Understanding the Relationship Between Stress & Depression

March 23, 2020

stressed man sitting at computer

If you’re feeling more stressed lately, you’re not alone. This level of uncertainty has us all stressed to some degree. It’s true that some degree of stress is healthy – after all, it’s part of why the human race has survived so long. When our ancestors were being chased by a tiger, it was stress that helped send their bodies into hyperdrive.

How are Stress & Depression Connected?

The problem is that today, the wear and tear of coronavirus stress can become harmful to not just our physical health, but our mental health as well. Chronic stress has even been known to contribute to, or trigger, depression for some people.

As many people know, cortisol is a stress hormone linked to a slew of physical health complications. Excess cortisol can contribute to heart disease, headaches, weight gain, and trouble sleeping, among other issues. But the stress-depression connection is a less talked about effect.

The Chemical Effects of Stress on Mental Health

Whether your stress is chronic (occurs over an extended period of time) or acute (occurs periodically), both can cause a spike in cortisol production and a dysregulation of brain chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine.

While research is continuing to uncover the complex role these chemicals play in mood regulation, both serotonin and dopamine have been shown to have an important impact on depression symptoms.

Dopamine is closely related to our feelings of motivation and reward. A hallmark symptom of depression is low motivation and a loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable – potential rewards.

Researchers used to believe that low levels of serotonin were correlated with depression symptoms, but we now know this isn’t necessarily true. While dopamine dysregulation is tied to certain depression symptoms, serotonin is now thought to impact the way in which we process emotions, which can affect mood.

When we’re not under stress, our bodies regulate this chemical production in a way that helps us get a good night’s sleep, feel energized, and be able to regulate our moods in a healthy way. But when we are under stress – especially long-term stress, like feeling stuck in a dead-end job – our chemical production can get thrown out of whack, which can put us at an increased risk for depression.

Stress Management

It’s important to find ways to manage stress to lessen the likelihood of it developing into other physical and mental complications. Luckily, there are ways to help manage all kinds of stress.

Acute vs. Chronic Stress

First, start by identifying your stress source. Ask yourself if it’s an internal or external source and if it’s acute or chronic stress. An internal source would be something like a fear – worrying about getting everything done on you to-do list. External stress comes from major life changes, like a global virus.

Being able to identify the source of your stress should help you gain more of a sense of control over the situation. From there, you can start to take steps towards managing your stress.

These steps for stress management could include:

  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Making getting better sleep a priority
  • Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation – yoga is a great way to blend exercise with deep breathing.
  • Finding a hobby and making time to enjoy it
  • Making FaceTime dates with people who make you happy
  • Having a “laugh folder” on your computer full of things that make you smile
  • Starting counseling

Remember that it’s normal to feel some level of stress right now, but if it feels like too much, consider remote counseling.

If you’d like to learn more about Neurocore’s remote counseling, give us a call at 800.600.4096. We’d be happy to chat about how we may be able to help.

Bruno, Karen. “Stress and Depression.” Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/stress-depression#1
Vandergriendt, Carly. (2018, May 9). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/dopamine-vs-serotonin
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016, April 21). “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.” Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037
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