Anxiety and Depression

There are several differences between anxiety and depression. Keep reading to discover what distinguishes them as well as some common traits.
The Differences Between Anxiety and Depression

Last update: 27 January, 2023

In routine conversations, the terms “being depressed” or “being anxious” are used relatively frequently. Indeed, most people develop experiences of this kind. When they do so on a permanent basis, with some regularity, or these symptoms interfere with daily life, they may be dealing with a disorder. There are several differences between anxiety and depression, regardless of the features they have in common.

For the purposes of this analysis, we’ve considered both conditions in their category of emotional or mood disorders. Developing some signs of anxiety isn’t the same as suffering from an anxiety disorder, and the same goes for depression. So, let’s start by defining and characterizing what anxiety and depression are.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety disorders list a series of reactions triggered by pathological anxiety due to an overestimation of the perceived threat or a misappraisal of the danger of a given situation.

This leads to a series of excessive and inappropriate reactions toward what’s classified as the source of anxiety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 3.6% of the world’s population lives permanently with an anxiety disorder.

The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) distinguish various types of anxiety disorders. Based on both sources, the following are recognized:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Panic disorder with agoraphobia
  • Agoraphobia
  • Social phobia (social anxiety)
  • Specific phobia
  • Selective mutism
  • Separation anxiety

There’s also drug-induced anxiety disorder, which can be triggered by taking illegal drugs or medicines, or by their withdrawal.

In general, and as experts warn, anxiety disorders are more common in women than in men and show high comorbidity among them.

Anxiety typically manifests during childhood or adolescence and can persist into adulthood. Stressful events, childhood adversity, trauma, and genetic predisposition mediate its appearance.

Restlessness, panic, trouble falling asleep, pathological distress, dry mouth, palpitations, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, tense muscles, and sweating are some of its symptoms.

What is depression?

The differences between anxiety and depression include the feeling of hopelessness.
Hopelessness and sadness are the fundamental pillars around which the symptoms of depression appear.

Depression refers to a series of disorders whose common characteristic is persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest.

In the same way, a series of somatic and cognitive changes are manifested that get in the way of the individual’s ability to function (at all levels, interpersonal, professional, personal, and others). The DSM-V distinguishes between the following types:

  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Depressive disorder due to another medical condition

As experts point out, most patients develop depression around the age of 20, with the second most common peak occurring in the 50s. It’s more common in women than in men, and, based on some estimates, its prevalence along with depressive symptoms is 27.0% worldwide.

The disorder is characterized by a high prevalence rate after its recovery, which can reach up to 75% during the following 10 years. Chronic stress, adverse life events, genetic predisposition, and trauma are some of its catalysts.

Depression isn’t just feeling sad, as it has a very complex biochemical basis that’s studied to this day.

Regarding its symptoms, the alteration of sleep patterns, the reduction of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt, the deterioration of concentration and attention, changes in appetite and weight patterns, thoughts of worthlessness, psychomotor disorders, and suicidal thoughts are typical.

What are the differences between anxiety and depression?

The differences between anxiety and depression are sometimes small.
Because depression and anxiety disorders can be confused, it’s important to get a diagnosis from a mental health professional.

Experts emphasize that the differences between anxiety and depression, from the point of view of clinical diagnosis, start on the basis of their symptoms.

Indeed, the signs that manifest in the different disorders that make up the spectrum of both diseases are distinctive when a thorough evaluation is made. Although, of course, there are symptoms in common, the truth is that there are substantial differences.

Simplifying the characteristics of both, we can state that depressive disorders revolve around persistent feelings of sadness. In contrast, anxiety disorders do the same around persistent feelings of distress. It’s in the contrast between sadness/anguish that we find the main differences between anxiety and depression.

How are anxiety and depression similar?

Many of the symptoms of the disorders overlap. For example, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, sleep disturbances, psychomotor disturbances, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Despite this, the central axis on which these signs revolve is different (sadness and anguish).

At the same time, and as researchers point out, in both disorders there’s also a reduction in psychological well-being, an alteration in interpersonal relationships, and work and family problems, among many other things. The actual impact depends largely on the intensity with which the symptoms present, the type of disorder itself, and the context.

But this isn’t all. As evidence indicates, more than 70% of people with depressive disorders manifest symptoms of anxiety, and between 40% and 70% of them simultaneously meet the criteria for the formal diagnosis of at least one type of anxiety disorder. Thus, these are conditions with a high percentage of comorbidity, which may also be shared with other serious mental disorders.

To summarize, the differences between anxiety and depression are made based on their clinical manifestation, the course of evolution of the disorder, the context, and the profile of each affected person. They’re different conditions, without this preventing them from manifesting at the same time. Both can be treated, and for a number of those affected, there’s a high percentage of recidivism.

  • Hohls JK, König HH, Quirke E, Hajek A. Anxiety, Depression and Quality of Life-A Systematic Review of Evidence from Longitudinal Observational Studies. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 16;18(22):12022.
  • Park LT, Zarate CA Jr. Depression in the Primary Care Setting. N Engl J Med. 2019 Feb 7;380(6):559-568.
  • Strawbridge R, Young AH, Cleare AJ. Biomarkers for depression: recent insights, current challenges and future prospects. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2017 May 10;13:1245-1262.
  • Thibaut F. Anxiety disorders: a review of current literature. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017 Jun;19(2):87-88.
  • Wang J, Wu X, Lai W, Long E, Zhang X, Li W, Zhu Y, Chen C, Zhong X, Liu Z, Wang D, Lin H. Prevalence of depression and depressive symptoms among outpatients: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2017 Aug 23;7(8):e017173.
  • Wu Z, Fang Y. Comorbidity of depressive and anxiety disorders: challenges in diagnosis and assessment. Shanghai Arch Psychiatry. 2014 Aug;26(4):227-31.
  • Wuthrich VM, Johnco CJ, Wetherell JL. Differences in anxiety and depression symptoms: comparison between older and younger clinical samples. Int Psychogeriatr. 2015 Sep;27(9):1523-32.

Este texto se ofrece únicamente con propósitos informativos y no reemplaza la consulta con un profesional. Ante dudas, consulta a tu especialista.