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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