Stress alone may not cause depression, but when you cannot cope with the stressful life situations for a prolonged time, you may become depressed. That said, you should understand that depression is a mental disorder of complex origin. As a matter of fact, the combined effects of genetics, imbalances in the levels of brain chemicals, and faulty coping skills are the real causes.
Stress, more precisely psychological stress, is a normal response to an overwhelming situation in life. Essentially, it can occur due to both good as well as bad events or situations. Remember the night before starting your dream job? Or, the moment when you experienced a breakup?
Normally, as the time passes by, you will learn to adapt to new changes in your life. But the real problems arise when stress lingers far beyond a certain duration. In fact, chronic stress, even if mild, may increase the risk of depression by a huge margin.
Understanding the Link Between Chronic Stress and Depression
Chronic stress can prolong for months or even years. Owing to the longstanding nature, it can leave a number of adverse effects on your health and other areas of life. For example, relationships, financial status, memory and problem-solving skills.
This is in contrast to acute stress where the duration is “too” short to cause long-term problems in life.
Chronic mild stress can negatively affect your sleep, food habits, weight and level of physical activity. In turn, all these effects may make you depressed. Depressed patients in most cases also have anxiety, which is your body’s reaction to a stressor. For the same reason, the depression medications also treat anxiety.
Some studies suggest chronic stress can also affect the brain development process throughout one’s life. As a result, older adults may develop depression after chronic stress. In fact, long periods of stress have a definite link with depression in later life years. This is a common occurrence in war veterans who have a stress disorder called PTSD.
Likewise, many common signs or symptoms of depression also occur during stress. They may include:
- Mood swings
- Unexplained pains
- Decreased sex drive
- Weight and appetite changes
- Memory problems
- Disorganized or racing thoughts
- Inability to focus
- Low energy and motivation
- Constant worrying even in the absence of a real problem
What You Can Do
While you cannot free yourself completely from stressors, you can cut down the risk of depression by learning certain coping skills. Also, a few minor changes in your lifestyle can do wonders when you are under stress.
Consider making the following changes in your life.
- Make sure you get a quality sleep for seven to eight hours.
- Identify the events or situations that might trigger stress. Once you know any of them, prepare yourself to minimize its effects on your mood and behavior. This is when you cannot avoid the stressor. For example, you cannot quit your job because you fear presentations. But you can prepare for it by practicing in front of a mirror.
- Make a “to-do” list and follow it strictly. That way, you can make your daily routine more organized.
- Take a deep breath. Yes, doctors now suggest for their patients to breathe deeply to reduce stress. Also called “abdominal breathing”, it helps to reduce heart rate and blood pressure.
- Sit in a quiet place with your back straight. Now close your eyes and focus on your breathing for at least five minutes. Alternately, you may also recite a “mantra” or a positive self-suggestion like “I am peaceful and happy”. The case is not here about the mantra but about how you can rest your mind and recharge it. If you like, you could listen to your favorite music as well.
- Be social. Being social is not always about getting active on social media platforms. In fact, a face-to-face conversation is a great way to release your thoughts and anxiety. Choose the one who you want to open yourself to.
- Find a reason to smile or laugh. Why not watch your favorite comedy series? If this is not possible, look at a beautiful flower and smile at it appreciating the beauty of nature. In any case, make sure to feel the senses during the smile.
- Stay active. Physical activity, regardless of its type, can boost your mood. Also, it can distract you from overwhelming thoughts. Studies show that exercising increases blood circulation and may also release feel-good chemicals in the brain. Consider strolling through a garden or lifting some weights. Yoga could be another option. Choose what fits the situation.
- Keep a diary. Write down your thoughts, emotions, and anything that makes you happy or sad. Be true while writing. It can help you track what turns your mood on or off.
- Limit alcohol and avoid smoking. Both are known to increase stress in your mind. Not to forget other harmful effects on your health.
- Eat a balanced diet. Make sure you get your dose of vitamins, proteins, minerals and other essential nutrients.
The Bottom Line
- Stress and depression are close but not the same. Nonetheless, chronic stress might make you depressed directly or indirectly.
- Seek immediate medical help if thoughts are very overwhelming or you develop suicidal tendencies. Know that there is no harm seeking help for mental illness. Timely treatment results in complete and swift recovery.
Want to Know More?
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