The Difference Between Stress, Depression and Anxiety

November 13, 2014

We hear these three words more and more often. The truth is that these days they’re the most common disorders out there. Stress, depression and anxiety can appear alone or together. It’s important to identify the warning signs for each of these problems because fortunately they can be helped.

How do stress, depression and anxiety affect us?

According to studies, these three disorders directly change how we perceive life. They affect our brain and the way we relate to others. They also change our self-esteem, and the enthusiasm and excitement when have when we’re doing an activity or at work. Among other problems it can affect our immune system. Depression, anxiety and stress attack our prefrontal cortex. That’s where we do our most advanced thinking, where we imagine the future, assess strategies to resolve problems and make decisions. That area is also related to the limbic system, our emotional brain.


Stress: What you need to know

Everybody talks about stress. It can appear out of nowhere after any activity or thought and make us feel anxious, angry or frustrated. Doctors say that having low levels of stress is a good thing. But it’s not a good thing to have anything higher than low levels.  Too much stress predisposes a person to all sorts of physical and psychological diseases. Stress can lead to low blood sugar, overactive tyroids, heart attacks, increased bile secretion or cholesterol in your arteries. Some of the most common symptons are head or abdominal pains, difficulty digesting or swallowing food, dizzy spells, heavy breathing, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, heavy sweating, sleep disorders, tiredness, fatigue, distraction, impaired sexual performance or nightmares. Sometimes stress appears in the form of phobias or psychological disorders. sad3 Research shows that a diet low in vitamin B12 can produce stress. Consuming substances like alcohol, nicotine or thyroids drugs can also have the same affect.

Depression: What you need to know

This problem could be described as being sad, unhappy, melancholy, crestfallen or miserable. Sometimes there are reasons to feel that way and other times there aren’t. Most people feel depression at some point in their lives, most often for short periods of time. Clinical depression is a disorder that is sustained over time and affects our moods. Depressed people are irritable and get frustrated and can be pushed to the brink of tears about insignificant things. Depression is classified in terms of its severity: mild, moderate and severe. A psychiatrist can diagnosis the disease in one or more sessions and recommend the correct treatment. The most common symptons of depression are: difficulties sleeping, oversleeping, changes in appetite (anxious eating at all hours or not being able to eat), weight gain or loss, lack of energy, fatigue, self-hate, feelings of uselessness, inappropriate guilt, agitation, irritability, unease, distraction, abandoning usual activities, idleness, desolation, desperate feelings or thoughts of death or suicide.


Low self-esteem is one of the most common symptoms of depression. Another sympton is not enjoying activities that usually make us happy (like being with our families or sexual activities). For a depressive episode to be considered depression five or more symptons have to appear for two consequetive weeks. Atypical depression is suffered by a third of patients. Dysthymia is another kind of mild depression that lasts two years. Events that can trigger depression: birth (many women suffer from what’s called postpartum depression after having a baby), the menstrual cycle (a week before your period, the symptons disappear when the woman is menstruating) and the seasons (during the cold months of winter and fall due to the lack of sunlight but disappear in spring and summertime).

Anxiety: What you need to know

Anxiety is an emotional response to one or more stimuli that can be internal or external to the patient. That means they can be in the patient’s thoughts, feelings or events that happen in their day to day life. It has physical aspects, stimulates your periferal and motor systems and can change your in behavior. Anxiety is related to survival like fear, anger, happiness or sadness are. sad5 It’s been confirmed that people put into action quick, adaptive and effective responses to threats or attacks on their physical well-being. Estimates show that more than 20% of the population suffer from an anxiety disorder and many people don’t even know it. The medical explanation of this problem is that the body activates its adrenergic system, going into alert mode and sending signals to the central nervous system. Anxiety‘s systems are: hyperactivity, tachycardia, feelings of drowning, loss of control or use of reason, the shakes, excessive sweating, nausea, insomnia, rigid or weak muscles, restlessness, negative thoughts, obsession or problems communicating with others. It can also cause hypoglycemia or heart arrhythmia and can turn into a panic disorder. The patient thinks about his or her own death or that something bad is going to happen to him or her. Blood pressure goes up, they have palpitations, they go red in the face or all blood is drained from their face, their chest feels heavy, they swallow air, they lose weight or eat too much, they get dry mouth or dryness in the eyes, and women may suffer from amenorrhea. Images courtesy of Vic, Gisela Giardino, Joe Penna, Louis Crusoe, Michael Dorokhov and Orin Zebest

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