Where is the line between feeling life's stress, and a real problem? Depression hurts. It's debilitating and extremely unpleasant. But the line between stress and depression can be blurred – especially for those who have gradually gotten worse.
Like most of our senses, our brain too can become acclimated to things. Like the minute you put on deodorant you can smell the odor, but 5 minutes later you can't. Your brain has blocked out the repeated message of “we smell this”. It has deemed it unimportant because it's constant, or minimally changing. The same can go for stress and depression.
Professionally we use a term to determine regular stress from a depression diagnosis. The word we use is “functioning”. If symptoms are impacting your ability to function in relationships, at work, school, or other important area of your life then you might qualify as being depressed. An easy way to think about it is if your stress-like symptoms are making it harder to have the relationships you want, or to achieve the work or school goals that you want, you are having a problem functioning.
There are a few major holes when diagnosing this way. If we only consider depression as occurring when we have trouble somewhere in our lives - what then happens to those people who are utterly miserable but able to hold it together? I would argue that this is where most Americans stress levels are at – stressed and overworked, but somehow holding it together.
These overworked and stressed individuals might not qualify as being depressed, but over time, if their brain begins to get used to the stress and the uncomfortable feelings they might not realize how bad they are really feeling. The years of stress have become the new normal and the individual could honestly answer that they feel fine – they are acclimated to the bad feelings and their mind has learned to ignore them.
Both the person struggling with depression and the person experiencing normal stress could benefit from feeling better – so does it really matter if they qualify as being depressed? We, as a society, have become normalized to stress so much that often times we label the overstressed as being weak.
Whether it's stress or real depression, professionals are available to help you to feel better. You don't need to wait until you are in a deep dark hole to ask for help. Sometimes just learning to cope with life stress makes a big difference.
Use the following guidelines to determine when stress has started turning to depression.
Any of the following symptoms mean you could be experiencing more than stress:
Written by Brad Messenger, LMSW.