How To Tell The Difference Between Being Stressed And Depressed

Are you depressed or are you stressed? Between political turmoil, the number of hours we spend on social media and screens each day, and a pandemic that turned everyone's lives upside down over the last few years, it wouldn't be surprising if you haven't been feeling like your best self lately. In fact, mental health struggles are increasingly common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 25% of Americans suffer from mental health problems each year, and more than half will experience a mental health issue at some point during their life — so, you're far from alone.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what mental health problem you're facing because people experience mental health problems differently, and there is also overlap between some of them. Stress and depression can definitely have some of the same symptoms, but luckily, there are ways to tell the difference and treat both. While only a health professional can give you a definitive diagnosis, here are some signs of both conditions to look out for.

What stress looks like and how to manage it

There are several common causes of stress; it can sneak up on you when you're taking on something challenging at work, paying the bills, or having an argument with a friend or family member. What is it, really? Stacy Gnacinski, assistant professor of health sciences at Drake University told Real Simple that "Stress is a psychophysiological state generated by the perception of demands being greater than the resources available (mental energy, bank account balance, fitness level, etc.) to accomplish a given task." Though feeling stressed may not sound like an overly critical condition, the potential long-term effects of chronic stress (mental health issues, cardiovascular disease, hair, and skin problems, etc.) are nothing to laugh about.

Have you noticed yourself grinding your teeth, feeling especially moody, or choosing to stay home and skip out on social events? You may also be experiencing headaches and stomach aches, decreased libido, insomnia, or dry mouth. If you have symptoms like these and suspect you're dealing with stress, you probably are. Manage your stress by making your health a top priority — that means exercising, consuming lots of nutrients, and taking some "me time" to decompress, enjoy yourself, and listen to your mind and body. Don't be afraid to seek out help from a doctor as well.

What depression looks like and how to treat it

Sleep issues, appetite problems, and unexplained pains are all symptoms that people might experience with both stress and depression. However, depression is a different ballgame. The diagnosis is primarily characterized by consistent and intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, lack of motivation, and difficulty getting out of bed, concentrating, and making it through the day.

While lifestyle changes like improving your diet, getting more sun, and incorporating movement into your routine can help alleviate symptoms a bit, that's not adequate treatment unless your case of depression is on the milder side. If you find that you're feeling depressed for weeks or months at a time and your ability to function normally on a day-to-day basis is impacted, it's time to reach out and let someone know. Your doctor, a trusted loved one, or a therapist are all great places to start; they will help you figure out the best way to go forward. Depression can be overwhelming and debilitating, but the good news is, it's also extremely treatable with therapy and/or medication.