Parts of a recent abridged article written by Alice Walton for Forbes Magazine are worth sharing, especially if you are sensitive to life’s happiness factors. Much of the content below is adapted from her work. All of it resonates with the life skills concepts I actively teach.
While I am a positive person by zealous intent, all of us take turns dealing with cobwebs and ghosts of doubt in the shadows of sadness. Because depression can be a slowly encroaching debilitation, its clues are not always obvious.
Some symptoms are easily visible, for example prolonged sadness, diminished hope, and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. But depression doesn’t always tip its hand so easily. Sometimes depression disguises its arrival in far more subtle ways.
Below are seven of these less obvious symptoms. Knowing counter-intuitively that depression can cast its net in any direction is important, since awareness is our first clue that it might be time to reach out for help.
Excess consumption is sometimes overt and not subtle, but escalating intake is clearly worth monitoring. Depression often escorts the seduction of addiction, as people with depression are more likely to drink alcohol heavily, smoke, have eating disorders, and demonstrate other dependencies and addictions.
When depressed, it is natural to want to cope using accessible tools, but the problem is that most of us are not particularly good at picking healthy ones. It is much easier to smoke and drink than to attend therapy or perspire during vigorous exercise. But bad habits make depression worse; it is the good things — the inconvenient ones — that put us back on track for recovery.
If you notice substance or errant behavior more frequent or excessive than you used to, or see it messing up someone’s life in other ways, think seriously about taking action or getting help.
Toggling is the cyclical high/low amplitude of happy and sad, and can be a big clue that something more serious is going on.
When you are feeling, a happy toggling event can pluck you out of it— things can seem fine for a while – but the depression typically returns once you acclimate to the event.
This emotional teeter-totter is a strong symptom of depression that often goes unrecognized. When someone with depression is temporarily lifted out of that negative state due to a positive event, opportunity, or interpersonal connection—but soon crashes back down to their previous negative place— it is a long fall from happy to sad and the thud is often crater-like.
- Extreme Guilt (about Ridiculous Stuff)
Guilt is obviously a natural sensation at times, but sometimes a deep feeling of guilt about many or most areas of your life can signal depression.
Psychologist Jon Rottenberg, PhD and author of The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic, calls this “pathological guilt.” He says, “What’s different for the depressed person is that the guilt can become all-consuming. He or she scans the past and sees only a series of failings.
“Sometimes the guilty thinking can become quite fanciful. The depressed person can feel guilty for being born, guilty for having had depression, and be unable to think of any major life role (friend, son or daughter, parent) without being consumed by feelings of regret.”
Being a “realist” can subtly shift into being pessimistic, which can subtly shift into being negative and even feeling “at home” with depression.
Watch how you, or someone you care about, reacts to neutral or even good news. Does this boost truly seem good, or do you or he or she immediately discount it because overt pessimism says that most certainly things will turn out poorly? Overt pessimism about outcomes feeds guilt.
- Inability to Concentrate
Everyone has problems concentrating from time to time, especially if something specific preoccupies your mind. But pronounced concentration issues—things that affect your work or relationships—might also be a sign of underlying depression.
“Concentration difficulties are a common symptom of depression, yet one that people may not associate with depression (think ADHD),” says Dr. Rottenberg.
“Many of the symptoms of depression are private experiences like sadness or feeling worthless, problems that people can conceal from others. What’s striking about concentration difficulties is that they directly impair functioning – these difficulties make it harder to work or go to school. Concentration problems can make people miss assignments or deadlines.”
He adds that it’s often these issues that prompt a person to get help, since they are less easy to hide from one’s family, friends, coworkers, or boss.
Concentration may be compromised because of another serious symptom of depression – rumination – in which a person keeps churning certain topics over and over again in one’s head. These include things like past regrets, uncontrollable worries, future hypothetical situations and results. All of these carry compounding emotional tax that can be time-consuming, futile, and depression-inducing. Ruminating can severely compromise one’s ability to concentrate on the present.
Perfectionism and depression have long been been connected, and for years research studies have underlined their association.
“Having all-or-nothing, rigid, and exceptionally high or unrealistic expectations are all symptoms of perfectionism, and can all contribute to depression,” says psychologist Shannon Kolakowski. author of When Depression Hurts Your Relationship. “Perfectionism in depression tends to belie the idea that others will only love and accept someone if they’re perfect.” Self-esteem seems to mediate the link between perfectionism and depression, since perfectionists often think that they must be “perfect” to be acceptable, both to peers and themselves.
“To perfectionists,” she adds, “to make a mistake is a sign of a personal defect or flaw, rather than the fact that it’s human to make mistakes, and that we all make mistakes.”
To counter the self-blame, fear of failure, and their self-associated shame, Dr. Kolakowshi recommends practicing self-acceptance and compassion. Both are often easier to say than do, so sometimes people vulnerable to perfectionism expectations will benefit by speaking with a capable psychologist.
- Lashing out
Lashing out is an extension of the previous perfectionism signal, but lashing out is more specific and may indicate a more severe form of depression.
Sometimes the disorder surfaces as irritability or anger, often when some part of us is at a loss internally or feeling helpless or hopeless. Trapped in this emotional corner, it is easy to lash out.
“Experiencing irritability, hostility, anger, and being sensitive to rejection are all common symptoms when depressed,” says Dr. Kolakowski. “Less well known is the fact that not only is irritability a sign of depression, but that it often signals a more severe level of depression.
“Hostility and irritability are also linked to a higher likelihood of having other mental illness, like anxiety. Other emotions such as sadness, shame, or helplessness often underlie the irritability, but irritability is what shows up on the surface.”
If you notice that you are becoming unusually short-tempered or otherwise lashing out, take the time to reflect upon what emotions might be driving that behavior.
- Externalized Symptoms
Depression also pokes through in unexpected physical and behavioral ways, almost as if it is tired of being trapped inside us and becomes insidiously determined to find a way out.
Dr. Kolokowski illustrates externalization with several examples. “Some people, particularly men, are more likely to externalize their depression,” she says. “Depression symptoms come out through excessively drinking alcohol, seeking out an affair outside of their existing relationship, becoming aggressive, or withdrawing from those they love.
“Similarly,” she adds, “physical symptoms like backaches or low sexual desire are less recognized as depression because they are externalized.”
Also common is extreme fatigue – both mental and physical – and because both can be indicative of other things, they are certainly important enough to hoist a caution flag. Two other externalized symptoms are changed eating habits (too much, not enough, etc.) and sleeping patterns.
Head management is a daily necessity. We shower and shave on the outside, and we need to use the same care and discipline to cleansing our craniums of happiness. There will be times in life to lean on others; and times in life to let them lean on us. Recognize the signs of sadness, and do your best to be positive in the lives of others.
Janice Richards saysJune 9, 2015 at 11:10 am
Depression is a DAILY struggle; it takes hard work to overcome it. For anyone suffering from depression, I recommend the Destroy Depression System. Written by James Gordon, a former depression and PTSD sufferer.