We all go through a rough patch now and then, as we adjust to a major life change or struggle with difficult decisions. Sometimes, though, what we’re going through feels bigger and lasts longer: Maybe you feel like something is missing in your life or like nothing seems to go your way. Perhaps you feel upset most of the time and are often brought to tears, but you don’t really know why. Persistent sadness and feelings of emptiness and hopelessness may seem unexplainable, but they’re often associated with depression. When it comes to describing the signs of this condition, however, they only paint a portion of the picture.
Depression affects people differently: For some, it can lead to those feelings and other dark thoughts, and have a major impact on everyday life. For others, however, the symptoms may be less obvious and not as debilitating. But no matter how it surfaces for you, depression is not just a bout with the blues, nor is it something you can just “snap out of”—it's a serious concern that can have profound effects.
It’s unsettling when you just don’t feel like yourself, and while getting back there may seem impossible at first, acknowledging that what you’re feeling is more than you can handle is a good first step in doing something about it. Talking things over with your doctor can help you recognize all the signs of depression and if, in fact, you are suffering from it. Consider the following symptoms on your own as well:
You lose interest in the things you used to love. You do what you have to: grocery shop, do the laundry, stop at the bank, drive the carpool. But when it comes to the activities you did for pure enjoyment, you can't seem to find the time or the desire. Maybe you no longer take pleasure in working on your scrapbook or reading for book club. Perhaps you stop following your favorite sports team or going to your regular exercise class. You may also start declining invitations to parties, skipping out on dinners or simply not making plans to get together with family and friends. Intimacy and sex can also become unappealing when you’re not feeling like yourself.
The smallest inconvenience sets you off. What you might have considered annoying—like a slow-moving check-out line or overly-chatty colleague—is now infuriating; you may even find yourself restless and easily agitated in these situations. Men, in particular, are more likely to get angrier or irritable faster if they're depressed. Women, on the other hand, also experience escalated emotions, but more along the lines of worthlessness and guilt; depression can cause you to fixate on past mistakes or failures, see things as useless or meaningless, or blame yourself when anything goes wrong.
You can't concentrate. We all feel scatterbrained from time to time, but if you often have a hard time focusing or feel like you're in a fog, a bigger emotional issue may be at play. Depression can make it difficult to remember appointments or where you left your cell phone, and you may get easily distracted and have a tough time making decisions.
Your eating and sleeping patterns change drastically. Whether you’re eating and sleeping a lot less or a lot more, big changes in appetite and bedtime routines can be a sign of depression. Fatigue is another hallmark symptom—simple tasks, like unloading the dishwasher or stopping for milk, seem to take a ton of effort. Your energy is low and you're moving slowly.
You have unexplained pain. Headaches, backaches, queasiness and cramps—the list of conditions that could cause these physical ailments is long, and it may surprise you to learn that depression is one of them. Depression can cause and intensify pain and, on the flip side, experiencing ongoing pain can sometimes lead to depression. In fact, experts found that people with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing mood disorders, and depressed patients have three times the risk of developing chronic pain. The connection? The same chemical messengers regulate pain and mood. When there’s an imbalance, pain increases, along with sadness, hopelessness and anxiety.
Experiencing any of these changes can be difficult, and sometimes it’s easier to ignore them in an attempt to feel like yourself again. But it’s important to recognize that what you’re going through may be a problem you can’t face—or fix—on your own. Reach out and share what’s happening with someone you trust. Sometimes just starting to talk about it can help you figure out how to move forward, whether that means making some changes on your own or speaking to a health professional to discuss treatment options. Remember, you can feel better—there are effective therapies, medications and healthy lifestyle changes that support recovery from depression.