We all have bad days. Sometimes even weeks or months. Experiencing low mood is a natural part of life – after all, no one can be happy constantly. But how do you know if it’s more than that? The symptoms of depression are varied, but often they also include a strong sense of sadness or feeling ‘down’.
At times of intense stress, when we’re working too hard, concerned about the cost of living, facing a health issue or dealing with a toxic relationship, a feeling like this can seem overwhelming. The good news is that in most cases it should pass after a while, and there are even a few simple steps you can take to try to boost your happiness.
But what if your feelings persist over a long period, get steadily worse, or start having a negative impact on daily life? There’s a difference between experiencing low mood and symptoms of depression. Knowing what it is can help you get the right support.
1. Psychological Symptoms of Depression
Depression is an intensely personal illness, and people who experience it have a varying range of symptoms. Depression can manifest in many ways, but some psychological symptoms will almost always be a part of it.
The psychological symptoms of depression can include an influx of negative emotions, such as sadness, hopelessness, anxiety or guilt, or maybe low self-esteem. You may feel more irritable than usual, or unable to tolerate certain situations, people or behaviour. Other symptoms include difficulty in making decisions, feeling tearful, and losing interest in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy. This can sometimes be accompanied by reducing social contact – even with close friends and family – or neglecting parts of everyday life that suddenly feel stressful or upsetting.
If you’re experiencing severe depression, your symptoms could include hallucinations, confusion, delusions or disturbed thoughts. Some people also have extreme anxiety, suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harming. If you experience any of these, it’s vital you get help immediately, such as by contacting a helpline or talking to someone you trust.
2. Physical Symptoms of Depression
Depression can also affect our physical health, and there are several warning signs to watch out for. Symptoms of depression that manifest in the body can include lethargy or lack of energy, making it feel difficult to carry out normal tasks, and perhaps even a noticeable slowness of speech or movement. Some people may experience aches and pains that are seemingly unconnected to any existing injury or illness. Your sex drive may also be affected – many people experiencing depression report a loss of libido.
Other physical changes you may become aware of include loss of weight or appetite – though sometimes depression can prompt us to eat more. Symptoms of depression in women sometimes include fluctuations in their menstrual cycle. And for many people, insomnia or other changes to their regular sleep pattern, such as finding it hard to fall asleep or get out of bed in the morning, are a sign that all is not entirely well with their mental health.
Having trouble falling asleep is a symptom commonly associated with low mood as well, but it will usually get better if the stress you’re under comes to an end or you manage to solve a problem that’s been bothering you. If insomnia – or any of these symptoms – persist or get consistently worse, it may be time to seek medical assistance.
When and How to Get Help
It’s important to remember that everyone will have a very different experience of depression. You may feel several or only a few of these symptoms; they may come and go or seem to shift over time. Most often, depression develops slowly, so you may not even notice it particularly until its impact becomes too large to ignore. That said, some symptoms of depression are the same as those of low mood, so it’s important, if you can, to be aware of their intensity and frequency. You may find it helpful to keep track by using a journal – in the AIME app, you’ll find some templates to get you started.
Remember, only you can know what’s going on inside – how you’re really feeling, and how those feelings might have changed. It’s important not to judge these emotions or try to compare them to what other people might be experiencing. If you feel you need help for depression (or any other reason), you absolutely can and should seek it.
Experts often suggest that if you notice symptoms of depression, like those mentioned above, for most of every day over a period of two weeks or longer, you should make an appointment with your doctor to discuss it.
There’s also a range of helplines available, including those that offer urgent support if you’re going through a crisis or having suicidal thoughts. In the UK, anyone can contact the Samaritans on 116 123.
Especially in these cases, but also if your symptoms are mild, don’t be afraid to ask for help from several places. Doctors and counsellors can assist you professionally, but turning to friends and family can give you additional support in a day-to-day context. You may also like to use online resources, like AIME, to help you manage your symptoms in the way that suits you best.
How to Manage Symptoms of Depression?
Just as people experience depression in vastly different ways, there are many ways to manage its symptoms. Lifestyle changes can be greatly beneficial, but some people may be prescribed medication, join a support group or undergo therapy – like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – to help them.
If you are suffering symptoms of depression, it’s important to speak to a doctor or psychotherapist in the first instance. But alongside this, remember that AIME is always here to help you. As well as introductions to different forms of therapy and in-depth resources that can help you understand depression and anxiety, AIME has a number of interactive worksheets focused on thinking traps, affirming your worth, writing a self-care checklist, and much more. Journaling to boost mental resilience or observe your emotional health can also be beneficial, as can some mindfulness practices like meditation or breath-work.
Whatever you’re experiencing and whatever you feel you need, remember: you aren’t alone in this. You have plenty of support around you, and that will always include AIME.