Anxiety, Depression, or Both?

Anxiety and depression are both challenging disorders—to make matters worse, they occur together up to 50% of the time.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
6-minute read
Episode #84

Anxiety and depression go together like peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, or bacon and eggs. And while they don't exactly taste great together, they often go hand in hand. In fact, nearly 50% of people diagnosed with depression can also be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and vice versa.

Depression and anxiety are fundamentally different—depression is based in hopelessness and helplessness, while anxiety is steeped in fear of the uncertain. But even though they’re different, they overlap in many ways. Here are five big similarities:

Shared symptom #1: Irritability. Anxiety, by its very nature, puts people on edge, which makes it easier to push them over that edge. When you’re already amped up, every additional little thing seems like a giant hassle. With depression, it’s a myth that folks only feel sad. Instead, depression often manifests as irritability and grouchiness, especially in men.

Shared symptom #2: Problems sleeping. In depression, sleep can go either way—either too much or too little. Anxiety almost always means trouble getting to sleep due to tension or racing thoughts, or waking up in the middle of the night with a 100 MPH mind. Either way, when you’re fighting depression or anxiety, exhaustion is the last thing you need. 

Shared symptom #3: Difficulty concentrating. With either depression or anxiety, reading a book goes out the window, zoning out during movies becomes the norm, and it can even be hard to stay engaged in conversation. Trouble focusing comes in slightly different versions for depression or anxiety—with depression it’s simply impossible to sustain attention, while with anxiety you’re distracted by worries--but either way, “concentrate” is limited to your orange juice.

Shared symptom #4: Restlessness. The bouncy leg, the wringing of hands, the grinding of teeth—anxiety seldom comes without motion. With depression, some folks experience what’s called psychomotor agitation--they pace, bite their nails, or fidget. (Others feel weighed down by a ton of bricks, and some folks feel both slowed down and restless at the same time).

Shared symptom #5: No fun. It’s hard to kick back and have fun when you’re anxious, depressed, or both. In depression, this is a core symptom officially called anhedonia, which literally means “without pleasure.” Depression also saps energy and motivation, so doing what you love seems pointless and effortful. With anxiety, not having any fun is more of an result of the disorder—anxiety comes with high physical tension, which is pretty much incompatible with relaxing or letting loose.

Luckily, overlapping problems mean there are some shared solutions. What to do? Surprisingly, a lot—though it’s important to note that none of the following solutions is a cure-all. If you’re getting hit from both sides, definitely see a mental health professional or, to start, your primary care physician. But the following 4 things can all be done at home in addition to whatever you and your doctors agree on.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets.