Distinguishing Stress From Depression & Tips for Coping

Stress and depression are two of the biggest causes of mental illness in the United States. But first, it’s important to understand the difference between stress and depression. 

What Is Stress?

You experience stress when your body is exposed to a mental, emotional, or physical challenge. It’s a natural reaction that keeps you alert and focused while dealing with it. 

Stress is defined as any situation that has negative short-term consequences on health or a situation that produces a prolonged increase in physiological arousal. Arousal is measured by heart rate, breathing rate, and muscle tension. Stress can be caused by external sources such as work pressures or personal relationships.

Chronic stress may lead to depression because, in some cases, your brain will shut down the production of the neurotransmitters that enable you to feel good. So, once you’re depressed, it’s important to find ways not only to deal with it but also to reverse the process so you can get back on top again. 

Stress is a fact of life. But it’s not all in your head! Stress is your body’s natural physical reaction every time you feel threatened. That’s also how your body reacts when angry or frustrated about something else.

Your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing will increase as well. This is an “in flight” response from our caveman days. When we were in danger, these changes helped prepare our bodies to fight or flee the situation.

In today’s modern world, stress can do more harm than good. While a bit of stress can motivate us to take action, chronic stress can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, digestive issues, and depression.

What Is Depression?

Depression, on the other hand, is an entirely different condition. It’s a low mood that can last for weeks or even months and interfere with your ability to enjoy life. While stress generally eases once the challenge has passed, depression gets worse if left untreated.

Depression is a mood disorder that affects how a person feels, thinks, and behaves. It can lead to difficulties sleeping or concentrating and can affect overall health. There are different types of depression, including major depression (also known as clinical depression), postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and bipolar disorder.

Tips for Reducing Stress & Feeling of Depression

Treatment for stress, depression, and anxiety disorders cost the United States about $210 billion in 2010, according to a 2021 study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health. So, it is vital to find affordable means to manage your stress levels and cope with depressive feelings. Below are a few tips to help, but always consult a medical professional if your symptoms are becoming too difficult to manage independently.

Be aware of your stress levels

Stress is something that everyone deals with daily, but sometimes, it can lead to depression, which is why it’s important to know the difference between the two. Depression is a mood disorder that involves feelings of sadness and hopelessness, as well as loss of interest in activities. Depression can last for weeks or become chronic if left untreated, whereas stress can be reduced more quickly, often by a change in environment or at the end of a stressful event. 

Practice meditation

Meditation has been proven to reduce stress levels in our bodies and minds. People who meditate have a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure than those who do not practice meditation. There are many different ways to meditate, but don’t let anyone tell you that only one way is right for you. Find what works best for you and stick with it.

Listen to music

Sometimes, you only need some good music to change your thought pattern and relieve your stress. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by anxiety or depression, put on some headphones and listen to your favorite tunes for a while until your mood starts to improve.

Reach out to others

Talk to someone you care about or call a mental health hotline if needed. Dealing with stress and depression is much easier when you have someone who cares about you to lean on. After all, everyone needs a little help.

Eat more foods with antioxidants

Antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals in our bodies that cause cell damage. Free radicals are formed during digestion, so eating foods rich in antioxidants will help reduce them naturally and improve your mood at the same time! Some antioxidant-rich foods include strawberries, blueberries, broccoli and spinach. Eating at least one serving of fruit or vegetables daily would be best. Green tea also has antioxidants that can boost your mood and energy levels.

Watch what you eat and drink

You probably already know that too much sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can aggravate depression. But you might be surprised to learn what else can make things worse for you. Some patients tell their doctors they feel better when eating fast, fried, and processed foods. When they ask why, they say it’s because they feel more relaxed. The problem is these foods often contain substances that trigger depression or produce a chemical reaction in the brain that furthers depression symptoms.

Toxins can cause depression by making neurotransmitters less effective in your brain. Your neurotransmitters are responsible for sending messages between your nerve cells, so when the toxins interfere with this process, you develop depression symptoms like feeling down or apathetic. Also, chemicals that are released during a stressful situation get stored in your fat cells and can cause depression as well. So, if you’re overweight, it may be contributing to your depressive symptoms! Try to eat as healthily as possible until your symptoms improve.

Spend time outdoors

Being outside in nature can help to reduce stress hormones like cortisol, which are associated with a depressed mood, so if you have a chance to get out for a walk or a hike, it will reduce your stress and can help you with it. 

Take a break

Stop and think before you react to an issue in your life. If you are stressed out by work, family, or other daily demands, sit back and think about your situation. Try not to let your emotions control you or your actions. When you can relax and reflect on the problem, you will be able to see it in a different light and come up with solutions that are easier than if your emotions were controlling you.

Finally, as a last note, no one is immune to daily stress and depression. If you are reading this article, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve had some experience with stress and depression in the past. Even very successful people, like Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln, were known to have struggled with stress and depression. Stress is not something that should be ignored, and if you find yourself depressed, don’t hesitate to ask someone to help you immediately.