Stress and depression is prevalent in all age groups and in people belonging to all walks of life. The level of stress that you take upon yourself and the events that cause stress basically depend upon your response to the various situations in life and the manner in which perceive them.
Life throws up many situations and not all of them are favorable. Everyone perceives and reacts to these situations differently. Unfortunately, some of us are not equipped to handle changes and adverse situations adequately. While some embrace adverse situations with positive emotions others react with negative emotions like anger, fear, frustration and sadness.
Many people find it difficult to adapt to changed situations or accept realities. The result is that stress overwhelms such people. Stress, in modern times, is understood to be the single largest contributor to depression. Depending upon the personality of an individual, depression may stem from even minor stress.
Some of the more common causes of depression can be found in workplace stress, strained familial relations, midlife crisis and chronic stress.
Stress induced depression may manifest as symptoms that include but may not be limited to:
- Extreme sadness – Stress related depression leads to a continuous feeling of being overwhelmed. Some may also experience apathy and a feeling of emptiness accompanied by anxiety.
- Lack of interest in normally enjoyable activities – Activities that were enjoyable suddenly seem uninteresting and stress related depression leads to a situation of inaction. The very activities that were appealing earlier seem too tough, difficult or impossible to try out.
- Loss of libido – With a sad mental frame of mind, a large proportion of people actually experience a drop in their sex drive. This leads to marital strain and can cause further stress.
- Oversleeping or sleeplessness – Another common symptom of depression, disturbed sleep patterns result in a disruption in life. It becomes virtually impossible to enjoy a good night’s sleep. The mind races, wondering how the obstacles, real or imagined, will be overcome.
- Overeating or loss of appetite – Changes in dietary patterns results in causing havoc in the digestive system too. Food does not taste good any longer. Sometimes it becomes difficult to eat due to the bottomless feeling in the pit of the stomach. On the other hand, some people tend to overeat out of frustration or anger.
- Lethargy and low energy levels – Depression causes slowness. There is a reduction in reaction times, movements are slow and there is a feeling of general fatigue.
- Hopelessness – People experiencing depression fail to see light at the end of the tunnel, they lose all hope that things will ever get better.
- Thoughts of suicide – If there is no relief from depression for a long time, depression induces thoughts of death and suicide seems to be the only way out.
Although difficult to recognize in children below the age of eight, depression can also be observed in juveniles. Stress related depression is likely to surface when children start growing up. Puberty brings with it the stress of hormonal changes, peer pressure and social expectations. These changes bring about mood swings and sometimes social withdrawal. Without proper guidance and counseling, teenagers are often confused about what is happening to them and may fall victim to depression.
It is often said that women are more susceptible to depression than men. This may simply be an assumption based on the fact that men are prone to express their stress through anger while women are more likely to say that they are depressed.
Management of Stress and Depression
It is of utmost necessity that stress is managed to avoid anxiety disorders or depression. Just as depression has many faces, the road to recovery too has many facets. If you are undergoing harrowing experiences of stress, the first step is to make a firm decision that you will get rid of stress. And it is not as difficult as it sounds.
- The first thing to understand is that there is no need to panic in any situation. Irrespective of the task at hand, you alone can handle the stress and depression that you are facing and fight it off. Remember that helpless and hopelessness in you are not a reality but a symptom of depression. Seek help if you are not able to convince yourself. A strong support system will start you on the road to recovery from depression. Do not remain isolated as it fuels depression. Reach out to others, seek help and let your friends and family know what you are going through.
- Make changes in your lifestyle. These are not always easy to make
but simple lifestyle changes can mitigate the affects of depression.
- Go out of the way to cultivate new and supportive relationships.
- Maintain an active lifestyle. Exercise regularly. Exercise releases feel good hormones that elevate moods.
- Learn yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques.
- Avoid negative thoughts and adopt a positive attitude to life. Life situations look adverse only when you think negatively. If you look hard enough you will find that even situations that look extremely unfavorable have a positive to side to it.
- Seek professional help if these two do not work. A mental health professional will create a personalized treatment plan on the basis of the severity of your symptoms. A well constructed plan teaches you skills that you can employ to combat depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, works at the root of your depression and helps to reframe negative thinking and helping you understand why you feel the way you do.
Antidepressant medications have safety concerns as they are beset with side effects that can cause more problems than what you may already be combating with. Avoid medication unless it is prescribed by your mental health caregiver.
Stress and depression are personal experiences and vary with each individual, more so between genders. It is also generally believed that women are more prone to experience depression than men. In addition, it has also been observed that the causes and pattern of symptoms of depression in women is quite different from men.
One interesting study of emotional and alcohol-craving responses to stress revealed that women respond differently to stress. They are more likely to experience stress related depression and anxiety disorders than men. Men, on the other hand, were more prone to suffer from stress related alcohol-use disorders.
Women also tend to read more into an adverse situation and focus on possibilities of negative outcomes. They are also more prone to reflect deeply and think over and over again about their negative emotional state. In short, a woman’s increased vulnerability to stress and depression is mostly due to a greater deliberation of possible negative outcomes. This is considered to be the major reason behind why women are considered to be at a higher risk of developing depression or anxiety disorders.
Besides female response to stress there are also other factors that contribute to depression in women. The reproductive hormones and social pressures play an important role in female depression.
- Premenstrual issues – Stress and anxiety are common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, which is also referred to as premenstrual tension.
- Pregnancy – Changes that occur during pregnancy enhance the risk of depression, especially in women who are already in high risk category. Miscarriage, unwanted pregnancy and infertility are also major contributors to female depression.
- Postpartum depression – This is commonly known as ‘baby blues,’ a common but temporary reaction. Some women, however, experience long lasting clinical depression after childbirth and is normally associated with hormonal changes.
- Social and cultural issues – The role that women play in society, unequal power and status, sexual abuse, poverty are some of the social issues that place women at a higher risk than men.
The signs and symptoms of stress related depression is almost the same for both men and women. Women, however, tend to experience some symptoms more often. For example, women are more likely to show symptoms of seasonal affective disorder or depression in winter months due to low sunlight. In all likelihood, women are more prone to experience atypical depression.
Atypical depression is marked by symptoms that are opposite to what are normally associated with depression. Hence, it is not uncommon to see women suffering from depression to eat and sleep more rather than the other way round.
It is a common myth that children are immune to depression as childhood is a carefree time with no responsibilities. Unfortunately, the truth is that we have not allowed childhood to remain free from tensions and pressures and with the fast paced changing times, children have also fallen prey to stress and stress related depression.
Stress and stress related depression is not limited to children who go through a traumatic experience alone. Even those who have a normal regular life are also vulnerable to stress and depression.
Some children have a happy-go-lucky disposition and are able to handle most situations appropriately. They get over disappointments and setbacks easily and are ready for taking up new challenges. Some however find it difficult and withdraw emotionally or overreact to minor stressors.
What might seem trivial to adults can easily trigger depression in a child. The difference makes it incumbent on parents and caregivers to understand the various causes and symptoms of childhood stress and depression so that some help can be provided.
The common causes of stress related depression in children are:
- Lack of emotional support from parents
- Arguments between parents
- Parents splitting up
- Excessive teasing
- Too much work or homework
- School exams
- Learning disabilities
The signs and symptoms of childhood stress related depression that you should watch out for are:
- Sudden drop in grades in school
- Excessive sadness
- Inability to enjoy
- Excessive worry
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Social withdrawal
- Appetite changes
- Change in sleep patterns
- Weight loss or weight gain
You can help your children manage stress related depression by counseling them in various ways.
- Build your child’s self-esteem by showing love and affection.
- Anticipate events that might be stressful and prepare your child for what might occur.
- Monitor the child’s workload and check whether it is becoming difficult to handle.
- Encourage your child to talk. Listen carefully and try to understand his perspective even if it sounds illogical.
- Set realistic targets and don’t have high expectations that your child is stressed trying live up to them.
- Take your child out for having fun. Distraction tactics help in forgetting minor stressful events like missing out on the new drama group or the swimming team.
- Involve your child in finding solutions. Provide only backend help and let him find solutions.
- Make sure that the child gets enough exercise, eats healthy and balance diet and sleeps properly
Helping your child to manage stress and stress related depression can be tough. Such instances can involve serious issues like an illness, divorce of parents or the death of a parent. Children need support at every juncture in life lest they start blaming themselves for events over which they have no control. Sometimes reassuring them that whatever is happening is not their fault is enough to give them relief from stress.
If your child is very worried and depressed for longer than a month despite your efforts and assurances, you should seek professional help before the depression reaches unmanageable heights.