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    The Three Key Differences Between Stress and Depression

    No matter who you are or where you live, you’d be hard-pressed not to hear people talking about how stressed or depressed they feel. 

    But are these terms being used in the proper context?

    Romcom movies are an excellent example of how often these terms are used, and not always appropriately!

    For instance, romantic comedies or chick flick movies are often filled with misleading dialogue. 

    The main characters, who usually come from privileged backgrounds, say things like” I’m so stressed or depressed,” which is often code for “I’m bored” or “I have too much cash in my trust fund to know what to do with it.”

    Of course, for the most part, these terms are not used casually. 

    However, in a society that uses terms like “stress” and “depression” often, it can be challenging to discern when someone needs professional help for their symptoms.

    There is also a fine line between stress and depression, making it difficult for people to know which condition they are dealing with.

    However, although stress and depression have some things in common, they also present in markedly different ways in terms of symptoms and origin.

    This article explores the three key differences between stress and depression.

    We will also look at the various treatments that can help you understand and manage your condition, whether you have chronic stress or been diagnosed with depression (or both.)

    In the meantime, if you are concerned about your (or a loved one’s) mental health or are experiencing symptoms of stress or depression but feel unsure about what treatment route to explore, our friendly team at White River Manor can help.

    Stress and depression treatment in South Africa: Meet our team

    Our clinical team in South Africa treat and diagnose various mental health issues, including stress and depression. 

    We provide personalised stress and depression treatment programs at our stunning South African treatment centre, offering you the utmost care, dignity and respect as you navigate the path to long-term recovery.

    With decades of knowledge and experience, our world-class team at White River Manor has accumulated extensive expertise in wellness, addiction, and restoration. 

    Thus, you’ll feel you are in safe hands from the moment you step through our doors.

    We use various therapeutic modalities and approaches to ensure you get the best possible outcome from your treatment plan. We take an integrated “whole” person approach to recovery rather than standalone treatment methods, which often don’t work, at least not in the long term.

    What therapeutic services do you offer?

    Our therapeutic services include the following:

    To learn more about our stress and depression treatment programs, contact the White River Manor team today, who will happily assist you.

    We are always here to lend a listening ear and answer any questions you may have – you are not alone in your struggles. 

    Now you know a bit more about us and how we can help, let’s explore the three key differences between stress and depression.

    But first, let’s look at what stress and depression can look like and how the two conditions can present.


    Stress is an integral part of our daily lives. 

    Without healthy amounts of stress, we would probably not perform as well at work or in other areas.

    In a healthy context stress can be viewed as a motivator, encouraging us to become the best versions of ourselves.

    However, the keyword in the above sentence is “healthy”; when stress extends into the long-term, it can become chronic, leading to various complications, including sleep issues, mood swings, and low self-esteem.

    Researchers define stress as “the feeling that you are under too much mental or emotional pressure, often triggered by something happening in your life that feels overwhelming or too much for you to manage.”

    For instance, you may be dealing with an overwhelming workload, a loved one’s chronic illness, or going through a messy divorce. It all feels too much and you often find yourself in constant stress.


    close up image of woman staring by the window

    Unlike stress, depression often doesn’t require a trigger for it to make an appearance.

    Sometimes, a person can become depressed because of a challenging event happening in their life, such as the loss of a loved one, or they can become depressed for no apparent cause or reason.

    Depression is a severe mental health condition involving feeling down, low or depressed for several weeks and, in some cases, months or years.

    One of the main symptoms of depression is negative thinking patterns, which, if left untreated, can spiral into destructive thoughts and behaviours, including drug addiction, alcohol dependency, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

    So, what are the three key differences between stress and depression?

    As you can imagine, there are many distinctions between stress and depression, three of which are outlined below.

    1. Stress usually resolves as life events change whereas depression can last for a long time, often years.

    Stress is an unavoidable part of life—it is also a symptom of life, although it doesn’t always feel pleasant, or you may not feel like welcoming it with open arms.

    On the other hand, depression is a slightly more stubborn beast – it usually doesn’t go away as life events change or stress alleviates; it often sticks around like a surly playground bully, requiring a person to seek treatment for their symptoms.

    Typical symptoms associated with depression can include:

    • Feeling down, upset or tearful
    • Feeling empty and numb
    • Guilt, worthlessness or feeling bad about yourself or like you have let yourself or your family down
    • Hopelessness and powerlessness
    • Feeling tired much of the time
    • Feeling as though nothing feels real
    • Feeling isolated or withdrawn from others
    • Restlessness, irritability or agitation
    Young businessman thinking of something while leaning on his desk and using computer at work. There are people in the background.

    Although symptoms of stress and depression can be similar, as mentioned, stress tends to be a temporary visitor and can look like this:

    • Feeling overwhelmed or overburdened
    • Feeling as though you’ve lost your sense of humour
    • Experiencing a sense of dread about work or other areas of your life that may be stressing you out
    • Feeling tense or worried much of the time
    • An inability to relax or enjoy yourself
    • Feeling nervous, anxious or afraid
    • Feeling irritated, angry or on edge 

    Stress, particularly severe stress, must be taken seriously, as it can turn chronic, leading to various mental health complications, including suicidal thoughts and feelings.

    Although stress and depression are serious conditions, stress is related to current events happening in the present.

    Once these events are resolved or the pressure alleviates, a person’s symptoms often ease without needing intervention or treatment.

    In contrast, depression is linked to past unresolved events or traumatic experiences, often requiring a person to seek treatment to help ease their depressive symptoms, allowing them to explore any past traumas and manage their condition.

    If you think about the instructions on a jam jar that tells us to “depress the button to open”. “Depress” means to “push down”, an analogy that is helpful when thinking about how depression manifests, i.e., by pushing our feelings down. 

    The difference here is that there’s no pop-up jar with delicious jam to enjoy at the end; there are just repressed emotions fighting to be heard and acknowledged, presenting in the form of unpleasant symptoms.

    2. Stress has less social stigma (and can even be encouraged) whereas depression still has much social stigma attached to it.

    Another critical difference between stress and depression is the social stigma and perceptions associated with each of these conditions.

    In other words, in our fast-food, fast-dating, fast-everything culture, stress is socially accepted and sometimes even encouraged. 

    The “burnout” badge, particularly among high-level executives, is often worn with exhausted, weary pride – the price we pay for success.

    In the corporate world, burnout is often compensated; employees probably feel a lot less judged by their peers if they’ve worked hard to get to dangerous levels of mental unwellness versus another employee who develops depression because of past trauma.

    Depression is often seen as a weakness, a conversation to be avoided, and indeed not a badge that people are quick to pin on their Armani shirts; talk of depression is done in whisper-quiet tones, much like grief – it’s tucked away neatly. 

    3. Minimal stress is manageable, whereas depression can cause impairment.

    Does Remote Working Fuel Burnout?

    As mentioned earlier, healthy amounts of stress can be an excellent motivation to help us perform better.

    It can give us energy, fueling our performance to a level in which a body with zero stress would likely not do so well.

    Low-level stress is usually manageable for most people, whereas depression can be debilitating, causing severe dysfunction and impairment across various life outcomes.

    For instance, depressed people often experience severe fatigue and exhaustion that can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning. 

    Brushing teeth, showering, and making breakfast are tasks that can feel like an avalanche to a depression sufferer, whereas someone going through a period of stress may not find these tasks as challenging, if at all.

    Why is this?

    Depression affects our neurotransmitters, which act as messengers that send messages from our brain to the body. 

    These messengers can become defective when we feel depressed, causing us to feel exhausted much of the time.

    The similarities between stress and depression

    Although there are some markedly different symptoms, there are also some similarities between stress and depression.

    Below are some similarities between depression and stress you should know about:

    • Depression and stress can affect your sleep and your eating habits – for instance, you may eat or sleep less or do too much of both.
    • Both conditions can cause irritation and agitation.
    • Both conditions can feel overwhelming and affect your concentration levels and ability to focus. 
    • Depression and stress can impact your relationships and sense of self and confidence.

    Treatment options

    As well as sharing similar symptoms and presentations, stress and depression also respond well to some of the same treatments. 

    Let’s explore some of these treatments in more detail.

    Mindfulness therapy

    Individuals with either stress or depression respond well to mindfulness therapies that focus on present-moment awareness and other techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation.

    Talk therapy

    Support, black woman and senior group therapy with understanding, feelings and talking in session

    Talk therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be especially beneficial for those suffering from chronic stress or depression.

    Behavioural therapies like CBT focus on changing maladaptive thoughts and behaviour patterns by replacing them with healthier, alternative ways of thinking and behaving.

    Trauma specific therapy

    Trauma-specific therapy can be beneficial to anyone with stress and depression, but it is particularly helpful for those with depressive symptoms.

    This treatment can help target repressed memories or past traumas that may cause or worsen a person’s depression.

    Studies show that a combination of talking therapy, trauma treatment and holistic approaches produce the best outcomes for those who suffer from chronic stress, depression, and other mental health issues such as substance or behavioural addictions.

    Alternative therapies

    Research also indicates that specific lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and exercise, can be highly beneficial for stress and depression sufferers.

    Additional tips for managing stress and depression outside of formal treatments include:

    • Aromatherapy
    • Acupuncture
    • Hypnotherapy
    • Tai chi
    • Yoga
    • Breathwork

    One more thing we’d like to leave you with

    Stress and depression can co-occur. 

    An individual can be depressed and stressed at the same time, and it can be almost impossible to tell which condition came first, much like the chicken and the egg debate.

    However, fortunately, stress and depression are treatable conditions, and the key to effective, long-lasting recovery is to seek treatment as early as you first notice your symptoms beginning.

    White River Manor provides comprehensive, personalised stress and depression treatment programs to clients in South Africa and surrounding areas.

    We can help you take proactive steps to begin understanding and managing your condition, whether you suffer from chronic stress, depression, or both, allowing you to develop healthy coping skills so that your condition does not limit your life or hold you back.

    All this and more is possible at our luxurious treatment facility. 

    Our friendly team is here and ready to give you a warm welcome as you begin your journey to lasting wellness and recovery, helping you create a life you could have only imagined at the beginning.

    Contact our team today for more helpful resources and support about our stress and depression treatment programs.

    Additional resources