A Cognitive Comparison of Depression, Anxiety and Low Self-Esteem

256px-Sadness by Sasha Wolff Grand Rapids.jpg

At first glance, these disorders can appear to be essentially the same. The sufferer really suffers, from reasons that are not immediately obvious to anyone else. A trained professional, however, will be able to differentiate among these diagnoses and provide the appropriate treatment and assistance.


Cognitively, depression results in negative and/or distorted thinking, difficulty concentrating and distractibility, loss of memory, reduced reaction time, forgetfulness and inability to make decisions. Behaviorally, the patient suffers an extended period of deep sadness that seems not to result from any one issue, as well as loss of interest and deep fatigue.

Combined, these symptoms can result in serious disruption to a person's family, school and work relationships, at a time when the patient might not be thinking clearly enough to recognize what is happening to them, or to seek aid.


Anxiety is cognitively characterized by panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, unrelenting worries and/or incapacitating phobia. Behaviorally, the patient may sweat, tremble, cry, refuse to leave their "safe" place, become agitated or angry if pushed, or go to great lengths to avoid encountering situations that trigger anxiety.

There are many types of anxiety disorder, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder and post- traumatic stress disorder.

Low Self Esteem

Cognitively, low self-esteem is the view or belief an individual holds that says they are inadequate, unlovable, unworthy or incompetent. Those that suffer from low self-esteem can lack self-confidence, self-worth, self-acceptance and self-respect.

Low self-esteem ties back to childhood experiences of criticism and punishment. Parents who were emotionally unavailable might never have allowed their children to develop a solid foundation of belief in themselves.

Behaviorally, low self-esteem is evidenced in the unwillingness of the sufferer to put themselves in a position of "revealing" their inadequacies, for fear of being judged to be clueless, foolish, incompetent or ridiculous.

Overlapping and Contrasting Aspects

There are several areas of overlap among these three disorders. For instance, avoidance of actions that trigger anxiety is very much like the avoidance the person with low self-esteem practices, to protect themselves from the negative judgments of others.

Low self-esteem can also cause a sufferer to feel that the world holds little for them other than negative experiences and relationships. Facing the world feeling that way can result in intense anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are also linked, as those who experience depression very commonly experience some level of anxiety. The obsessive thoughts and unrelenting worries of anxiety can often result in the negative or distorted thinking of depression.

An area where low self-esteem might differ from depression is in the sense of competency one feels in different areas of one's life. For instance, someone may feel extremely competent as a parent or a friend, but extremely insecure about their competency at work. Depression, on the other hand, tends to cause disruption in multiple aspects of one's life.

Another difference is that depression and anxiety both include physical manifestations, where low self-esteem generally does not.

Sources: National Institutes of Health , Get Esteem and PsychCentral


The information provided on the PsyWeb.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of PsyWeb.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Total votes: 3979