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Understanding Stress and Depression

Stress and depression are two different things but there is often a relationship between them. Depression also describes two different things, one being a short-term symptom and one being a chronic illness. Have you noticed that sometimes, when you are stressed out, you tend to be more easily upset, perhaps cry more than usual, maybe you become quiet and withdrawn, or feel down on yourself or the world?

These are some common descriptions of depression. For many people, experiencing a stressful situation at work, in study, around family events or due to relationship issues, can lead to becoming dismayed, sad, hopeless and helpless – that is, becoming depressed over the stressful situation. This is usually for a short time only and when the person is able to adapt to the situation, a solution to the situation is put in place or the situation just resolves itself, their depression symptoms disappear.

Stress can also occur over a moderate to long period of time, such as dealing with a difficult colleague at work or caring for an elderly parent for a long time, and this has a wearing-down effect. What arises is a type of burn-out and the biochemistry changes over a long period lead to depression. Alternatively, stress may be sudden and out of the blue, such as losing a job, unexpectedly ending a relationship, experiencing the death of a loved one or even a natural disaster event.

This type of stress may be so traumatic as to be beyond the adaptability of a person. In this case, the stress or trauma may trigger a depressive illness. The illness of depression triggered by such stressful events becomes an independent disorder of its own.

This means that the symptoms do not lift when the situation has eased but continues on regardless. There can also be an illness of depression which is termed endogenous depression, which means it arises from within and is also due to imbalances in biochemistry, not caused by any external event or situation. However, further stressful events may be too great for a person with ongoing depression to adapt to along the way and they may experience a worsening of their depression during those times.

Depression in response to stress is within the normal range of expression and is a reaction to that particular stimulus, while depression as a disease does not depend on a situation and it arises based on internal biochemistry over a long time. That is basically the difference between the two; depression as a response and as a disorder.

It is clear that although stress can contribute to depression, it does not necessarily result in an illness. This is based on thresholds of adaptability. For example, people who can effectively adapt to a stressful situation usually recover from the symptoms of depression. But there are some who are unable to adapt because the stress exceeds their threshold due to -

  • the magnitude of the stress
  • the continuous nature of the stress
  • there may be many stressful situations at once
  • there may be many stressful situations one after the other
When the adapability threshold is surpassed, this increases the risks of having depression as a disorder. Although the cause of depression as a disorder cannot be exactly determined, there are factors that are thought to contribute or predispose to having depression and these include (but are not limited to): genetics, biochemistry, environmental factors, psychological factors and social factors.

Regardless of the trigger or cause of depression, it is clear that stress can exacerbate the symptoms. Management of such stress is vital in order to reduce such occurrence of these symptoms. It is always better to take preventive measures so learn and utilize various techniques. It is also best to seek help from professionals who can guide you for your own needs.

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