Medically reviewed by Danielle Wade, LCSW — By Kimberly Holland and Crystal Raypole — Updated on January 19, 2022
Depression and anxiety might seem pretty distinct, for the most part.
The main symptom of depression is typically a lingering low, sad, or hopeless mood, while anxiety mainly involves overwhelming feelings of worry, nervousness, and fear.
But these conditions do actually share several key signs. Anxiety, for example, often involves irritability — and some people with depression may feel more irritable than sad.
Since these conditions can show up differently from person to person, you may not always know exactly what your symptoms mean.
It’s also possible to have both depression and anxiety at the same time: A worldwide survey from 2015 found that 41.6 percent of people reported having both major depression and an anxiety disorder during the same 12-month period.
One important thing depression and anxiety have in common? Both can improve with support from a mental health professional.
Below, we’ll break down the main symptoms and signs of each condition, plus offer some strategies for coping with symptoms and tips to find support.
What are the symptoms of each condition?
Several key differences can help distinguish between symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It’s not at all unusual to feel sad, low, or hopeless from time to time, especially during difficult or painful life situations.
But feelings of sadness and emptiness that last for longer than 2 weeks can suggest depression, especially when positive events or changes in your environment don’t seem to have any impact on your mood.
Along with a low, sad, or empty mood, depression can also involve the following symptoms:
loss of interest or enjoyment in your usual activities and hobbies
a sense of hopelessness or pessimism
anger, irritability, and restlessness
a lack of energy or a sense of feeling slowed down
chronic fatigue or sleep problems
changes in appetite and weight
difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering information
unexplained aches and pains or gastrointestinal concerns
feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
thoughts of suicide, death, or dying
Most people experience some anxiety — feelings of fear, nervousness, and worry — from time to time. Anxiety is part of how you respond to stress, after all, so you might experience some anxiety:
before major life events
when making important decisions
when trying something new
But if you experience persistent or extreme anxiety on most days for several months, you could have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or another anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders go beyond worry about unexpected or challenging life circumstances. Your fears might center around more everyday concerns, such as your health, performance at school and work, or relationships. These worries can prompt lingering thoughts and fears that eventually begin to affect daily life.
The main signs of ongoing anxiety include:
difficulty managing fear and worry
irritability, physical restlessness, or a sense of being on edge
a sense of dread, doom, or panic
physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea
While it’s important to remember not everyone with depression, anxiety, or both conditions will experience the same set of symptoms, the two conditions commonly involve several of the same symptoms.
Symptoms you could experience with either condition include:
changes in sleep patterns
changes in energy level
trouble with concentration, focus, and memory
aches and pains or stomach issues that have no clear cause
Rumination can also happen with both conditions. In basic terms, rumination refers to a persistent loop of dark, sad, or other negative thoughts. You may not want these thoughts, but you still can’t seem to stop thinking them.
With anxiety, you might find yourself:
stuck in a cycle where you explore, over and over, all the possible ways a situation could go wrong
unable to stop thinking about all the things worrying you, even when you know you can’t do anything about them
With depression, you might find yourself:
fixating on guilt about not having energy to spend time with friends
going over and over past events and blaming yourself for things you have no control over, including feelings of depression
Questions to ask yourself
Again, it’s very common to feel low or sad, stressed or anxious, or any combination of the above, on occasion.
All the same, you’re the best person to recognize what’s typical for you. If you start to experience new, uncomfortable feelings, changes in your energy and motivation, or any other unusual symptoms, it never hurts to connect with a mental health professional for more guidance.
You might wonder whether an online self-test for anxiety or depression could offer more insight about the changes you’ve noticed. Some people do find these a helpful place to start — but a more personalized route might involve asking yourself a few questions:
Do I spend a lot more time worrying than I have in the past?
Do I feel sad, empty, or hopeless often?
Have I lost interest in the things I used to enjoy?
Have I started to avoid spending time with friends and loved ones?
Do I worry about things I can’t control to the point where I have a hard time thinking about anything else?
Do I become irritable or annoyed more quickly than I have in the past?
Do I often feel restless, on edge, or unable to relax?
Do I cycle through dark, unwanted, or fearful thoughts I can’t seem to stop?
Is it difficult to fall asleep, get enough sleep, or wake up on time most days?
Have I noticed unexplained pain, tension, or other physical symptoms?
Do these changes affect my daily life or relationships?
If you answered “yes” to most of the questions above, it may be time to reach out to a therapist.
It’s always a good idea to get professional support for symptoms that:
last longer than a week or so
create problems in your daily life or personal relationships
begin to affect your physical health
In therapy, you can get support with exploring the symptoms you’ve noticed and addressing them, whether they relate to depression, anxiety, or another concern entirely.
Getting a diagnosis
If you’re not feeling quite like yourself, a good next step involves reaching out to a mental health professional or other clinician who treats anxiety and depression.
Your regular clinician, if you have one, can offer a referral to a therapist. Depending on your symptoms, they might also recommend blood, urine, and other lab testing to help rule out underlying medical concerns. Certain health conditions, including thyroid conditions, can involve depression and other changes in mood.
No single test can diagnose depression or anxiety. Instead, your therapist will generally start by asking questions about your symptoms, including how long you’ve had them and how they affect your daily life, to get more insight on what you’re experiencing.
Keep in mind an open and honest description of your mood can help them better understand how you’re feeling, which can lead them to the correct diagnosis.
A good therapist won’t judge you or say you shouldn’t feel a certain way. They’ll listen with compassion and offer support with identifying and addressing your symptoms.
According to criteria in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5),” diagnosis requires:
For depression: You experience at least 5 of the 9 main symptoms of depression most days, for at least 2 weeks.
For anxiety: You experience excessive, uncontrollable worry, along with 3 additional anxiety symptoms most days, for at least 6 months.
If you meet criteria for both conditions, a mental health professional will typically diagnose both.
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