When you think about stress, negative emotions likely come to mind. But some stress is good for you, like the anticipation you feel when you start a new relationship or job. It can create excitement and make you want to do and achieve more. Stress can also help you prepare for challenges or respond to dangerous situations.
Good stress does not persist. It lifts your mood to hit the moment and then goes away. Being under stress for an extended period of time can become overwhelming and affect you both physically and emotionally.
“Our stress response is pretty good in the short term, but not very good in the long term,” said David Prescott, PhD, associate professor of health administration and public health at Husson University in Bangor. ME.
“When we remain under chronic stress, our physiological stress response becomes overburdened beyond what it was designed for and begins to affect us.”
The effects of chronic or long-term stress can be detrimental in their own right, but they can also contribute to depression, a mood disorder that makes you feel sad and uninterested in things you normally enjoy. Depression can affect your appetite, sleeping habits, and your ability to concentrate.
And the effects of depression can cause stress.
“The impact of stress on depression and vice versa is one of the most important problems of our time,” says Carol Landau, PhD, clinical professor at Brown University.
The Stress-Depression Connection
“We believe that the causal relationship between stress and depression is what is called ‘bidirectional,'” says Prescott. “One can cause the other and the other can cause the first, and both can make each other worse.”
The ways in which depression can lead to stress is pretty clear.
“Depression disrupts your life, so you are often more isolated,” says Prescott. “Sometimes you shrink your interpersonal network and stop doing a lot of activities, like work, school or things that you enjoy doing. We know that this type of isolation increases the perceived level of stress, so we know that depression can cause stress. “
There is good evidence that the opposite is also true.
“A severe stress, like a divorce or a major financial change, is a major stress factor and somehow throws the psyche off balance. If the stress continues to rise, something happens, and often it’s depression, ”says Landau.
But the reasons why stress contributes to depression are less obvious.
“It’s pretty clear that chronic stress increases the incidence of depression,” says Prescott. According to The Mental Health Institution’s The Mental Health Survey Report, the levels of depression among Gen Z members rose by about 4% or 5% between before and after the pandemic.
“We believe that social isolation, interruption in normal activities, and general stress when your college or work is disrupted increases the levels of depression. But I would say we don’t know exactly how it happened causally. “
Make lifestyle changes
Sometimes a few small changes can break the stress-depression cycle, starting with a more positive attitude.
“When you are stressed and feel like you are getting depressed, the most important thing to do is to develop a more active coping strategy to manage your stress,” says Prescott. “Don’t just think that you have to suck it up and take it.”
A more active coping strategy can include:
- exercise. Just 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week is enough to make a difference. Activities like yoga and tai chi, which slow things down and help you relax, are good for reducing stress.
- Avoid binge eating or drinking. These can make you feel better temporarily, but they aren’t helpful. Not only are they physically harmful, but they can also make you feel guilty and feel even worse about yourself. Too much alcohol can affect your sleep and make you sluggish the next day.
- Limit caffeine. Too much can piss you off and make the stress even more intense. Try to cut back on coffee, soda, and other caffeinated drinks.
- stop smoking. The idea that smoking cigarettes can help you manage stress is a common myth. While nicotine helps you relax immediately, the feeling is short-lived and can become more stressful through cravings or withdrawal.
- Take time for yourself. Do things that you enjoy doing or that make you feel good. Be relaxed about yourself and focus on the things that you do well.
- Stay away from stressors. If you know something, or if someone upsets you, do what you can to avoid that situation or person.
- Sleep well. Allow enough rest for your body and mind to relieve stress. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours per night for adults.
“When you are depressed and trying to minimize the effects of stress on your life, it is important to overcome the belief that ‘nothing I do really matters,'” says Prescott. “In most cases, that’s just not true. It may not change everything, but it is a big deal to overcome this hopeless belief. “
Another way to alleviate the effects of stress and depression is to not try to deal with it on your own. Strong, supportive relationships can make a world of difference.
“Depression is a state of separation,” says Landau. “So one of the most important things would be to find a way to connect. It’s extremely important to add a few people you know from the past and find a way to connect. ”
Talking to friends and family can help you better understand what is causing your stress, which can be a big step forward.
“When stress and depression play against each other, it can help articulate and pinpoint the stressors in your life that are causing the most discomfort,” says Prescott. “We all end up feeling, ‘I’m stressed,’ but it really helps to find out what certain things are doing for you.
“It helps when someone says things like, ‘How are you feeling about your stress?’ or ‘Tell me how your mood is holding up?’ or ‘How is your mood?’ Then just listen.
“Often times people don’t get specific advice like ‘do this or do that’, but only the chance to talk about it with someone who is paying attention. Ask such an open question, bite your lower lip and listen for a while. “
If talking to friends or family isn’t going well enough, you can speak to a professional. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is one way to change your perspective and approach.
“Cognitive behavioral therapy is important because we want to regain control,” says Landau. “CBT helps you focus on the little things you can achieve today, how to implement and evaluate them. So it’s a great educational tool as well as a therapy tool. ”