Stress is the body’s response to physical or emotional demands. Emotional stress can play a role in causing depression or be a symptom of it. Experiencing a stressful situation can trigger a depressive episode, and being depressed can make it more difficult to deal with stress.
High stress levels from events such as losing a job or the end of a relationship can lead to depression. However, not everyone who is dealing with these situations becomes depressed. There are possible biological factors behind why one person facing a stressful circumstance ends up depressed while another doesn’t.
Causes of Stress
Loss of a family member, divorce, and moving are just a few life changes that cause stress in most people. Some studies link an overactive stress system and high levels of cortisol in the body to depression and other serious health conditions. Our bodies are hardwired with a “flight or flight response.” When the mind perceives a threat, the body produces higher levels of stress hormones—such as cortisol—to help the body fight or run away from the threat. This works well for people in real danger but is not as beneficial for everyday life.
Sometimes the never-ending stresses of modern life cause the fight or flight response to also be never ending, and this can lead to many medical complications, including depression. In other cases, development of depression is unrelated to stress. Unfortunately, people dealing with depression don’t stop experiencing life’s events. Big and small stresses still occur, but depressed people might not be as equipped to deal with them. This can exacerbate both the depression and the stressful situation.
Tips on Managing Stress
Stress management techniques are also useful in combating depression. Stress relief can also be a way to prevent depression from developing. Top ways to manage stress include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. Some people find activities such as doing yoga, meditating, or attending religious services to help with stress. It’s important to find what works for you. And no matter what you choose, it is vital to have a circle friends and family to support you.
Talking to a mental health professional can also be a useful way to deal with stress and/or depression. Talk therapy alone or combined with medication is a proven solution for both depression and/or chronic stress.
What the Expert Says
“A depressed person is compromised in dealing with problematic situations,” says Stacey Stickley, a licensed professional counselor practicing in Ashburn, Va. “When a person is dealing with depression, things may seem more negative than they really are. Events that would have been taken in stride may seem more problematic or impossible to handle. The idea of taking action on things may require more of a person's resources, resources that are already compromised due to the depression.”
Stickley says it is important to reach out to others such as friends, family, and coworkers for help with specific things.
“Talk to your doctor about pharmacological options, or go talk to a counselor about evaluating and managing your symptoms,” she says. “Don't wait. Being proactive is important so you can maybe stop the downward slide sooner. It's easier to climb out of a shallow hole than one you have been slowly digging and tunneling into for several months.”