How can I tell the difference between exhaustion and depression? Read more for three things in your control that you can change to make yourself feel better.
Dear Dr. B,
How does one know the difference between depression and just plain exhaustion?
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.
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.
What are the differences between exhaustion and depression?
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.
Changing your thoughts and words can help change the way you feel
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).
3 things you can control when dealing with exhaustion and/or depression
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 direct 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)
Every day can be a good day when you trust the promises of God.
Today is Going to be a Good Day
My newest book, Today is Going to be a Good Day: 90 Promises from God to Start Your Day Off Right is now available!
This uplifting devotional helps you make each day a good day no matter what is going on in your life.
When life conspires to drag us down with all of its troubles, it can be hard to keep our spirits up. In times of severe illness and depression, I learned that when I stand on God’s promises, despite my circumstances, every day can be a good day.
Each reading includes Scripture, reflection, prayer, and a recommended playlist song designed to help you live out Philippians 4:8: “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.”
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Thank you. This is an important post that everyone should read. 🙂
Thank you Melissa. I pray it meets someone where they are today. Feel free to share if you feel led. Because of Him, Hope Prevails!
Great post Michelle. I know I don’t feel up to par when I don’t sleep. I’m getting older and been having hip trouble and sometimes it affects my sleep. Can’t get comfortable. Advil helps with that. I need my sleep badly! It’s fuel to me.
You’re right Debbie. Sleep is fuel to us. We all go through seasons. Fortunately, not sleeping doesn’t mean everyone is depressed, but often, those who are depressed do struggle with sleep. Blessings!
This is a great explanation along with practical advice to overcome. AS someone struggling with insomnia, yes, it affects everything.
And I LOVE it when someone asks why I’m not sleeping.
Everyone who knows me knows I’m a problem solver and a fixer by nature. If I knew the answer to that, I’d do something about it! 😉
Thanks Carrie Ann! I know what you mean…if we knew the answer to “why” we wouldn’t have the question asked in the first place! But because of Him, Hope Prevails!
Thank you for sharing this as I have battled with depression since teenage years. A lot of people think I am lazy at times and do not fully understand how depression affects us. Love the bible verses too 🙂
Many will say things and do things because of a lack of understanding. But the Bible tells us, “My people parish for lack of knowledge.” Hold on to the truth! Because of Him, Hope Prevails!
Michelle, this post is close to my heart because when I had my second son I was exhausted and not making milk [though I didn’t realise that at the time] so this baby was always hungry and I got precious little sleep.The doctor sent me to a clinic at the hospital and some stupid therapist told me I was seriously depressed, She put that thought into my head and I nearly didn’t live beyond that day. As it happened…exhaustion was correct and depression was NOT..
I am glad you have written about this here for others to learn from.
Did you read your advice about sleep ? 😉
Praying for SLEEP for my precious friend.
Mary, your case is not unusual, unfortunately. Sometimes doctors speak into people’s lives, from an area that isn’t their expertise…unfortunately. Many DO experience postpartum depression, BUT, frequently in new mothers, their lack of ability to sleep through the night is the REAL problem. And for others, there are other contributing factors for sleep disturbance (pain, a pet in the room, switching from day to night shift at work, etc. etc.). Regardless, sleep is vital to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It’s nighttime where you are now, so praying YOU are enjoying peaceful sleep! <3
I found you via Deb at the BlessingsCounter linkup and I’m thrilled to know you are here. I have a family member that struggles with this and am always interested in what else I can learn that might help me understand and be filled with more compassion. Thank you!
This thrills my heart Christi!! I hope you’ll take the time to look around the site to see what other posts and resources may be helpful to you or those you love. I generally post inspirational life-lesson type posts on Mondays, and “Ask Dr B” answers to reader questions on Thursdays or the occasional Wednesday. Hope to see you back again soon! Because of Him, Hope Prevails!
Depression seems as though it’s an epidemic these days. It’s unfortunate for those who suffer from it as well as their family and friends. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us at the #homemattersparty! We love hearing from you.
You’re absolutely right!! It is estimated that by 2020, depression will be our greatest epidemic worldwide!! That’s why I write: to educate, to encourage, to provide Hope. It’s time to make a positive change! #HopePrevails!
Great insight Michelle! I can see how exhaustion and depression are linked but I appreciate a better understanding of each as they stand alone. I know more and more people who suffer from depression and your words will only help me better in understanding them. I also love how you ask us to choose thoughts that are God’s thoughts.
Blessed you shared this at The Weekend Brew.
Thanks for you encouraging words, Mary! I always love seeing your name and beautiful picture show up in my comments!! Depression is growing at epidemic proportions, so it’s my prayer that my posts will provide help and hope, pointing back to the Great Physician as our source. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Thank you so much for informing us of what the differences are and how both can work together. My son has severe depression, actually we believe he is Bi-Polar, and this helps me to understand him more. Thanks so much.
I’m so glad you found this post helpful Nikki. There are several other blog posts on this site regarding depression (and bipolar) that you may find helpful. I’m glad this will help you understand him more. All any of us wants is to be loved, found worthy, and accepted. Understanding goes a long way toward that! Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
This is so helpful. I really didn’t know the difference between these two but knew they seemed to go together. There are some significant differences so I appreciate this message. I have had exhaustion yet still had the desire to do things and I have had depression when all I wanted to do was sit and read not interacting with anyone. As an older woman I like to read, crochet and spend time at home but my hubby doesn’t usually like to sit at home all day so we do a little of both. It works and we get some exercise going out to breakfast and some rest just reading and crocheting. A good balance with diet and sleep really helps so much. Your insights and very practical helps are always so compassionate and caring. Thank you!
Michelle, thank you for this resource and clarification. I have seasonal affect disorder beginning with the fall time change and ending at the spring time change. I love your helpful information, and I always have a takeaway.
Visiting from Let’s Have Coffee #19
Michelle, thank you for your article. It was so helpful to know the difference between exhaustion and depression and what we can do about them.
Michelle, thank you for this post as it is most helpful and provides such good information on the differences between the two.