Depression vs. Anxiety – Similarities and Differences

At first glance, anxiety and depression don’t seem to have much in common. After all, depression causes low moods, while anxiety creates a sense of fear and unease. But while they look like polar opposites, they share numerous symptoms.

And that’s not where the relationship between the two ends.

It’s estimated that around 60 percent of people with anxiety also have depression and vice versa. Researchers are still figuring out why this happens, but it could be because depression causes anxious thoughts, while anxiety makes people feel down in the dumps.

This all sounds confusing, but we’re going to break it down for you. First, learn about the shared symptoms, along with what makes each condition unique. Then, find out how to get help if you think you have anxiety, depression, or both.

Depressed Person Sitting on the Ground

Shared Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are both internalizing disorders, so it makes sense that they share some symptoms. If you suffer from either, you can experience:

  • Sleep issues
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  •  Digestive issues
  • Appetite changes
  • Unexplained aches and pains

That’s a basic overview, but let’s dig a little deeper so you’ll know what to expect if you have one of these mental health conditions.

Sleep Issues

If you have trouble sleeping at night, you might suffer from anxiety or depression. There’s still a debate over which comes first – sleep problems or the mental health condition. But regardless of which one takes the lead, the symptoms can be brutal.

Anxiety and depression both cause unpleasant thoughts that can seem never-ending, making it hard to fall asleep. If you do manage to drift off, those thoughts follow you, impacting your REM cycle. This causes vivid, often unpleasant dreams that disrupt sleep.

Depression also causes some unique sleep problems.

You can fall and stay asleep while depressed, only to still feel tired the next morning because you spend less time in the slow-wave (deep) sleep cycle. Since this is where you get your restorative sleep, it’s hard to have much get-up-and-go if it’s cut short.

On top of that, you might find yourself sleeping too much if you’re depressed. Sleep is a common coping mechanism, but it creates problems of its own. Too much sleep can increase your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and other issues, so you want to avoid it.

Low Energy Levels

If you’re not getting much sleep, you expect your energy levels to dip. Still, that’s just one reason that anxiety and depression can make you feel like you’re running on fumes every day.

First, anxiety causes your body to produce more cortisol, which makes you feel revved up. While that creates an energy boost, the cortisol level will eventually crash. Unfortunately, your extra energy will go away with it.

But what if your anxiety never goes away?

If the thoughts keep coming, you’ll end up feeling wired and depleted at the same time. It’s almost like drinking a lot of coffee after you’ve been up for 24 hours. As you can imagine, that’s not a good feeling.

If you’re depressed, you can also blame hormone levels for your lack of energy. In this case, your body produces less serotonin and dopamine, causing your energy to take a hit. Fortunately, you can overcome this problem through treatment.

Trouble Concentrating

Are you having some trouble getting to the end of this article? Your trouble concentrating might be a sign of anxiety or depression.

So, anxiety creates stress hormones that make your body go into “fight or flight” mode. This activates the primitive part of your brain so you can survive. Because your body is ready to handle life or death situations, reading an article or finishing a project at work will be harder than normal.

On the other hand, depression slows everything down, including your brain’s processing speed. That makes it difficult to recall memories and concentrate on tasks. Add in the fact that you’re feeling down, and it’s easy to see why concentration doesn’t come easy.


Anxiety and depression make you feel overwhelmed and tired, leading to irritability. That overwhelming feeling can overtake your mind and body, so it’s easy to snap at things that normally wouldn’t bother you at all.

But that’s not the only reason you’ll feel irritable.

The stress and fear that comes with anxiety can cause you to get irritated at the smallest things. You’re in a heightened state of fear, and you don’t have time to play nice when your body is in “fight or flight” mode.

While anxiety makes you keyed up, depression creates a negative worldview. As long as you see the world through a negative lens, it’s hard to be positive. This can cause you to get angry, especially when people tell you to “buck up” or “get over it.”

We also want to mention that you can’t just “get over it” if you have anxiety or depression. Instead, treatment is the key to recovery.

Digestive Issues

Have you noticed how your stomach drops when you’re scared, and you get butterflies when you fall in love? That happens because your digestive tract is tuned into your emotions. Since it keeps tabs on what’s going on in your brain, you’ll experience some digestive issues if you have anxiety or depression.

If you have either or both, you might experience:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Bloating
  • Indigestion

If you have anxiety, your digestive issues can be traced to the stress and fear you experience. On the flip side, low serotonin levels impact your gut if you have depression.

Appetite Changes

If your relationship with food has changed, it could come down to depression or anxiety. Both cause people to eat less or more than normal, but for different reasons.

The cortisol boost is the likely culprit behind your appetite change if you have anxiety. While surging cortisol levels cause most people to lose their appetites, some report an increase in hunger. If you’re a stress eater, you likely chow down on foods with lots of salt, sugar, or fat.

Depression is a bit different, though.

You might feel too sad and lack the energy to enjoy a meal. But on the other hand, your depression could cause you to overeat to soothe your emotions.

Aches and Pains

Aches and pains are normal after an injury. Sometimes, though, they can pop up without any explanation, often due to anxiety or depression.

Anxiety makes your body tense up, causing painful muscles and joints. As for depression, it can make pain feel more intense, so something that doesn’t normally bother you might be unbearable. It’s also believed that low serotonin levels from depression can cause achy, painful sensations.

Unique Depression Symptoms

While depression shares some symptoms with anxiety, it also has some unique traits. You might be depressed if you’re experiencing any of the following:

  • Hopeless, sad, or empty feeling
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Unique Anxiety Symptoms

Just like depression, anxiety creates some unique symptoms. You might have anxiety if your symptoms include:

  • Panic and fear
  • Racing thoughts
  • Dizziness and sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Fast and shallow breathing

Seeking Help for Anxiety and Depression

If you have anxiety, depression, or both, you’re dealing with life-altering symptoms. Fortunately, help is available. Browse online therapy providers, select one, and schedule your appointment. Then, you can start to recover from your symptoms and get your life back on track.