Dear Dr. B,

How does one know the difference between depression and just plain exhaustion?

Lacking Luster


Dear Lustrous,

This is a little bit like the chicken and the egg dilemma. But it’s an important distinction. Fatigue and exhaustion often accompany depression. Conversely, depressed mood will often strike when fatigue and exhaustion are ongoing.

Unfortunately, exhaustion and depression can fuel each other. Individuals suffering from depression are four times more likely to suffer fatigue and exhaustion. Yet individuals with prolonged fatigue and exhaustion are three times more likely to experience depression.

So it can be hard to tease apart what the primary issue is. Accurate diagnosis is essential, and I’d encourage you to consult with your physician.

Disturbed sleep is often a symptom of depression so many times individuals don’t realize their sleep problems are related to an underlying issue.

With depression, people often talk about being very tired but are often still able to complete tasks but lack the motivation. Whereas individuals with exhaustion feel their fatigue to such an extreme degree that they are unable to complete tasks that require physical energy.

Depression usually encompasses a significant change in mood: feelings of sadness, depression, despair, frustration, irritability, and/or agitation. Some people with depression experience crying spells, although not everyone does. Most who suffer from exhaustion don’t experience a significant change in mood, unless they develop a secondary depression.

Further, with depression there is also often a change in interest level, with less interest in those things that were previously enjoyable. Social apathy and decreased desire to interact socially is a common experience in depression. On the contrary, individuals with fatigue and exhaustion still generally have a desire to do things they previously did, and an interest in social activities, but feel constrained by their energy.

Finally, individuals struggling with depression typically reflect the depressed mindset in their thoughts and comments, often very negative, hopeless or helpless in nature. On the other hand, individuals who are exhausted experienced the physical effects of fatigue but don’t typically display a negative mindset.

To that point, both depression and our physical experience of exhaustion can be significantly impacted by our thoughts and our words. Our thoughts and words act as relay signals to our brain, which then prompts the production of various chemicals which impact our emotional and physical experience.

While you may not be able to directly impact your level of exhaustion, or your mood, but you can choose to take control of your thoughts, which will then indirectly impact your physical and emotional experience.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV).

In taking every thought captive, choose to entertain those thoughts that resemble God’s thoughts:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).

Whether you’re dealing with exhaustion, depression, or both, make sure you are giving attention to the three other things that are more or less in your direction control:

Sleep – aim to go to bed about the same time every night, and get up at the same time every morning. Even on weekends. Avoid daytime naps as naps will impact your natural sleep rhythm, often interfering with your nighttime sleep.

Diet – ensure you’re getting protein at all three meals. Insufficient protein adversely effects our physical, emotional, and cognitive functioning.

Exercise – Strive to get at least 15 minutes of exercise daily to improve your energy level, and improve your emotional and cognitive functioning.

Then like David, keep your focus on Him. Praise will lift your spirits and give you the right perspective despite your circumstances.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5 NIV)

Hope Prevails,


(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)


Hope Prevails Book and Hope Prevails Bible Study {hope for overcoming depression}

Available now through book retailers!

Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression and the new companion Hope Prevails Bible Study help the reader understand: how depression comes to be, recover their joy, reclaim their peace, and re-establish their true identity, while knowing their worth, remembering their secure destiny, and being confident that nothing separates them from God’s love.

What is the difference between exhaustion and depression? Read more to find out about three things are more or less in your direct control whether you are dealing with exhaustion, depression, or both.

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