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Identifying the difference between symptoms of depression and stress can be tricky. There are certain overlaps that might lead a person to think they’re just “stressed out” when, in fact, they’re suffering from depression and vice versa.
Knowing the difference between stress and depression will help clear the path toward proper treatment.
In broad strokes, stress is usually situational or environmental and often a small change can alleviate the problem.
Depression, on the flipside, can develop in response to unresolved past issues, and sometimes occurs while life is seemingly great and last for weeks, months or even years. It is an illness that can also be caused by medical conditions, genetics, and yes, stress.
Both depression and stress are incredibly common. There are hundreds of surveys about stressed-out Americans because dealing with stress is synonymous with being human.
Young people of all ages feel stressed about school. Adults experience stress due to work and family, their health, the health of their loved ones and the economy.
It’s virtually impossible to avoid stress and important to know that not all stress is bad. Chronic untreated stress, however, is not healthy. It can lead to a host of physical and psychological issues and, left untreated, develop into full-blown depression.
What Are the Symptoms of Stress and Depression?
More than 15 million Americans, aged 18 and older, deal with a major depressive episode in a given year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Compare some of the symptoms of stress and depression:
Symptoms of Stress
- Easily become nervous, anxious, or agitated
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Trouble relaxing or sleeping
- Problems concentrating
- Feeling burned out
- Teeth clenching or grinding
- Constantly worrying
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness over a long period of time that don’t go away
- Exhaustion, lack of energy and motivation
- Continuous guilt or shame
- Rapid mood swings, from anger to rage
- Change in appetite, losing or gaining weight
- Suicidal thoughts or ideations
Because of the similarities between the two, it’s easy to understand how people might confuse stress and depression. A good example of how stress and depression differ is the experience of moving.
Moving from one house, city or state to another is, perhaps, one of the most stressful things a family or an individual can do. There are so many unknowns, but, generally, the stress of moving dissipates after the dust settles and new routines are established.
Though people with depression might believe their problems are environmental and move in an attempt to feel better, they soon find the same painful symptoms of depression returning.
How Can Stress and Depression Be Treated?
The good news is that both depression and stress are highly treatable. In fact, some of the same strategies for reducing stress will also help to alleviate symptoms of depression. Here are some methods for combatting stress and depression:
Ways to Relieve Stress
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Eat healthy
- Develop habits like meditation that reduce stress
- Establish a healthy sleep and wake cycle
- Don’t suffer alone
- Do something enjoyable like watching a movie or reading book
- Take a warm bath
- Play with a pet
Ways to Manage Depression
- Seek professional medical help from a physician, counselor or therapist
- Avoid self-medicating with alcohol and drugs
- Eat healthy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
- Practice meditation or mindfulness
- Proper sleep
- Don’t give in to withdrawal and isolation
- Maintain healthy relationships with friends and family
- Medication from a doctor may be necessary
It’s often difficult to know the difference between stress and depression for most people. Unresolved stress might lead to depression. Either way, if the feelings continue, it’s important to see a doctor to get a proper assessment to begin the road to treatment and recovery.
Most of the time stress and depression can be managed, and in many cases, the symptoms can be alleviated completely.
As Stress Awareness Month in April kicks off, take the opportunity to get ahead of the game and educate yourself about stress.
In October during Depression Awareness Month, you’ll have the necessary tools to help others and yourself.