Unfortunately, dealing with stress on a daily basis is unavoidable. Whether you're stressed out about excelling at work, paying off your student loans, keeping your relationships healthy, or you're grieving a loss of some sort, coping with stress is just part of being human. Everyone, no matter how well-adjusted, healthy, fortunate, or optimistic they are, gets stressed out. But while some stress is inevitable in life, it's important to keep in mind that prolonged stress can lead to a wide array of mental and physical health problems, such as depression. Since depression not only disrupts your life and relationships, but can also be life-threatening, it's imperative that you learn how to read the signs that your stress has turned into depression.
The link between stress and depression is undeniably cyclical and just as physical as it is mental. According to WebMd,"sustained or chronic stress, in particular, leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, the "stress hormone," and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, which has been linked to depression."
So if you think your stress has lead to depression, know that it's not "all in your head." Additionally, be aware that many signs of stress can double as sings of depression. Here's how you can tell that it's more than just stress.
1. You've Withdrawn From Socializing
Sometimes, being stressed out might make you want to cancel plans with a friend so you can either get some work done or just get some rest. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, taking some time to be alone can be a great way to de-stress. Additionally, if you're introverted, you can probably get all the social interaction you need from two or three meet-ups a week.
When you stop socializing altogether, though, that's a sign your stress has turned into, or is leading to, depression. So if you've withdrawn from socializing period, even with the people you normally really enjoy being around, you're probably dealing with more than just stress. Push yourself to meet up with a friend, and consider talking to a mental health professional if the desire to stay sequestered continues.
2. You Feel Bad About Yourself Almost All The Time
Being stressed out can make you feel pretty crappy in general, and if your stress is the result of procrastination, it can definitely cause you to beat yourself up. However, if you feel bad about yourself all the time, even when you're working hard and trying to take care of yourself, then you're more than stressed out. Feelings of self-loathing and near-constant guilt are signs that your stress has turned into depression, and you shouldn't ignore them.
3. You're Having A Lot Of Trouble Remembering Things
Trouble with memory is listed as both a sign of stress and a sign of depression; so if your memory is off, that doesn't necessarily mean your stress has turned into depression. That said, if you've been having issues with your memory for a while now, and it doesn't seem to be improving with time, then you could be suffering from depression.
4. You've Been Sleeping Way More Or Way Less For Weeks
Again, stress messes with sleep, so changes in your sleeping habits doesn't automatically indicate that your stress has developed into depression. However, when stress messes with sleep, it's usually a temporary upset that's directly tied to the situation that's stressing you out. So if your sleeping problems have continued for weeks rather than just a few days, then it's more likely you're dealing with depression than stress.
5. You're Super Indecisive
Some people are more indecisive than others. This is why some of us need a whole afternoon to get our grocery shopping done while others can knock theirs out in an hour. Moreover, extreme stress can make you feel so overwhelmed that you don't know where or how to begin checking off your various "To Do" lists.
When stress turns into depression, though, it can become more difficult than ever to make decisions. Unfortunately, this indecisiveness only leads to increased feelings of stress, anger, and self-loathing. So if you've noticed you're more indecisive than ever, and it's negatively affecting your daily life, then you might be more than just stressed out.
6. You're Angry A Lot & Not Sure Why
When we're stressed out, it's not uncommon for us to temporarily develop a "short fuse." Basically, stress makes us more prone to anger. While this isn't healthy, and can really screw with your relationships, most people dealing with stress-related anger know where their anger is coming from.
If you feel angry almost all of the time, and you're not even sure why anymore, then you might be depressed. Feeling angry all the time is miserable, and not knowing how to fix it is even worse. So if this sounds like you, don't be afraid to talk to someone about it.
7. You Feel Helpless
We've discussed how stress can make us feel overwhelmed, and we all know that stress can even mess with concentration, too. If these feelings have progressed to the point that you feel totally helpless, though, then it's likely that your stress has turned into depression.
If this sounds like you, reach out to someone. Whether it's a friend, your partner, a family member, or even a coworker, tell someone you trust that you're feeling helpless. I know feeling helpless is a difficult thing to admit, but know that it's OK if that means asking for help from the people who love you.
8. Your Eating Habits Are All Messed Up
Change in appetite is a symptom of both stress and depression, so it can be tricky to tell whether your eating habits are indicative of situational stressors or depression. For example, I went through a devastating breakup a while back, and I lost my appetite altogether for a bit because of it. For about two weeks, eating was a labor, because everything tasted like cardboard to me. Eventually, though, I got my appetite back.
Whether you've noticed that you've been eating way more or way less than normal, prolonged changes in eating habits are not something to take lightly. If your eating habits don't start to level back out even after you've put time and distance between yourself and whatever happened to trigger your change in appetite, then you might be dealing with more than just stress. Consider making an appointment to talk with your primary care physician about it, because whether it's mental, physical, or both, prolonged changes in appetite are not something you should ignore.
9. You've Lost Your Motivation
Stress can definitely lead to burnout, but a healthy amount of stress should only work to increase your motivation, not diminish it. So if you've gone from feeling overwhelmed or burnt-out to feeling helpless, and now your drive to do the work you used to love has just disappeared, then your stress has probably turned into depression. Losing most, or all, of the motivation that used to push you to achieve your goals is devastating, and ignoring this major of a dip in motivation will only lead to worsening depression.
The Bottom Line
According the The World Health Organization (WHO) an estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. So if you think your prolonged stress has turned into depression, know that you're not weak or alone for being depressed. Take care of yourself, find healthy ways to cope, reach out to the people who love you, and seek professional help. Or, if that sounds too intimidating right now, consider trying these affordable alternatives to therapy. You should never feel ashamed of getting the help you need — you deserve to be happy and healthy.
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