Depression Symptoms: Not What You Might Think
The expression “I'm/he/she/they is/are depressed” often gets used just as casually as a stranger
asking you “how about the weather today?” As we all trudge through a modern day mental health
crisis it is unfortunate and even harmful that the word “depression“ has been watered down so much.
Perhaps this occurs due to a simple lack of awareness of what clinical depression actually is. People who have endured depression understand in the fiber of their being exactly what it is. It is dark, it is heavy, unpredictable and often relentless, among other things. For many, however, the term depression is associated with more than everyday emotions like feeling sad, having a bad day or feeling down. For the record, this IS NOT depression.
Given the state of mental health awareness in our culture the watering down of the term “depressed” and “depression” can make things very confusing for someone who suspects that they are struggling with their mental health. So what exactly is depression? Sure we can open up the DSM-V and read point by point what clinical depression is. While this can be a tool to gaining knowledge, it does
not paint a clear picture or take into account the context of ones individual life circumstance/experience. The fact is that depression can manifest in several different ways. Below is a list of 10 less known and more subtle ways depression presents itself.
1) Ruminating About the Past
Most people have regrets and remorse about past life events. Some more than others. On
some level we usually learn to come to term with our perceived mistakes and move forward in
life the best we can. However, when you are experiencing depression, these life events can
seem like an endless loop of the same stories, in which there is no positive outcome. It is like
watching the same sad ending to a movie over and over again. Not only can we not stop
remembering and thinking of these things but it can become exhausting and intrusive at times.
More times than not these stories we repeat increase a negative self image of ourselves.
From time to time we put things off whether it be house chores or a work project.
Procrastination during depression can become the rule instead of the exception. E-mails go without response, punctuality goes out the window, clothes pile up and the light bulb in your bathroom
never gets replaced. As these things back up, the thought up catching up becomes more and more daunting. This can often lead to negative consequences at work and in interpersonal relationships.
3) Not answering phone calls, e-mails, texts
Experiencing depression can make it feel like we have to muster up an incredible amount of
energy to engage with other people. These seemingly simple tasks feel almost burdensome.
Many people describe a feeling of not wanting to be seen by others or feeling tired of acting “normal“. The consequence of this often leads us to feeling even more isolated from others. The
conundrum of depression is that we desperately want to be invisible, yet simultaneously urn for
connection and compassion from others.
We easily feel triggered and annoyed by others. This is often most noticeable by how we
respond and interact with our partners, close friends, work colleagues and in some cases even
strangers. This may not become readily apparent until someone points it out to us. After we become aware of the irritability it can lead to feelings of guilt or shame as we reflect on how it
has effected those around us.
5) Physical Pain
This one surprises a lot of people. Believe it or not physical and emotional pain share common
neural pathways in the brain. Therefore, emotional pain/depression can cause an increase in
various sorts of physical pain. For those with preexisting conditions this may intensify the pain.
Pay close attention to your body and sensations in your body as they can often be key indicators
of underlying emotional struggles.
6) Negative Self Image
Depression seems to sort of mute or dampen our ability to remember positive attributes about
ourselves while amplifying our perceived shortcomings. A telling sign that this is occurring is by
how readily we find ourselves able to accept a compliment. No matter the scale of praise or
how earned it may be, it just feels flat, insincere and even unwanted. Additionally, several of
the other symptoms in this list, if experienced for long enough periods of time can quickly erode
our self image.
7) Stress Intolerance
Often this is an early indicator of approaching depression or other mental health issues. Simply
put, we find it increasingly difficult to maintain our composure when little things go wrong.
Responding to normal every day occurrences that we typically don’t think twice about create a
new sense of tension and frustration. Stress intolerance is closely tied to irritability (#4).
8) Feeling Guilty About Feeling Bad
As if coping with depression wasn’t hard enough. When we are suffering from depression we
may begin to feel like a burden to others as if are friends and family “have to tolerate us” or that
we are “dragging them down”. This is a common theme during depression. This contributes to
how difficult it can be to ask for help when suffering because we constantly feel like we are “too
much to handle”. Even as a therapist, whom people are coming to for help, I have had clients
express significant guilt that “they are making me listen to their problems". This feeling of
guilt is often tied to other earlier life events.
9) Engagement in Addictive Type Behaviors
Anyone who is enduring depression or any mental health issues wants to feel better. There are
no shortage of quick ways to briefly, and the key work is “briefly”, escape the pain for a few
moments. This includes the obvious ones like drug and alcohol use but also extends to more
subtle behaviors like: shopping, eating, gambling, sex, relationships, social media, internet use,
pornography, gaming, excessive cleaning and the list goes on and on. This one is particularly harmful because excessive engagement in these activities increases the likelihood of a
worsening depression. Then the worsening depression increases addictive behaviors. Contact
someone immediately for help if you find yourself going down this road.
10) Feeling Nothing
As mentioned before, depression manifests itself in various ways. For some depression feels like
the absence of any emotion at all. They are not able to feel positive or negative emotions and
feel numb to life around them. For many this is a scary experience. If you find yourself here, talk
to someone right away. If you are hesitant to talk to a personal friend/partner contact a crisis
help line or visit any number of online forums.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, however let it be a guide for you to better understand
the many faces of depression. These symptoms are also not just associated with depression as
they can also be associated with a number of mental health issues. If you recognize yourself or
someone you know in this article, please seriously consider reaching out and scheduling a counseling appointment. Depression is not to be minimized and should be taken as seriously as any physical illness and treated accordingly. We're here to help!