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Insight into the Symptoms of Stress and Depression

written by: Nicole Etolen • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/3/2011

Symptoms of stress and depression are almost interchangeable, as stress can lead to depression and vice-versa. Understanding the symptoms can help give you a head’s up before they become severe enough to cause long-term harm.

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    Psychological Symptoms

    Psychological symptoms of stress and depression manifest in a number of cognitive and emotional ways. Memory problems and difficulty concentrating or staying on task can quickly become issues, especially if constant worry and/or sadness are consuming your thoughts. Good judgment and logical thinking can take a back seat, causing you to act erratically or make uncharacteristic decisions. Issues that may seem minor to others, such as trying to locate a missing shoe or being stuck at a red light on your way to work, can become overwhelming and prompt irritability, irrational anger and/or crying spells.

    Stress and depression can also induce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Sufferers may feel as though no one understands what they are going through, or that they are becoming a burden on those around them. Fixating on negative events of the past can lead to feelings of guilt and worthlessness and misplaced blame. Sufferers of extreme stress and depression may become fixated on thoughts of death, dying and suicide. Seek help immediately if you feel the urge to hurt yourself or others.

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    Physical Symptoms

    Symptoms of stress and depression can also often manifest in physical ways, affecting your overall health and ability to function. The obvious symptoms include fatigue, sleep disruptions and an over-all “rundown” feeling. Depression can also cause generalized pain throughout your muscles and joints. The Mayo Clinic explains that pain and depression are closely related with one often causing the other. In some cases, the connection is a mystery. In others, shared chemical receptors in the brain for both pain and emotion may be the culprits.

    High levels of stress cause your body to release a number of different hormones, including cortisol and adrenalin, which can wreak havoc on your system. Stress encourages a fight-or-flight response, which increases the volume of chemical messengers that tell your body to release stored energy from fat and glucose, causing sugar levels to rise. While the release of these hormones is beneficial in short-term situations, maintaining high levels through ongoing periods of stress can increase your blood pressure, cause an irregular heart rate and may eventually lead to heart disease.

    Both stress and depression can affect your immune system. While high hormone levels play a supporting part, poor lifestyle habits play the starring role. People suffering from stress and depression tend to push their physical wellbeing to the side. Poor eating habits, excessive drinking or drug use, lack of proper hygiene and sleep disruptions can weaken the immune system, allowing outside invaders such as bacteria and viruses to gain a stronger foothold.

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    Symptoms of stress and depression are not one-size fits all; they can vary significantly from person to person, and even from day to day. While occasional stress or minor depression are a normal part of life, constant worrying or major feelings of depression can signal an underlying psychological issue and should be evaluated by a qualified medical professional.