Stressed or Depressed? Know the Difference

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If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, you are not alone; it’s practically a fact of life on college campuses. A poll conducted by mtvU and the Associated Press in the spring of 2009 reported that 85% of students say they experience stress on a daily basis.

Stress is good if it motivates you but it’s bad if it wears you down. Many factors can contribute to the stress you experience, and this stress can cause changes in your body that affect your overall physical, mental, and emotional health.

Depression is more serious and long-lasting than stress, and requires a different kind of help. In a 2010 survey by the American College Health Association, 28% of college students reported feeling so depressed at some point they had trouble functioning, and 8% sought treatment for depression.

The good news is that depression is a highly treatable condition. However, it’s not something you can snap out of by yourself, so it’s important to get help. How do you tell the difference between stress and depression? Both can affect you in similar ways, but there are key differences. Symptoms of depression can be much more intense. They last at least two weeks. Depression causes powerful mood changes, such as painful sadness and despair. You may feel exhausted and unable to act.

Here are common signs of stress and depression. Which fits you best?

Common Signs of Stress Common Signs of Depression 
Trouble sleepingFeeling overwhelmedProblems with memoryProblems concentratingChange in eating habitsFeeling nervous or anxiousFeeling angry, irritable or easily frustratedFeeling burned out from studying or schoolworkFeeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your lifeTrouble functioning in class or in your personal lifeWithdrawing from other peopleFeeling sad and hopelessLack of energy, enthusiasm and motivationTrouble making decisionsBeing restless, agitated and irritableEating more or less than usualSleeping more or less than usualTrouble concentratingTrouble with memoryFeeling bad about yourself or feeling guiltyAnger and rageFeeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your lifeTrouble functioning in your class or in your personal lifeThoughts of suicide

Reducing Stress

If you are stressed out, there are many good ways to get relief. Drinking or taking drugs however, won’t solve anything and can lead to more problems. Here are some constructive choices:

Make A Plan

Figure out what is really causing the stress. Think of as many possible causes as you can, and write them down. Now brainstorm for solutions that will reduce the stress, and commit them to paper. A trusted friend, family member or school counselor may be able to offer some good ideas as well. Now choose a few solutions to start tackling the issues. If they are complicated, break them down in to manageable chunks. Then give your plan a try. If one particular solution doesn’t help, try another one. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s all a part of the process.

Get The Stress Out

Remember to take breaks when you feel worried or stuck. Do something relaxing every day. Sing, dance, and laugh–anything to burn off the energy.

Take Care Of Your Body

A healthy body can help you manage stress. Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, eat healthy food, stay hydrated and exercise regularly. Go easy on the caffeine. Shorting yourself on sleep, and especially pulling an all-nighter, robs you of energy and your ability to concentrate. A healthy diet improves your ability to learn. Don’t skip breakfast.

Don’t Suffer In Silence

Get support, whether from family, friends, your academic advisor, campus counseling center, or a trusted online community. A heart-to-heart talk with someone you trust can help you get rid of toxic feelings and may even give you a fresh perspective.

If these steps don’t bring relief, or if you are still unable to cope and feel as if the stress is affecting how you function every day, it could be something more acute and chronic–like depression. Don’t let it go unchecked!

Getting Help For Depression

If you think you might be depressed, take a depression screening. Print out the results or e-mail them to yourself and then show them to a counselor or doctor.

To get help, start with your student health center or counseling service on campus. Most community colleges provide limited free mental health services and can refer you to local providers for longer-term treatment. You can also talk to your family doctor. Your local Mental Health America (MHA) affiliate can refer or in some cases provide services as well. To find the nearest MHA affiliate, call 800-969-6642 or go to Find An Affiliate.

Remember, depression and other mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of. Depression is not a sign of weakness, and seeking help is a sign of strength. Telling someone you are struggling is the first step toward feeling better. You will need the help of a mental health professional to beat depression. Talk therapy, antidepressant medication or a combination can be very effective.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat You can also reach Crisis Text Line by texting MHA to 741741 or dial 911 for immediate assistance.

Learn More

The American Institute of Stress
Phone: (682) 239-6823

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
Phone: (800) 826-3632

Active Minds
Phone: (202) 332-9595

Anxiety Disorders of America
Phone: (240) 485-1001

Freedom From Fear
Phone: (718) 351-1717

National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH)
Phone: (866) 615-6464

Amen Clinics
Phone: (888) 564-2700

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