There's no doubt about it, the human existence isn't an easy one. For all the many joys to be had, there are a seemingly infinite number of hardships.
Trauma, heartache, physical limitations, professional setbacks, and financial struggles are just a few of the many obstacles we face in our daily lives, and it's perfectly natural to succumb to feelings of despondency from time to time.
What separates those occasional blue spells from clinical depression, however, is the consistency and duration of those feelings.
Do you find yourself in a state of constant despair, punctuated by a lack of energy and interest in engaging with the world around you? Do your sleep, diet, and personal life show signs of permanent alteration?
If so, you may be experiencing more than a temporary ordeal, and it may be time to seek professional help.
Most Common Signs Of Depression
Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, with roughly 17 million adults experiencing a major depressive episode this year according to the World Health Organization. This figure is likely much higher, as many who experience depression don't seek help or speak out about it.
If you aren't sure whether you're experiencing symptoms of clinical depression or simply “going through something,” here are a few signs acknowledged by The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), as well as tips for what you can do to start feeling better right away.
Permanent change in appetite, sleep, and physical activity
While a general upset such as losing a job or loved one can absolutely affect our eating, sleeping, and exercise habits, these factors tend to be temporary in the long run. Those who suffer from depression can experience dramatic shifts in their weight, frequent bouts of insomnia, and a lack of motivation to pursue any physical activity.
Mild to severe health problems may result from these changes.
Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Depression is often accompanied by an inability to focus on tasks at hand, as well as make decisions regarding personal and professional matters. Those with depression can report various difficulties in accomplishing tasks both important and mundane, either putting them off or half-heartedly pursuing them.
Additionally, matters involving decision-making can be a great source of anxiety.
Most of us go through periods of low energy and poor stamina, typically during and after a period of stress or adjustment. Depression not only drains one's mental and emotional reserves, but subsequently leaves them feeling perpetually exhausted, and in more severe cases, barely able to manage the most menial of tasks.
Loss of interest in activities, goals, and pursuits
A healthy life involves the active pursuit of goals and social engagements, which in turn leave us with a sense of progress and belonging to a wider community. Retreating from these pursuits may occur from time to time due to personal and professional responsibilities, or simply the need for some down time, but depression zaps one of all interest in outside hobbies and socializing.
We all get snappish when our day unfurls in a less-than-stellar manner. Maybe friends and family members are stepping on your last nerve or colleagues are alternately stepping out of line; in both cases, blowing off steam is an unpleasant but essential part of dealing with such day to day stressors. However, irritability is depression's constant companion, punctuated by habitual outbursts followed by crippling feelings of guilt.
Those who struggle with depression aren't necessarily thrill seekers, but searching for escape by any means possible. This can lead to an assortment of destructive pursuits, such as substance abuse, irresponsible sexual encounters, gambling, and high-risk physical activities such as extreme sports.
Persistent feelings of hopelessness
Self doubt is by no means a rare emotion, particularly when we find ourselves facing an intimidating task or worse, coming off a recent failure. But to the chronically depressed, those occasional feelings of self doubt become a constant sense of worthlessness, with no hope for improvement or a better perspective.
Recurring thoughts of suicide
Regardless of whether you're depressed or simply going through a rough spell, if you are feeling suicidal you should immediately seek the help of a hotline, in-office therapist, or an online counselor.
What You Can Do
While there's no magic cure-all when it comes to depression, there are certain steps that can provide considerable improvement.
Talk to someone you trust
Reaching out to others, especially those you are close to, can provide instant comfort and relief regarding your mental state. A friend or family member may also be able to share some much-needed insight, as well as supply factors and solutions not previously considered.
Change your diet
You may scoff at the old adage that you are what you eat, but it's true! Improving your diet–cutting back on sugar and processed foods and adding more fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins–will give you a sustainable energy and immune system boost, which in turn will keep you fit and clear-headed.
Much like your diet, exercise plays an integral part in your mental well-being. A brisk run, daily swim, gym session, or evening walk can up your endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, also called “happy hormones.”
A licensed professional can guide you through the steps to overcoming depression, as well as help you uncover any underlying causes such as childhood trauma, a recent life change, or family history.
Today's more traditional in-office counseling structure is rapidly being replaced by online counseling, which provides convenient and confidential help whenever you need it, and by trusted counselors across the nation.
Online counselling services to consider:
- BetterHelp – Affordable and unlimited online therapy with over 5,000 certified online counselors
- Talkspace – Online and text-based therapy. Talk to a counselor from your mobile phone 24/7
- PrestoExperts – Hundreds of professional and certified therapists that you can call, text or email on a per-minute basis