Are You Suffering From Stress Or Depression, Or Both?

Stress and depression do share some common symptoms.

In fact we’re not far from the truth by saying it’s a two-way street.

Besides, studies mingling the two are not uncommon either.

Nevertheless, there are also major differences between them but let’s first establish their “relationship.”

A Match Made in Heaven!

Almost everyone experiences symptoms of stress and depression as a part of everyday life.

A person who is stressed out has a tendency to become depressed. And the depressed too, often find stressful events harder to cope.

Depression is a normal response to many of life’s stresses. Take for example the baby blues.

While this is one of the most remarkable events, it is also one of the most stressful times in our life. However, please note that getting the blues is not the same as clinical depression.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depression symptoms are only considered abnormal when they are “present nearly every day for two weeks and they must be severe enough to impact your ability to function.”

Have you at times feel a touch of nerves, or have been forgetful lately without knowing why or what causes it?

It is noteworthy that “unknown” factors that act upon our unconscious mind (in particular our memories and habits) can have an impact on our lifestyle without us being aware of it.

In other words, one can lead a stressful lifestyle or feel gloomy out of habit! “This is just normal,” we’d continue to assure ourselves.

When these habits of thoughts and action rule our life, beating stress and depression ironically, becomes “abnormal!”

Another two common topics shared by the stressed or depressed is “food” and “sleep”. Many don’t feel like eating when they are stressed out or feeling glum, others on the other hand make a pig out of themselves!

Due to biochemical changes in the body during these trying times, people’s appetites change. Not only their eating habits are hard hit, their sleep patterns too are affected. Some sleep excessively while others couldn’t sleep a wink.

The sad truth is that a good many people try to drown these awful feelings in alcohol and drugs. Unknown to them, rather, stress and depression are the ones feeding on alcohol and drugs.

What Sets Them Apart?

Although stress and depression are rooted in biochemical responses (both would show through emotional and physical symptoms), each, however, operates on different chemical pathways.

Depression

Imbalances in some neurotransmitters, the chemicals used by nerve cells (neurons) to communicate with one another, can cause a significant change in mood.

Too little of the “feel-good” chemicals can result in depression symptoms.

Among the situations that can trigger depression are: bereavement; failure at school or at work; an unhappy marriage; and the realization that illness or aging is depleting one’s resources.

Or could there be a genetic tendency for depression? (link)

When one is getting the blues, feeling of unhappiness; hopelessness; worthlessness; agitation; lack of confidence; lack of life purpose; pessimism; and anxiety―all take center stage. Motivation too is at a low ebb. Often, a loss of pleasures in life ensues.

These “mild” depression symptoms if prolonged, and go past the point at which most people will recover, can turn into clinical depression.

This abnormal mood disorder can cause frequent crying spells; extreme sadness; extreme feelings of social isolation; and even thoughts of death or suicide.

(Note: Feeling of isolation or loneliness is not the same as aloneness or being alone. One can feel unbearably lonely even within a crowd or among family members while the other feels equally relaxed when alone or with others.)

To restore mild chemical balance in the brain, cognitive behavioral therapies can help. And natural antidepressants (including taking natural supplements, counseling, journaling, humor, meditation and the many different forms of exercise) are sometimes more than sufficient to lift our spirits.

But for the more serious cases, mood-altering medications may be required.

Stress

One may feel the tension accumulating when facing stressful situations (such as an approaching dateline or redundancy; too much work and too little time to complete; a heated argument; a public speaking event; or even a rushed wedding!); but this does not necessarily make one depress. 

Instead … the heart pounds harder; the brain turns super alert; ready energy shoots up; and breathing rate multiplies.

The so-called modern “fight-or-flight” response is being activated. And the stress hormones too are hard at work.

Examples of stress hormones include the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), vasopressin, thyrotropic, adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, and the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).

Note: Other than cortisol, CRH or corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), too is in the news lately. More and more stress and depression studies are starting to link it to stress-related disorders.

Stress hormones are released to gear up our body systems so we can meet the challenges ahead. Well, isn’t this a good thing? While there is such a condition as “positive” stress, there is never a “positive” depression as far as I know.

It is clearly evident that the major emotions at play here are fear, anger and anxiety. These feelings, however, can overlap and share the grey area between stress and depression.

Managing mild to moderate stress can be achieved through relaxation techniques (meditation, tai chi, and yoga) and exercise. Coping skills such as time management and humor too are effective anti-stress methods.

But abnormally high levels of stress hormones and their prolonged stay in the body (i.e. long-term stress) can contribute to stress-related depression. This is where the differences between stress and depression end.

Inflammation, Stress and Depression

Combine the three, you’ll get hell!

Is there a link connecting inflammation to stress and depression? You bet there is, and more and more studies have found that both the body’s innate immune response and the stress response activate the same brain-nervous system circuit.

The results of a recent study, published in the Sept 1 2006 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, have shown that stress activates the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, interleukin-6 (IL-6), in the bloodstream of all participants.

Inflammation markers, however, were greater in the depressed patients compared to the control (healthy) group. (link)

Inflammation Process: The Layman’s Guide This is a simple guide to introduce you to the workings of this silent killer, the inflammatory squad and their fiery arsenals!