Is it Anxiety or Depression? Recognizing Early Signs 

Boy discussing his anxiety and depression symptoms with his mental health counselor

When it comes to experiencing complex emotions, know you are not alone. Nearly 10% of adults in the United States experience a major depressive episode yearly, and almost 20% experience generalized anxiety disorder. Because of overlapping symptoms, it may be easy to confuse these two disorders.  

Continue reading as Dr. Mason explains the key differences and similarities between anxiety and depression, shares early signs to look out for, and provides steps to take if these symptoms reoccur.  

(Disclaimer: The following article is for educational purposes only. The following information does not replace a formal diagnosis or offer an alternative to treat symptoms. Please see a mental health professional to obtain a proper diagnosis and treatment plan that works for you.) 

Anxiety vs. Depression  

When dealing with anxiety and depression, both disorders share common symptoms and side effects. With the two, it is common to experience a general feeling of unease, difficulty performing tasks, and a change in behavior and social commitments. 

However, there are key differences in most symptoms and how they present themselves in the mind and body.  

General Anxiety Disorder (also known as Chronic anxiety) presents as an emotional state involving excessive worry and rumination combined with negative thoughts and feelings. These feelings can be in response to a recent life event or change or none at all. What distinguishes chronic anxiety, or generalized anxiety disorder, from “common feelings of anxiety” or a “panic attack episode” is its prevalence, reoccurrence, and interference with daily life.  

Major Depressive Disorder (also known as Chronic Depression) typically presents as negative thoughts and feelings primarily directed at oneself, i.e., feelings of unworthiness and a loss of control. These feelings can also result in losing interest in previously enjoyed activities. Depression can appear because of trauma, a major life change, or other past events.  

Like anxiety disorder, what distinguishes clinical depression from temporary feelings of depression, or “acute depression,” is that chronic depression is not mild but rather severe and can last from several months to years. Chronic depression also typically coincides with substance abuse and other conditions.  

For more on chronic depression, click the following link: 

Understanding Severe Depression and Suicidal Thoughts 

How Anxiety & Depression Impacts the Body

At The Mind Spa, we believe in the mind-body connection. When it comes to anxiety and depression, studies have shown an undeniable link between psychological symptoms and physiological symptoms:  

Symptoms of Anxiety 

  • Fast-paced heart rate or heart palpitations  
  • Shortness of breath/tightness of the chest  
  • General feelings of unease and restlessness 
  • Sweaty palms or hot flashes 
  • Feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness 
  • The feeling of “a pit in the stomach” 
  • Changes in digestion  

Symptoms of Depression  

  • Increased fatigue  
  • Changes in sleep pattern (too little or too much)  
  • Sudden decrease or increase in appetite  
  • Unintentional rapid weight loss or weight gain  
  • Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities  

How to Spot the Changes & Address Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

It is important to note how you feel if you are experiencing changes in mood and behavior. The following tips will be helpful to begin addressing your needs. 

  1. Recognize the signs of distress  

Whether physical or mental, tuning into your body and recognizing what you are experiencing is the first step to finding a solution. Are current symptoms psychological, physical, or both? Are some more severe and consistent compared to others? Tune in and find out  

  1. Keep a journal and document  

Notice mood and physical changes as they arise, and don’t hesitate to be specific. Have you noticed any changes coinciding with a recent event or significant life change? Do symptoms worsen during certain times of day or locations? 

  1. Speak to a Professional 

Once you recognize and record symptoms, speaking to a licensed mental health professional is important to diagnose and create a treatment plan tailored to you. The sooner you can address these symptoms, the sooner you can enjoy some piece of mind.   

The Mind Spa Approach  

At My Mind Spa, we believe in providing our patients with the tools and support they need to manage their anxiety or depression. Our practice uses a combination of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), MCBT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy), mindful breathing techniques, gratitude journaling, and more to help our patients manage their symptoms. 

For more on emotional wellness, check out the following articles: 

5 Myths about Mental Health & Therapy 

3 Ways to Support Your Emotional Well-being In 2023