The Difference Between Worry, Anxiety, Stress and Depression

Worry, anxiety or stress image of woman holding her head
Worry, anxiety or stress

In my role as a health professional, I often speak to clients who say worry is affecting their health. Some talk about anxiety, but many claim they are  ‘stressed’.

Medical professional need to find out which self-diagnosis is correct. Because each requires a different approach or solution. So if you believe you have a problem – let’s look at what else it could be.

Then, once we have identified the right illness, we can take the necessary steps to treat it.

What is Worry?

Worry is when you’re thinking about a problem or situation, and it’s taking up a lot of your time. You might be thinking of how a problem is going to come up or how you could have done something different. You can find yourself moody and not sleeping because of it too.

If by worrying you find a way of dealing with the situation, then this is a positive. But, if you just carry on worrying without any resolution then worry itself becomes a problem.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling in your body of dread or a foreboding of something going wrong or bad happening. Anxiety is often the reason for rituals, such as touching wood, or crossing your fingers. This ritual, you believe, prevents the bad things you fear from happening.

Severe anxiety may be behind the obsessive-compulsive disorders that rule sufferers lives.

What is Stress?

Stress is good when it makes you work harder for a goal. But if it goes on for too long it can wear you down. Stress is a body response to a threat. Chemicals are circulating in the blood stream that over a long time cause changes. Threats are different for everyone. Stress at work can be due to a bullying boss, redundancy, or a high workload.

What is Depression?

Depression is more severe and long-lasting than stress and needs a different kind of help.

Depression is treatable. How do you tell the difference between stress and depression? Both can affect you in similar ways, but there are fundamental differences. Symptoms of depression can be much more intense. They last at least two weeks. Depression causes great mood changes, such as painful sadness and despair. You may feel exhausted and unable to act.

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

If you witness a traumatic event, some experience upsetting, distressing or confusing feelings afterwards. Sometimes this reaction is delayed, with some developing reactions many years after.

Why is Stress so Difficult to Define?

I can’t tell you which mental health condition you have, or if you have a problem at all.

Only you know your real thoughts, feelings and circumstances. Only you can answer the questions for the correct diagnosis; leading to the treatment to resolve your problem.

It is a sad fact, though, in the middle of an incident, you may not be thinking clearly so your thinking is distorted.

There is no simple test to find out which problem you have.

If you had a heart condition, doctors could take a series of blood tests and scans to check it out.  If you have a painful knee, you can have an x-ray.

In mental health conditions, the way to find out is to answer searching questions.  Questions designed to give the most likely diagnosis.

For example, how to find out if you have depression…

Do you Have Depression?

To decide if you have depression, your health professional should ask you two questions:

  1. During the last month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
  2. During the last month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?

If you answer ‘yes’ to either, you need a more thorough assessment. Especially if you have suicidal thoughts or feelings.

For each mental health problem, there are set questions that you need to answer.  All the recommended questions are on the NICE website (National Institute of Clinical Excellence).  This leads you to a diagnosis and the evidence-based treatment for a mental health condition.

Different Types of Treatments

There are many ways of dealing with various mental health issues, here are the main ways.  Many are used in combinations:

How can this help me?

To get the right treatment, you must have the correct diagnosis. If for example, you have post-traumatic stress disorder it may be useless to try self-help to recover.

So do not get frustrated when health professionals start asking endless questions about your ‘stress’. If it is truly stress then we will help you through it.

We are following national guidance to make sure you get the correct treatment for you and your mental health condition, but only if you have one.

See Also:

The 7 Deadly Sins of Stress at Work

Stress in the Workplace