Disclaimer. This article is for informative purposes and not a rubric for self-diagnosis. Depression presents a variety of symptoms that extend beyond those discussed in this article. If you believe that any of the points mentioned in this article apply to you, please consult a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment.
Depression is more than having a cloud hanging overhead. It is an amorphic monster that presents itself differently in and to everyone. Someone could be functional and seemingly happy and be battling this monster internally. Depression negatively changes the way you act, feel, and think about yourself. It can be alienating and debilitating.
Although they can coexist, depression is different from grief or sadness. Grief and sadness come in waves, and generally, you, your self-image, and worth remain intact. However, depression erodes your self-worth until it is crumbling beneath your feet.
- Low motivation
Low motivation or anhedonia sits at the core of depression. Unfortunately, doctors misconstrue and treat it as laziness when, in reality, it is very different.
Laziness is having the will but not the desire, whereas low motivation. is having the desire but no will. When you are depressed, it is hard to do anything.
An example of laziness is noticing that your room is a mess and needs cleaning but deciding to clean it another day since you can’t be bothered. Low motivation is when you want to do something, but you lack the will to get up from bed. Sometimes, you don’t even notice that the room is messy.
It kills your energy and darkens everything around you. It is not that you do not want to do things, but it’s just too hard. Unfortunately, low motivation can cause you to become socially withdrawn, foster negative feelings towards yourself, and have difficulty adjusting to social situations.
- Hopelessness or helplessness
A defining characteristic of depression is hopelessness. Hopelessness sets in when you feel stuck. You no longer see a point in anything, even living. No matter where you look, you cannot find a way out.
Helplessness accompanies hopelessness. It reinforces the idea that there is no point in anything by making you feel as though you are incapable of doing anything. Hopelessness is a dark room, and helplessness is the locked door.
Sometimes, your brain can trick you into thinking that things are awful, terrible, and horrible. It can fill your mind with these thoughts until the point that it is all you believe, even if it is not the case.
It is easy to get wrapped up in these distorted thoughts, but luckily, there are tools to get out of them.
First, try to recognize the moments when these thoughts usually pop up. Then, listen to the thought. Listen to what it is saying, but most importantly, how it is saying it. Most of the time, distorted thoughts appear in the form of extremes–everything, nothing, ever, never, always. Next, challenge the thought and argue against it. Bring up contrary evidence to what it presents. Lastly, figure out what you are gaining from thinking this way. Some distorted thoughts help remove accountability from our lives. They enforce the belief that we are incapable and simultaneously protecting us from the fear that accompanies a new endeavor or necessary transition in life.
If you find yourself feeling hopeless, see if you can identify any recurring thoughts that keep you feeling that way, and work with a therapist to change these thought patterns.
Another common sign of depression is fatigue. Although there is provisional evidence linking fatigue, sleep hormones, depression, most physicians see a lack of sleep as the cause of depression-related fatigue. However, other factors such as stress, diet, and antidepressants can also cause fatigue.
Yoga, massages, tai chi, and deep breathing exercises are great alternatives to restore sleep and improve fatigue. If you believe that your fatigue is related to lack of sleep, try to establish a bedtime routine. It will help you unwind and signal your brain to produce more melatonin, the sleep hormone. Consult with a doctor if your fatigue persists or you have concerns.
Depression has severe impacts on cognition. It affects your thinking, decision-making, memory, cognitive flexibility, and executive functioning. Hence, making you appear indecisive or mentally clumsy.
Additionally, the lack of hope that is prevalent during depressive episodes can make the decision-making process more difficult as you will expect a negative outcome.
Unfortunately, antidepressants do not provide any solution for this symptom. Instead, reach out to a therapist to learn healthy ways of coping with this symptom.
The last sign most people with depression exhibit is anxiety. Anxiety and anxiety disorders are typically comorbid with depression but can exist on their own. According to the NIH, 45% of people who have been diagnosed with one mental health condition meet the criteria for two or more disorders.
Some common manifestations of anxiety are:
- feeling in danger,
- panic or dread
- rapid breathing
- trouble focusing or thinking
Although both disorders present similar symptoms, their causes are distinct. However, I believe that, in some cases, whatever causes your anxiety can be the same thing that pushes you into a depressive state.
Depression technically can’t be cured, but you can manage it.
Some things that you can do on your own are: allowing yourself to feel, engaging in simple activities that make you feel in control (like making your bed or taking out the trash), establishing routines, doing things that bring you comfort, and taking care of yourself.
Lastly, seek help from a therapist, especially when you need it.
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