Depression and Anxiety: What's the Relationship?

Medically Reviewed By Jacquelyn Johnson, PsyD.
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Depression and anxiety are two separate conditions. However, they have some overlapping symptoms. Many people experience both conditions. This article explains the relationship between depression and anxiety. It goes over the symptoms of each condition, how they are treated, and tips for coping with them.

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There is a strong link between depression and anxiety. Around 45.7% of people with major depressive disorder, commonly known as depression, also experienced one or more lifetime anxiety disorders.

There is no evidence to show that one disorder causes the other. However, there is evidence to show that many people experience both disorders, sometimes simultaneously. Many people who experience depression have a history of anxiety disorders.

When you experience more than one condition at the same time, they are considered “comorbid.” Comorbid conditions have become more common in many areas, including psychiatry. Anxiety and depression may be the most common comorbid conditions.

The exact reason why so many people experience both anxiety and depression is unknown. However, some people believe it may be due to the conditions having similar biological mechanisms. Others believe the connection results from the overlapping symptoms between the conditions.

Outside stressors are a common cause of both conditions. As such, this link may also explain the relationship between depression and anxiety.

More research is needed on the relationship between anxiety and depression.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety are separate conditions with different symptoms. However, they also share overlapping symptoms.

Depression

Not everyone experiences every symptom of depression. Some people only experience a few of them, while others experience all of them.

A clinical diagnosis of depression requires several of the following symptoms. These symptoms must occur persistently for nearly every day in a 2-week period. The criteria include feelings of:

  • sadness, anxiety, or “emptiness”
  • hopelessness or pessimism
  • irritability, frustration, or restlessness
  • worthlessness, guilt, or helplessness

In addition to feelings, a depression diagnosis requires several of the following behaviors:

  • decreased interest in hobbies or activities
  • fatigue or low energy, which can lead to sleeping more
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • insomnia or difficulty sleeping
  • changes to your appetite
  • unexpected weight changes
  • aches, pains, or headaches
  • thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

If someone you know is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, or at risk of suicide: 

  • Ask the question, “Are you considering suicide?” even if it is tough.
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number. 
  • Stay with them until emergency services arrive.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful items.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • Call 988 
  • Chat with the lifeline

This service is available 24-7. 

Read more about depression.

Anxiety

Anxiety disorders typically involve persistent feelings of dread or worry. Anxiety can last months, years, or a lifetime. It often interferes with daily life.

Symptoms of anxiety disorders can include:

  • restlessness, such as feeling wound up or on edge
  • frequent fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • difficulty managing your feelings of worry
  • sleep issues, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • aches, pains, or headaches

Read more about anxiety.

Overlapping symptoms

There are overlapping symptoms of depression and anxiety. These include:

  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • sleep issues
  • aches, pains, and headaches
  • irritability
Infographic showing intersecting circle charts of symptoms of depression and anxiety and how they overlap
Infographic by Diego Sabogal. Illustration by Maya Chastain

Causes of depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety may share similar causes and risk factors. However, each also has unique causes.

Depression

Researchers believe that depression is related to genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Risk factors for depression include:

  • family or personal history of depression
  • trauma, stress, or major life changes
  • certain medical conditions or medications

Anxiety

Like depression, researchers also believe that anxiety is related to genetic and environmental factors. Risk factors for anxiety include:

  • shyness, distress, or nervousness in new situations during childhood
  • exposure to negative or stressful life events
  • family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders or heart arrhythmias, can aggravate preexisting anxiety disorders. Caffeine and other substances, such as stimulant medications, can also have this effect on anxiety.

Treatment for depression and anxiety

Most current research focuses on people with only one of these conditions. As such, treatment options typically follow this research. This means there are few well-researched treatments for comorbid depression and anxiety. More research is necessary for treatments that address both.

Treatments for depression include:

Treatment may involve a combination of therapy and medication.

Treatment for anxiety may depend on the type of anxiety you experience. However, it can include:

  • psychotherapy, such as:
    • CBT
    • acceptance and commitment therapy
  • medications, such as:

As with depression, treatment for anxiety may include a combination of therapy and medication. Work with a mental health professional to create the most effective treatment plan for you.

Tips for coping with depression and anxiety

There are ways you can help yourself manage depression and anxiety. When added to your treatment, they can help you manage your symptoms:

  • Get regular physical activity. Even 30 minutes of exercise per day may help boost your mood.
  • Try to maintain a regular bedtime and wake-up time.
  • Eat regular meals and pay attention to how different foods make you feel. Certain foods may affect how you feel, either emotionally or physically. Focus on the foods that make you feel good.
  • Try to connect with other people and talk about your feelings with people you trust.
  • Avoid or reduce your consumption of alcohol, nicotine, and other substances, such as illegal drugs.
  • Try stress management techniques, such as mindfulness and meditation.

Read more about treating depression and anxiety with meditation.

Summary

It’s not uncommon for people to experience both depression and anxiety at the same time. The exact reason why these two disorders often occur together is unknown.

Some people believe it’s because these conditions share overlapping symptoms. Others believe it may be because they share similar biological mechanisms.

More research is necessary to create treatments that focus on comorbid depression and anxiety. However, therapy, medication, or a combination of the two is generally helpful in treating both conditions.

If you experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or both, contact your doctor or mental health professional.

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Medical Reviewer: Jacquelyn Johnson, PsyD.
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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