Is it Anxiety or Depression?

How to Tell the Difference between Anxiety and Depression

Although anxiety and depression may occur at the same time, both conditions have different causes that may display similar symptoms and need the same or different treatment.


Anxiety is considered a normal reaction to stress, and it can serve as a prompt to deal with difficult situations. However, when it becomes excessive, it may fall under the classification of an anxiety disorder. The physical symptoms of anxiety are sometimes easier to spot than for depression.


Fatigue & headaches


Muscle tension & muscle aches


Difficulty swallowing


Trembling & twitching




Sweating & hot flashes


Feelings of panic/fear


Trouble sleeping


Shortness of breath

How to cope with anxiety:


Stop and breathe

Avoiding or running away never solves the problem. In fact, it just heightens things, especially with a disorder like anxiety.

Rather, accept and recognise the root of your anxiety and then plan to work through it. For example, if you’re constantly worried about forgetting things, set alarms, write out to-do lists, or get a chalkboard to record your tasks.

Don’t place extra pressure on yourself by trying to make too many changes at once. Instead, break down the root of your anxiety into manageable pieces.


Ease up

When you’re stressed or anxious, you feel it in your body. Tense muscles, a headache and fatigue add to the overwhelming waves of anxiety, so consciously relaxing will help.

Therefore, consider taking a hot shower to unwind your tense muscles after a long day or go for a massage – if you can’t afford a professional one, ask a loved one to give you one!

It is important to get enough sleep each night. If you have trouble sleeping, try a warm bath before bed or read something easy and soothing.

Also, don’t forget to get moving! Exercise is a great way to release stress because when you exercise, you release endorphins (feel good hormones). Try brisk walking, yoga or Pilates, to get your body pumping.

Importantly, stick to a healthy diet and try to avoid excessive amounts of caffeine, nicotine and chocolate, as these may increase your anxiety levels.


Depression, on the other hand, is typically characterised by low self-esteem, low mood and loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities.


Symptoms of depression:

  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Shifts in appetite and weight (too much or too little)
  • Sleep disorders, whether too much sleep or too little
  • Constant fatigue and loss of energy
  • Physical symptoms that may include gastrointestinal problems, chronic pain, headaches, etc
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, sadness or low of self-worth
  • Difficulty thinking, memory loss, poor concentration, difficulty making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.


How to cope with depression:


Since depression and anxiety commonly occur together, they are treated similarly. Both disorders can be treated with medication, talk therapy or a combination of the two.


Medications may include:

  • Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors to improve mood and ease anxiety. These are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants.
  • Anxiolytics to reduce anxiety and tension. These may also help if you have sleeping problems.
  • Antipsychotics to boost the effectiveness of antidepressants.
Talk Therapy

Different types of talk therapy can be used to treat depression and anxiety. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help you think more positively and modify negative or harmful behaviours and emotional responses.
  • Psychotherapy to help understand yourself better, find the cause of your difficulties, improve relationships and get more out of life.
  • Group therapy to help you realise you’re not alone, and where you can get support and advice from people who have the same problem as you.

Helping someone else with depression:

One of the key roles you can play in the health of someone who is depressed or suffers from anxiety is to make sure they get the help they need.

If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one and need help, speak to a trained counsellor. Depression can happen to anyone.


Here are the key ways to help someone with depression:



Try to understand and share the other person’s feelings and experiences.


Most depressed people just want someone to listen to them – so lend an ear.


Visit the clinic, doctor or counsellor with the person and read more about their illness.


Don’t exclude the affected person from important matters or discussions.


Don’t expect the person to ‘just snap out of it’.

Help at hand for depression

If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety or depression and needs help, you can contact a trained counsellor between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday, by calling the Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free hotline on 0800 20 50 26.

For a suicidal emergency, contact: 0800 567 567.
SMS: 31393.


Want to find out more about other mental health conditions? You can follow this link.

You can also access more mental wellbeing tools at Let’s Talk.

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These articles are for information purposes only. It cannot replace the diagnosis of a healthcare provider. Pharma Dynamics gives no warranty as to the accuracy of the information contained in such articles and shall not, under any circumstances, be liable for any consequences which may be suffered as a result of a user’s reliance thereon.

The information the reader is about to be referred to may not comply with the South Africa regulatory requirements. Information relevant to the South African environment is available from the Company and in the Professional Information/Patient Information Leaflet/Instructions for Use approved by the Regulatory Authority.

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