Managing Stress and Depression – Symptoms and Treatment

05/18/2017 01:38 am ET Updated May 18, 2017

Stress and depression are both incredibly prevalent in modern society.

The American Institute of Stress points out, for example, that about one third of the U.S. population is currently battling the effects of extreme stress. Even more telling is the fact that almost half of Americans feel like their stress levels have only increased in the last five years.

And when it comes to depression, the World Health Organization reports that more than 300 million people around the globe are affected. In fact, depression is actually the world’s leading cause of disability.

With such widespread problems, being able to spot the symptoms and know the treatments are crucial for both medical professionals and the average person as well.

What Do Stress and Depression Look Like?

The symptoms of stress and depression can be pretty similar.

Stress, for instance, may lead individuals to feel:

· Overwhelmed

· Burned out

· Nervous and anxious

· Abrupt changes in mood

· Like they can’t concentrate, relax, or sleep

· Physical symptoms like headaches and teeth clenching or grinding

Similarly, the symptoms of depression can include:

· Exhaustion

· Mood swings

· Extended periods of sadness or hopelessness

· Lack of energy and motivation

· Suicidal thoughts

· Rapid weight gain or loss

While it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, especially because they can actually exacerbate each other (i.e. chronic stress can lead to depression, while depression itself can be a source of stress), it’s important to be able to tell them apart.

On the one hand, stress is more of a response to environmental cues—short-term events that aren’t normally experienced, like moving to a new house, an upcoming test, etc. As the environmental causes of the stress are removed, so too are the effects of stress.

When it comes to depression though, things get a bit more complicated. While this disorder might come about from certain events just like stress, it can also present without any cause at all, even when life seems to be going great. That’s because depression can sometimes have a purely neurochemical basis. As such, an individual could develop depression entirely out of the blue.

One of the major distinguishing factors between stress and depression, then, is persistent symptoms. A continuous lack of energy and feelings of being overwhelmed and hopeless for periods of weeks and months at a time are most likely caused by depression. When these symptoms are condensed into a short period and are brought about by a current event like, say, changing jobs, you’re most likely dealing with stress.

How Is Stress and Depression Treated?

The good news is these two types of problems can both be treated in similar ways.

A healthy diet and exercise, for example, can go a long way when it comes to combating the symptoms of each. What’s more, incorporating mindful meditation into your daily routine can be a great way to both reduce stress and lessen the effects of clinical depression.

When it comes to depression though, many people may need more intensive forms of treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one method that’s been proven effective in treating depression. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are also supported by strong evidence in the field. While these types of therapies can be very effective, treating depression may sometimes require the use of medication.

Being able to tell these two conditions apart is the best way to judge if you’re simply stressed out – or if you need to seek professional help to deal with your symptoms.

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