“No, you’re not depressed. You’re just very stressed”. These are the words that I was told from time to time, while I was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. I was diagnosed a few weeks earlier by my psychotherapist, but still there were people around me that thought they knew better. This wasn’t helpful at all; I didn’t feel supported and telling them off wasn’t going to help. I feel like people don’t take the concept of stress very seriously. Being stressed or feeling tension can also be a symptom of a mental disorder. Take PTSD for example; the first ‘s’ in the word is for stress. Your body is under constant stress and has a harder time to process all stimulus from the outside world. This can trigger your body’s fight or flight response. Having a little bit of stress won’t harm you, but when does stress become unhealthy? Of course I am no doctor, so I will talk about this from my own experience.
I remember quite vividly; it was the beginning of March 2020 and I had just finished my exam. That night I received several text messages, saying that my university was about to close because of corona. The next morning, me and two fellow students were sitting in an empty cafeteria. That night, our prime minister told us in a press conference that our university was indeed going to close. I noticed that I felt quite tense before, during and after the press conference. My heart was pounding and my muscles felt tense. Thoughts were racing through my mind: “How am I going to graduate? We won’t be able to go to our classes, this will cause a study delay!”. The following weeks, the Netherlands went into a lockdown. The moments I spent outside caused a lot of stress. Something as simple as grocery shopping, I did whilst highly alert. This heightened sense of alertness is a form of stress. It is a very uncomfortable type of stress, but it is one that allows you to function normally.
I have experienced a whole other type of stress when I was suffering from PTSD: posttraumatic stress disorder. My body was constantly stressed and alert. With every little sound, I would flinch. I had weekly nightmares and would sometimes have nightly panic attacks. I also got very uncomfortable with being in public places with a lot of other people. There were too many people and stimulus that my stressed out system wasn’t able to process. At first, I tried releasing some of the stress by listening to piano music, writing or hanging out with friends. But, at a certain point the stress prevented me from sleeping. My body wasn’t able to rest, so I received sleeping medication, next to the antidepressants I was already taking. The sleeping medication saved me and finally gave me back my nightly rest. This type of stress cannot be solved on your own; I have received EMDR therapy from a psychotherapist. After only two sessions, I already felt like the heavy blanket of stress slid off my shoulders. It released the stress, increased my mental health and I was able to leave the house without being overwhelmed.
There are many more types and severities of stress. A little bit of stress won’t harm you, but as soon as stress prevents you from living your life, it is important to look into what you can do about it.