Are you dealing with stress and depression? Is there a link between the two? Can stress actually cause depression? These are the questions our visitor Colin had for me. With Colin’s permission I’m sharing his letter with you and then I’ll answer his questions.
Dear Dr Purves
In May I relocated from London to York and took a new job with a housing company. For the previous three months I’d been commuting to London and staying there for the week, away from my wife and newborn child whom I missed terribly.
The move to York was supposed to make things better but things just went from bad to worse. The person who interviewed me for the post wasn’t the person I ended up working for and he took an instant dislike to me. I put up with his bullying as best as I could but it just got worse and worse. I was constantly stressed. He undermined everything I did so that I began to believe it was me. In my previous role I’d been trusted, liked and confident with my tasks but within a couple of months I felt like a different person. It was hard to relax even at home.
Then I got a call from my mother who lives in Scotland to say she’d been diagnosed with a brain tumour and they had to carry out more tests. I’m not sure if there’s any relationship between how I was feeling before and what happened but I sunk in to an immediate depression.
I was tired and tearful all the time. I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. I was snappy with my wife and I didn’t want to do anything. In six weeks I put on a stone in weight and I’m not tall so it looked even more. The weight gain made me feel even worse about myself and I withdrew even more.
I recently saw my GP who diagnosed me with depression and signed me off work. I’ve been referred to a CBT therapist now and am just waiting for my appointment to come through.
Is the fact that I was stressed at work before I found out about my mother’s health the reason I sunk so quickly in to depression or are they completely unrelated?
Dealing with stress and depression: What is stress?
Let’s start by looking at what stress is. In a nutshell it’s physical or mental stress on your body. Colin was certainly experiencing mental stress from his situation at work and as he himself identified was feeling stressed and uptight even when he was at home.
We all need a certain amount of stress in our lives but when it’s too much it begins to negatively impact us and our body. What’s actually going on in your body is that the stress causes higher levels of hormones such as cortisol and for example the amount of serotonin decreases. When your chemical balance is out of whack you can find yourself wanting eat more as Colin did or less. You might find you’re very sleepy or can’t get to sleep. And you may find yourself feeling tense and snappy as Colin reports. If this continues you can find yourself suffering from depression.
Dealing with stress and depression: What is depression?
If you are depressed you might feel sad or empty, experience a change in appetite or sleep, tired or even worthless. Colin reports feeling tired and tearful and gaining weight which are all typical symptoms of depression. When we refer to depression what we commonly mean is clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder to give it its full diagnostic criteria name. You can learn more about what depression is on my clinical depression page.
Dealing with stress and depression: Is there a relation between the two?
There is a relationship between stress and depression. Colin was already susceptible to depression being stressed and unhappy at work before he learned that his mother was ill.
I would ask Colin if as a result of being stressed he had been making negative lifestyle changes. I wonder if he was already eating more unhealthy foods and exercising less? Changes such as these in stressed out people can mean that they are at greater risk of experiencing depression.
Dealing with stress and depression: Getting better
So you know how you got here. Now what should you do? I’m glad Colin’s been referred to a CBT therapist as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT therapy) is a highly successful way to treat depression. While Colin is waiting for his appointment to come through there are plenty of free CBT exercises available which he could use to get started.
Waits to see CBT therapists can be lengthy depending on where you live. If you find yourself on a waiting list and would prefer to get started sooner another option is to embark on a computerised CBT program such as Mood Control or Blues Begone which you can fit in to your lifestyle.
Dealing with stress and depression: Other treatments
Best of luck dealing with stress and depression.
I hope you've found this post helpful.