Anxiety And Depression … What’s the Difference?

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Anxiety and depression are very common mental health disorders in the United States. The terms are often used interchangeably and sometimes the symptoms appear to be similar. About half of individuals diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety. Getting a proper analysis of the disorder can be extremely important when diagnosing and treating these two different conditions. So, what really determines whether a person feels anxious, depressed, or both?

What is Depression?

Approximately 17.3 million adults suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. Depression can feel like a continual sense of sadness and restlessness. It can lead to a range of physical and behavioral symptoms. It can cause heavy impairment in a person’s life if left untreated. Many people seek help from a licensed counselor when depression begins to interfere with completing simple tasks. There are specific criteria in order to be diagnosed with depression. In order to be clinically diagnosed, a person must experience 5 or more of these symptoms within a two-week period:

  • depressed mood
  • loss of interest/pleasure in enjoyable activities
  • weight loss/weight gain
  • insomnia/hypersomnia
  • psychomotor agitation
  • fatigue
  • feelings of worthlessness/guilt
  • difficulty concentrating
  • suicidal thoughts or behaviors

What is Anxiety? Anxiety And Depression

Anxiety disorders are more prevalent than depressive disorders, affecting 40 million adults in the United States. Like depression, anxiety can feel like a sense of restlessness, fatigue, and leave a person with the inability to focus. Anxiety can also interfere with daily activities. Different types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A licensed counselor may diagnose you with an anxiety disorder when you meet any of the following criteria almost daily for more than six months:

  • excessive worry
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • sleep disturbances
  • muscle tension
  • rapid heart rate
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • chest pain

Anxiety and the Brain

Medical professionals believe that anxiety starts in the amygdala of your brain, which is the part that controls emotional responses – like pleasure and fear. When a person feels anxious or stressed, signals from the brain are sent to other parts of the body which is commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” response. When the body responds, stress hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol are released. Too much of this response can become unhealthy for the body. During the process, a person may become dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, and possibly faint.

Depression and the Brain

Aside from anxiety, there are actually three parts of the brain that can play a role in depressive symptoms – the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is located at the front of the brain. It controls emotions, decision making, and memory forming. The hippocampus is near the center of the brain and it is responsible for cortisol production. High levels of cortisol are believed to play a role in the deterioration of all of these major parts of the brain. As a result, these structures physically shrinking can put a person at a higher risk of being diagnosed with depression.

Anxiety and the Body

Anxiety and depression seem extremely similar when you look at the symptoms. But anxiety and depression have different influences on different parts of your body. In the same way that they affect your cognitive thinking, they can affect your physical health.

Hyperventilation is a common anxiety symptom. When this happens, breathing may become shallow or rapid. This can make a person feel like they are not getting enough oxygen and begin gasping for air.

Anxiety can affect changes in blood circulation and a person’s heart rate throughout their body. An increased heart rate can cause blood vessels to narrow, affecting a person’s body temperature and giving off sensations of hot flashes. As the body beings to naturally cool down, a person will then feel cold. This rapid change of blood circulation can potentially damage the cardiovascular system.

Too much cortisol can also impair a person’s immune system by blocking areas that usually fight infections. As a result, it is likely that a person with an anxiety disorder may experience a common cold or the flu more often than others.

Depression and the Body

People who are diagnosed with chronic health conditions may often feel defeated and helpless when it comes to managing their symptoms. As a result, they are more likely to develop depression. Having difficulty finding a cure for an illness can even exacerbate feelings of depression. It is important to seek medical advice as well as mental health therapy since there is a correlation between the two.

Depression can lower the likelihood of a person willing to make positive lifestyle changes. This can negatively impact a person’s physical health. People with depression tend to develop poor eating habits and are less likely to engage in physical activity. This makes depression a risk factor for heart health problems. Research states that 1 in 5 people with heart failure or coronary heart disease have depression.

How Can We Help?

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to get help. With the proper mental health advice, the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression can be treated and we can help you get your health on track. We can provide mental health counseling for anxiety and depression right here in our office. Please contact our office at (412)-532-1249 to schedule according to your availability and preferred location. 

About Makin Wellness

Founded in 2017 , Makin Wellness is Pittsburgh’s premier therapy & coaching centers located in Downtown Pittsburgh and Downtown New Kensington. The company’s mission is to help people heal and become happy again.  Makin Wellness specializes in depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, medical marijuana assisted treatment and relationship counseling.

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

Sara Makin MSEd, LPC, NCC

All articles are written in conjunction with the Makin Wellness Research Team.

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