What is the Stress Depression Connection?

Here we look at the stress depression connection and provide some strategies to reduce stress and depression.

There are many different factors come together to cause depression. Environmental factors, genetics, and personal circumstances can all play a role in the development of depression, though some may play a larger role than others.

A definite cause that has been linked to depression is stress.

Though not all stressful situations may cause depression; and what one person finds stressful another person may not, stress is a crucial factor that must be examined in depression.

Here we look at:

  • what is stress
  • the physiological effects of chronic stress
  • stressful life events and depression
  • positive habits to reduce the stress depression effect.

What is Stress?

Simply put, stress is a normal physiological and psychological reaction to situations both positive and negative. Chances are that you've experienced both of these types of good or healthy stress and bad stress.

For example, getting a new job creates anxious and stressful feelings about your performance in the workplace as the "new" person. Family gatherings around the holidays can also be a source of good -- or negative -- stress.

The stress you may feel isn't itself abnormal, however. It is the way that you deal or cope with stress that can influence your chances for depression and other negative consequences.

The following is a progression that you may be familiar with:

“Pain in the present is experienced as hurt. If released here, it goes not further.
If held, the pain of the past is remembered as anger.
Pain created by thoughts of the future is perceived as anxiety.
Unexpressed anger redirected against one’s self and held inside is called guilt.
Anger directed inwardly toward one’s self creates depression.”

p.76 of Controlling Stress and Tension

Physiological Effects of Chronic Stress

If you're not practicing healthy coping skills as a response to stress, stress can take a toll on the body in the physical sense.

For example, you might feel irritable, fatigued or tired. Chronic or ongoing stress can also lead to tension headaches and other physical signs of stress.

Some of these may include an upset stomach, chest pain, trouble sleeping and high blood pressure.

In general, experiencing chronic stress can make you more susceptible to sickness as the impact of stress decreases your body's immune response.

In addition to the physical stress symptoms that stress can bring, emotional problems can also develop.

For starters, you might feel anxious a bit more than if the stress weren't present because stress and anxiety are generally related....the more stress you feel the more anxiety you are likely to experience.

You may also be vulnerable to experiencing anxiety attacks and developing depression.

Stressful Life Events

Chronic stress is not the only way that depression can occur. Major life events that are stressful situations can cause a person to become deeply saddened, emotionally distraught and depressed.

For example, consider a person who's experienced the death of a loved one, or multiple deaths of loved ones in close proximity to each other.

Though these types of situations may not cause the depression directly, there may be other factors, such as genetics, that predispose the person to developing depression.

But the stress either maintains the problem or initiates the problem that can lead to depression.

The stress depression connection can result from feeling under too much stress in which case stress management techniques may be helpful to reduce the effects of stress.

Similarly the stress depression connection can work through the meaning the stress has for you. So that if you are exposed to the cause of stress again that this triggers a stressful reaction. In this case some form of counseling may be beneficial to you.

Developing Positive Habits

Since stress is a major factor that contributes towards depression, you need to take steps to make yourself less vulnerable to it.

The first thing you can do is to examine your family history to determine if you're vulnerable or may be genetically predisposed to suffering from depression. Good indicators of genetic predisposition include if one of your parents, especially your mother, experienced depression during his or her lifetime.

Exercise has been shown to modulate the effects of stress.

Aside from boosting endorphins in the brain, regular physical exercise makes you feel good about yourself and can improve your mood. You can also engage in practices like meditation, guided imagery or yoga to deal with stress effectively.

Even though the link between stress and depression is real, this doesn't automatically mean that you'll develop depression.

Stress--especially chronic stress--can be negative in your life, but finding ways to deal with it effectively can act as a protective buffer against both mild and major depression.

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