How to identify whether you are struggling with anxiety, stress, depression, or all 3

How do you know whether you are simply stressed, experiencing anxiety or in a full blown depression? We are all constantly bombarded with these terms, yet often there is very little information available that provides a clear indication of how they are diagnosed. 


Stress and anxiety are a natural reaction to life, and to some extent so is depression. After all it’s perfectly natural to feel a little low after a challenging event or losing someone or something that’s important to you. When we are faced with unexpected or genuinely threatening situations then stress and sometimes anxiety kicks in, causing worry, fear and in some cases panic. When the event or situation subsides, usually the stress and anxiety dissolve with it. 


Why Does it Matter whether you know the difference or not?

As with most conditions, whether physical, mental or emotional, if there isn’t an accurate diagnosis it can be very difficult to treat. While there are traditional and new therapies that are scientifically proven to be effective in treating all three, it can be frustrating when there is little or no improvement in symptoms after putting effort into trying to create change. 


Common Signs of Depression 

Starting with depression here are the most common signs that you may be depressed rather than just feeling sad or a little under the weather. 


Trouble sleeping

Feeling overwhelmed

Problems with memory

Problems concentrating

Feeling angry, irritable or easily frustrated

Feeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life

Withdrawing from other people

Feeling sad and hopeless

Lack of energy, enthusiasm and motivation

Eating more or less than usual

Sleeping more or less than usual

Feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty

Anger and rage

Thoughts of suicide


How do you differentiate depression from stress or anxiety? Symptoms of depression can be very intense. They last at least two weeks. Depression causes powerful mood changes, such as painful sadness and deep despair. You may feel exhausted and unable to act.

The good news is that depression is a highly treatable condition. However, it’s not something you can snap out of by yourself, so it’s important to get help. 

Common Signs of Stress


From the outside looking in, it can be difficult to spot the differences between stress and anxiety. Both can lead to sleepless nights, exhaustion, excessive worry, lack of focus, and irritability. Even physical symptoms – like rapid heart rate, muscle tension, and headaches – can impact both people experiencing stress and those diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. With symptoms that can appear interchangeable


Here are the most common signs that you are highly stressed. 


Frequent headaches

Sleep disturbance

Back and/or neck pain

Feeling light-headed, faint, or dizzy

Sweaty palms or feet

Difficulty swallowing

Frequent illness


Gastrointestinal problems

Excessive worry

Rapid heart rate

Muscle tension

Feeling overwhelmed

Having difficulty quieting the mind

Poor concentration


Low energy

Loss of sexual desire


In short, stress is your body’s reaction to a trigger and is generally a short-term experience. Stress can be positive or negative. When stress kicks in and helps you pull off that deadline you thought was a lost cause, it’s positive. When stress results in insomnia, poor concentration, and impaired ability to do the things you normally do, it’s negative. 


Usually stress dissipates once a stressful situation has ended. In the event that symptoms of stress continue, breathing exercises, taking a long walk or simply removing oneself from stressful triggers and creating distance can be very useful. 


Common Signs of Anxiety


Anxiety, on the other hand, is a sustained mental health disorder that can be triggered by stress. Anxiety doesn’t fade into the distance once the threat is mediated. Anxiety hangs around for the long haul, and can cause significant impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning.


Let’s look at some of the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder, as it is the most common type of anxiety disorder.


Difficulty controlling worry

Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge

Easily fatigued

Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank


Muscle tension

Sleep disturbance

Panic response




pins and needles

Shortness of breath 

rapid heartbeat 

excessive sweating 

chest pain


The two main treatments for anxiety are psychotherapy and medication, and many people benefit from a combination of the two. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) a scientifically proven, highly effective, short-term treatment helps people learn specific skills to target their specific anxiety triggers.  


There are also several lifestyle changes that have been shown to be effective as well. These include meditation, daily exercise, good sleep,  healthy eating, and avoiding caffeine and alcohol.  


We all experience mood changes, stress and anxious moments its the way human beings are designed. However, if you do experience long periods of stress, low mood, or feel constantly on edge and panicky, then maybe its worth consulting a healthcare professional for help. After all the sooner you diagnose the problem the sooner you can find a solution. Stay well.