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.
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
Need help now?
If you’re having thoughts of suicide, you can get support right away by calling or texting a crisis helpline.
Trained crisis counselors can offer calm, compassionate support and guidance with managing overwhelming feelings of distress.
For free, confidential support 24/7, 365 days a year:
- Call 800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- Text “HOME” to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
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
- sleep problems
- persistent fatigue
- brain fog
- 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
- increased irritability
- 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
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.
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.
These tips can help with your search for the right therapist.
A therapist can offer more guidance on treatment options for anxiety and depression, but you can also take steps to cope with symptoms on your own.
The strategies below may not always help, but trying different approaches at different times can help you learn more about what works for you. That insight can guide you toward a personalized toolbox of coping strategies, so you always have options to consider when feeling distressed or overwhelmed.
Your therapist can also offer suggestions for new strategies to try, plus offer tips on putting them into practice.
1. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling
Depression and anxiety are medical conditions, not the result of failure or weakness, and they’re absolutely not your fault.
Without a doubt, the unwanted emotions they cause can lead to plenty of distress. But knowing depression and anxiety result from underlying causes and triggers, not anything you did or didn’t do, can promote self-compassion instead of criticism or self-punishment.
2. Do something you have control over
Regaining some control in the moment could help overwhelming feelings feel a little easier to cope with.
You don’t have to take any major action, but accomplishing a short task, such as making your bed, taking a shower, or unloading the dishwasher, can help boost a sense of accomplishment. It could also offer a temporary distraction.
3. Maintain a routine
A daily routine or regular schedule can create structure in your life and promote a sense of control, so it can sometimes help ease feelings of anxiety and depression.
Creating a schedule also offers the opportunity to build space into your day for self-care techniques that could make even more of a difference.
4. Aim to get a good night’s sleep
Not enough sleep can worsen symptoms of both anxiety and depression — but too much sleep can also affect well-being and mood.
Experts recommend most adults get
These tips can help you get the sleep you need:
- Make a habit of going to bed and getting up around the same time each day.
- Turn off electronic devices about 1 hour before bedtime.
- Create a soothing ritual that helps you wind down before bed.
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
5. Try to eat balanced meals
Nourishing your body with whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, can help you get the nutrition you need — and it could also help improve your symptoms.
Caffeine, refined sugars, and processed foods, on the other hand, could potentially worsen symptoms of both anxiety and depression.
You don’t need to cut these out of your diet entirely, but try to balance them with nutrient-dense foods when possible.
6. Try a walk around the block
According to 2019 research, 2.5 hours of exercise each week can help relieve both depression and anxiety. Exercising outside also appeared to offer more benefits than exercising indoors.
Physical activity can help naturally boost your mood by prompting the release of “happy hormones” in your brain.
That said, exercising when living with depression or anxiety can be a challenge. If you’re able to exercise, it can help to start with small activities you can incorporate into your routine, such as:
- a walk around your neighborhood after dinner
- a weekend hike
- walking or biking to work instead of driving
7. Make time for rest and relaxation
Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can affect your energy and motivation, which often only adds to feelings of guilt and worry.
Remember, though: Depression and anxiety are health conditions. If you had the flu, you’d need time to rest, right? Mental health symptoms require recovery time, too.
Instead of fixating on the things you think you should be doing, honor your needs by taking time for activities that soothe and relax you. Maybe this includes things like:
- watching a comforting movie or TV show
- re-reading a favorite book
- cuddling with a pet
- spending time in nature
- cooking or baking
- listening to music or audiobooks
Relaxation techniques could also help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve day-to-day life.
A few examples include:
8. Reach out to loved ones
Strong relationships can go a long way toward improving your outlook and emotional well-being when you live with mental health conditions.
Friends and family can:
- listen with compassion when you need to talk
- provide encouragement and emotional support
- join you in hobbies or activities that offer a positive distraction
- offer rides, grocery runs, and other more tangible forms of support when you have trouble getting things done
Simply knowing you have someone you trust in your life can often help you feel less alone, whether you actually want to talk about your symptoms or not.
Treating co-occurring depression and anxiety can sometimes be more complicated than treating one condition alone. Even when you get treatment for one condition, some symptoms might persist or seem to play off the others.
- You can’t stop worrying about all the things going wrong in your life, or thinking about the ways things could get worse. These fears eventually drain your energy and motivation to keep trying, leaving you feeling low and hopeless.
- Social anxiety keeps you from connecting with people in the ways you’d like. You want to make new friends but generally end up avoiding interactions instead. This leaves you feeling lonely, sad, and guilty, especially when thinking of those missed opportunities, but helpless to do anything differently.
A mental health care professional may recommend combining treatment approaches, since what helps ease depression symptoms may not always relieve anxiety symptoms, and vice versa.
Potential treatments for anxiety and depression include:
Many different types of therapy can help treat anxiety or depression.
For example, interpersonal therapy for depression teaches communication strategies you can use to express yourself more effectively and get your emotional needs met. Exposure therapy, an approach that helps you get more comfortable with feared situations, can treat phobias, a type of anxiety.
Other approaches can treat both conditions:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches techniques to identify, challenge, and reframe unwanted thoughts and behavior patterns.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy teaches mindfulness techniques along with behavioral techniques to help you begin to manage unwanted feelings and stay present through them instead of becoming overwhelmed.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy teaches strategies to accept unwanted or distressing thoughts, stay present, and commit to positive activities that fulfill your personal values.
- Problem-solving therapy. This approach teaches using coping skills to manage mental health symptoms and life experiences that cause stress and other emotional turmoil.
Considering online therapy?
Most online therapy services offer treatment for both anxiety and depression, so if you’re hoping to find virtual mental health support, you’ve got a few options to consider.
Our review of the best online therapy options can help you find a good fit.
Psychotropic medication can also help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. It doesn’t help you address the cause of those symptoms, though, so your doctor or psychiatrist will typically recommend therapy alongside medication.
A psychiatrist or other clinician might prescribe:
- Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). In some cases, these medications may also relieve anxiety symptoms.
- Anti-anxiety medications, including benzodiazepines, buspirone (Buspar), and beta-blockers. These medications can ease anxiety symptoms but may not improve depression symptoms. Benzodiazepines also carry a high risk of dependence, so your prescriber may try other medications first.
- Mood stabilizers. These medications may help treat depression symptoms that don’t respond to antidepressants alone.
While these treatments don’t replace therapy or medication, they could still have benefit as part of your treatment plan.
Alternative approaches might include:
- supplements for depression or anxiety
Learn more about alternative remedies for depression and anxiety.
Anxiety and depression can feel overwhelming, especially when you live with both conditions, or aren’t exactly sure which condition you’re dealing with.
But you don’t have to manage those symptoms alone. Getting support for distress that lasts more than a few days or begins to affect your daily life can go a long way toward helping you find relief.
When it comes to treatment for depression and anxiety, you have plenty of options. A therapist can always offer more guidance with identifying symptoms and possible triggers, and exploring the most helpful approaches to treatment.