Stressed or Depressed? Know the Difference

Stressed or Depressed? Know the Difference

Often in our daily lives, we use the terms stress and depression interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. Although they have similar symptoms, can be dealt with in almost the same manner and one may actually lead to another, they are two different conditions. But the line between the two can seem pretty thin at times, and sometimes the only way to determine whether you are dealing with one or the other is to consult a professional.

What is stress?

Stress is the experience of being overwhelmed or being under too much pressure mentally and emotionally. It is usually triggered by a current situation in your life that is too much for you to handle. It could be bills that you can’t afford to pay, too much school work, a family feud, a relationship that you can’t control, etc.

Stress is too mild to be classified as an illness or disorder. But it can quickly develop into one if it’s not dealt with. Less of it is considered normal and harmless and might even be helpful. It can motivate you to take decisive action like beating a looming deadline for example. On the other hand, too much stress can affect your life negatively.

What is depression?

Depression is far more severe than stress, and its effects are long-lasting. It is a condition where you experience low moods most of the time. It makes you feel down, unmotivated and uninterested in the things that usually make you happy. Unlike stress which seems to have a visible trigger, depression can come out of the blue.

It can arise from one painful experience or a buildup of different things over time. It is triggered by the resurgence of old, repressed emotions. Because of its irrational nature, depression makes you feel like you are not in control. If not treated, the condition can spiral into suicidal thoughts.

What are the symptoms of stress and depression?

The symptoms of stress and depression can be hard to tell apart. They sometimes overlap, and it can be difficult to know whether you are depressed or just feeling stressed. Though the two may appear similar, the symptoms of depression are too intense and may last for weeks while those of stress will only last a few days.

Symptoms of Stress

  • Feeling nervous, anxious, or agitated
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Hard time relaxing or sleeping
  • Hard to concentrate
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Regular Headaches
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth
  • Worrying constantly
  • Losing interest in social life
  • Feeling like you can’t handle life’s difficulties

Depression Symptoms

  • Feeling sad or hopeless for long
  • Feeling exhausted, unmotivated and lacking energy
  • Continuous shame or guilt
  • Rapid changes in mood, from anger to rage
  • Changes in eating habits, losing or gaining weight
  • Thoughts of committing suicide
  • Memory Lapses
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Losing interest in social life
  • Feeling like you can’t handle life’s difficulties

How are stress and depression similar?

  • They both occur differently per individual. What may trigger them in one person may not in another person
  • They both affect your mood and energy levels. They make you feel down and unenergetic
  • They both change your sleeping patterns. You can lack sleep (insomnia) or sleep more than usual
  • They all disturb your eating habits. They can either make you overeat or lose interest in food.
  • They both disrupt your normal functioning. You can struggle to function and concentrate at your place of work.
  • They all make you lose interest in your social life. You want to stay in isolation and no longer want to be close to friends and family.

How are stress and depression different?

  • Stress is triggered by something obvious while depression may arise from anywhere.
  • Stress disappears when life events change. Depression can last for years no matter what changes happen in your life.
  • Stress is affected by current events while depression arises due to a resurgence of unresolved past emotions
  • If untreated, stress may lead to depression or anxiety. If not resolved promptly, depression may lead to suicidal thoughts
  • Stress enjoys social acceptance and is sometimes encouraged. Depression still faces a lot of stigmas
  • Low levels of stress can be beneficial. Low levels of depression are still debilitating.

How do you treat stress and depression?

The good news is that both stress and depression are treatable. There are many ways of treating stress, some of which include dealing with the trigger head on or taking care of your body. Unfortunately, depression is too severe a condition, and you may not snap out of it alone. You need to get professional help. But some methods of alleviating stress can also reduce symptoms of depression.

Ways to mitigate stress

  • Formulate a plan – Find out what is triggering it and brainstorm for solutions. Pick on a few solutions and start working on them immediately.
  • Avoid stressful situations – take breaks regularly whenever you feel anxious, tired or worried. Take the time to blow off some steam
  • Take care of your body – Maintaining a healthy body can help you cope with stress. Exercise regularly, eat healthy foods and get enough sleep daily.
  • Seek help – Don’t suffer in silence. If the situation appears to get out of control, seek help from a professional or someone you trust.

Get help if depressed

Depression is a very serious mental condition. However, it is nothing to be ashamed of. If you experience symptoms of depression, seek help immediately. The earlier you start treatment, the better.

In summary

Stress and depression are two different conditions, but they do share some similarities, which is why some people tend to confuse them. Stress is a temporal condition triggered by a current life event. It is less severe and easy to deal with. Depression is triggered by the resurgence of old buried emotions. It is serious, and those who suffer from it need expert help.

Melissa Jones is the Head Marketing Communications of We Are Top 10. She is a procaffinator and loves to read any kinds of books and passionate writing blogs on different topics.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.