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Alcohol and Mental Health

Anxiety vs. Depression: What's the Difference? And Which Do I Have?

July 12, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 12, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 12, 2023
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 12, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 12, 2023
8 min read

It's not uncommon to feel down, especially when life gets tough.

But sometimes, our minds can keep us locked in a state of worry or sadness, which might mean we're dealing with something more than just a bad day.

We might be grappling with anxiety, depression — or even both. Understanding these two distinct mental health conditions can allow us to make the right changes towards our mental well-being.

This article explores anxiety and depression, and provides some guidance on signs and symptoms to help untangle the two.

Recognizing the Shadows: Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are like two sides of the same coin: they share many characteristics but are distinct in crucial ways. Although they are two different mental health conditions, they often share some symptoms and often co-occur.

Anxiety often manifests as a persistent sense of worry or fear; an inability to relax; sleep issues; and physical symptoms, like a racing heart.

Further, anxiety can show up in the following ways:

  • Excessive worrying or stress about the outcome of a situation
  • Feelings of nervousness, worry, or dread
  • Struggling during everyday activities like meeting new people
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Panic attacks

On the other hand, depression may present with feelings of sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities. Depression can also surface in these ways:

  • Overwhelming feelings of apathy or hopelessness
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and reduced energy
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please get help now. A crisis hotline provides trained counselors who can walk you through it. If you need immediate help, here’s where to start:

It's worth noting that these symptoms aren't exclusive to one condition or the other.

In fact, it's common for these two to overlap. About half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It's critical to consult a mental health professional if we suspect we're experiencing either or both.

It’s important to note that while alcohol is a depressant, drinking exacerbates symptoms of both anxiety and depression.

The Brain's Blueprint: The Neuroscience Behind Anxiety and Depression

Our brain is a command center that influences how we think, feel, and act. Recent studies show that changes in brain structure and function can be linked to both anxiety and depression.

For example, the amygdala, a complex area of the brain that processes emotions like fear, tends to be more active in people with anxiety.

In contrast, depression is often linked to changes in the prefrontal cortex — the area responsible for regulating emotions and making decisions.

Recognizing these neurological factors helps us understand that anxiety and depression aren't merely states of mind — they involve physical changes in our brain. These changes can be addressed through various approaches, like therapy, medication, cutting back or drinking, or a combination of these.

The Shift: Empowering Ourselves to Create Change

Understanding our mental health condition isn't just about naming our experiences — it's about finding pathways to better well-being.

By acknowledging that we might be dealing with anxiety or depression (or both), we're taking the first step in the right direction. Here are some changes that can help us on this journey:

  1. Exercise. Regular physical activity boosts our mood by stimulating the brain to release 'feel-good' chemicals like endorphins.
Meditation. Mindfulness helps us stay present and reduces anxiety by curbing overthinking. Research shows it can actually rewire our brain for the better, warding off symptoms of anxiety or depression.

  3. Healthy eating. A balanced diet impacts our brain health. Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help improve our mood.
  4. Cut back. If you are self-medicating with alcohol, it can actually make matters worse. Re-examine your drinking habits and try making small changes to cut back.

It's crucial to remember that while these steps can improve our well-being, they aren't replacements for professional help. Only a mental health professional can provide a diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan.

The Road Ahead: Courage and Commitment on Our Journey

Anxiety and depression aren't choices, but how we address them can be. It takes courage to face our mental health challenges, but with understanding, resources, and support, we're not alone in our journey.

Keep in mind this article can provide insights towards this journey, but it is in no way a substitute for a professional diagnosis and treatment.

Remember, feeling empowered is not about getting rid of all stress or completely eliminating alcohol from our lives — it’s about making small, manageable changes that steer us towards mental wellbeing. Each step forward is a victory.

Reclaim Your Health With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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