As for any psychological difficulty, «depression and anxiety « are labels we use to describe a range of symptoms and circumstances that a person may go through in their lifetime. At some point you may wonder whether you should seek psychological help, or whether what you are feeling is «normal» or not. These are common questions that we all ask ourselves in certain circumstances, and in this article we will discuss some aspects that may help you understand a little better what we mean by depression and anxiety, and perhaps encourage you to seek help if you need it.

We will first look at what we mean by depression and anxiety, and we will talk about the signs that might indicate that it is a good moment to seek psychological support.

What are depression and anxiety?

Depression and anxiety are two words that we use to describe a particular set of circumstances that occur together at a particular time. It seems obvious, but generally starting out by clarifying this helps me communicate what diagnostic labels are.

When we talk about «mental disorders» or «mental illness,» we generally tend to view these problems as «entities» or internal phenomena. This can lead us to feel guilt or frustration, as well as resistance to change, since by seeing it this way we assume in part that the «cause» of what is happening to us lies within us, and we must «cure» it. But we shouldn’t forget that people are in constant interaction with their environment, and that it is generally within this interaction that we find the cause of what we experience.

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We are individuals in perpetual learning, and many of the strategies we learn may be useful for dealing with a situation in the short term, but may not be as useful and effective in the long term, and therefore we end up sustaining a general discomfort in our lives if we are not really aware of it. An example of this is avoiding something that makes us anxious: avoiding the situation brings us great immediate relief and peace of mind, but in the long run it is very likely for that anxiety to increase and be maintained over time. This dilemma between the consequences of our actions in the short and long term is the basis of many psychological problems.

Many people, assuming that the problem is nothing more than a «chemical imbalance in the brain», focus mainly on pharmacological treatments or talk about «curing» this disorder, sometimes ignoring all the strategies that we can implement when we discover all the elements that are involved in our behaviors. And that is the goal of psychology: first analyze what originated the problem, what is maintaining it, and set out to act directly on those variables and generate a change that will lead us towards psychological well-being through all the tools learned along the way.

There are not two depressed people with identical symptoms, just as there are not two people whose anxiety is due to exactly the same causes. They are labels that we use to summarize and communicate the things that are happening to us, and they can be useful to somewhat alleviate uncertainty, alleviate our concern, and as a good method of communication between professionals, but we need to examine your particular situation and circumstances in order to generate the desired change.

That being said, let’s look at what we generally understand by depression and anxiety:


Depression is described as a mood disorder characterized by a profound sense of sadness, hopelessness and lack of interest or pleasure in everyday activities. This inability to experience pleasure or interest is known as anhedonia, and is one of the most common aspects of depressed people. This anhedonia is then generalized to all areas of life, making it increasingly difficult to get out of the situation, in a kind of downward spiral in which the vision of oneself, the world around us, and the future, is increasingly pessimistic.

Other very common symptoms in depressed individuals may include the following:


  • A general decrease in energy.
  • Significant changes in appetite and weight.
  • Difficulties with sleep (insomnia, difficulties falling asleep).
  • Cognitive difficulties (problems with attention, concentration, memory).
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
  • Recurrent thoughts about death, self-injury.
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On the other hand, anxiety is characterized by intense feelings of worry, fear and nervousness. It is a subjective experience that varies in intensity and can manifest itself physically, cognitively and emotionally in a variety of ways. Depending on its characteristics it is often classified into various categories, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias or social anxiety disorder, among other diagnostic labels.

It is a common experience that we all go through at some point in our lives, and is actually a natural response of the body to situations of danger or stress. However, when anxiety becomes persistent, overwhelming and interferes with daily functioning, it can become a very disabling problem.

Generally, the following symptoms are included when we talk about anxiety:


  • Physical symptoms: palpitations, shortness of breath, muscle tension, sweating, shakiness, gastrointestinal discomfort, and chest "tightness" or "lump in the throat" related symptoms.
  • Cognitive symptoms: excessive worry, rumination about thoughts with low sense of control, difficulty concentrating, catastrophic thoughts, and difficulty making decisions.
  • Emotional symptoms: constant restlessness, marked irritability, feeling constantly "on edge", excessive sensitivity, intense fear and feeling of loss of control.
  • Behavioral symptoms: Avoidance of feared situations, excessive safety or verification behaviors, difficulty sleeping, restlessness or social withdrawal.

As you can see, some of the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression «overlap». Going back to the idea of diagnostic labels, we rarely find a situation in which a person presents symptoms of a single diagnostic category… And this is not surprising, since as we have seen these categories serve among other things for grouping a series of symptoms and thus facilitate diagnosis, treatment and communication between professionals. But in no case are they » sealed categories» and the human experience is too complex to be reduced to one of these categories, so that in almost all cases you will experience symptoms that can be attributed to several labels.

When do we refer to a disorder, and when should we consult a psychology professional?

On many occasions, you may feel identified with many of the symptoms that we have exposed above. But this does not mean that it is not «normal» (we should also discuss what normal means), and this does not automatically mean that we are talking about a disorder. The emotions we experience are generally a response to events that happen around us, and all of them are helpful in some way. When we lose a loved one, it is not uncommon to experience deep feelings of sadness, changes in appetite, and a general lack of motivation and interest in things. We may also feel nervous and irritable and feel all those physical symptoms associated with anxiety. And although these symptoms are associated with depression and anxiety, this does not mean that we have a disorder, but rather we can associate them with a grieving process.

But then, when do we call it a disorder?

The main idea here is that the symptoms you experience, whatever they may be, entail an impairment in important areas of your life. When you feel that what is happening to you is significantly interfering with your family life, your academic or professional life, your personal life, your social life, and/or other aspects of your life in general, and you feel that the strategies you implement are not enough to change how you are feeling, and in addition the situation is sustained over time, we could start considering a psychological problem.

Once again, the key is to be able to make a very personalized study of your life history, your current circumstances, and the function that these symptoms and behaviors play in your daily life, as well as the factors that are maintaining them.

However, it is not necessary to wait until these symptoms become generalized and are at the point where they interfere with your daily life. You can actually consult a psychology professional at any point in the process: at the beginning of a grief, when you feel that you feel something that you do not understand very well, when you see that your anxiety, although not generalized and prevents you from doing certain things, is bothering you and you would like to work on it… or even if you do not feel a great distress but you want to change something or learn to develop some habit or understand something about yourself and your behavior.

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Your psychologist will conduct a complete assessment to help you understand all the variables that trigger and maintain your problem, and will develop a plan to make some changes that will allow you to better understand why you are experiencing what you are experiencing, and to progressively adjust it. In addition, if necessary, they will work hand in hand with a psychiatrist to combine pharmacological strategies if in your particular case you need it. The goal of both is to provide you with all the possible tools to understand what is happening to you and to achieve psychological well-being as soon as possible.

In the end, a psychologist is a behavioral specialist, including emotions and thoughts, and you may find it very interesting to visit them at any point in the process you are going through.

Anxiety and depression are two diagnostic labels that allow us to describe a series of symptoms that generally occur together. Depression refers to a deep feeling of sadness, an inability to feel pleasure, and a general decrease in activity with changes in appetite, sleep and cognitive abilities. Anxiety, on the other hand, refers to great activation, nervousness and worry, often related to anticipation of future events. If these symptoms begin to interfere with various areas of your daily life, it would be very positive to see a professional psychologist to understand the mechanisms that are maintaining them and how to change them, and if necessary, work in tandem with a psychiatrist to assess the suitability of medication in your particular case. However, it is not necessary to wait until this point, since seeing a psychologist beforehand can help you acquire more tools and prevent this impact on your daily life.

About the author

Alejandro Sancha is a General Health Psychologist and Clinical Neuropsychologist. He also has a postgraduate degree in child and adolescent psychology. He has experience with various psychological problems (anxiety, mood disorders, stress, ADHD, rehabilitation in acquired brain injury, among others) and works from an evidence-based perspective. His passion for understanding human behavior led him to dedicate himself to the clinic, being very important for him that his clients feel comfortable from the beginning, understanding how their discomfort originates and how it is maintained today, in order to generate the necessary tools that allow them to achieve the greatest possible well-being in their lives.

Alejandro Sancha Moreno
Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Alejandro Sancha Moreno
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English, French and Spanish
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