Are You Just Stressed, Or Could It Be Depression?

College is supposed to be the greatest time of your life, right? Between the rockin’ parties, tens of thousands of cute guys, great gal pals who always have your back and endless opportunities for new experiences, why wouldn’t these four years be epic?

Whether you are a freshman still navigating your way through one of the biggest transitions of your life or a senior trying to secure a real world job, stress and frustration are going to be a big part of your college life. The college lifestyle alone – trying to soak in every second of the amazing social scene while at the same time focusing on getting an A on that next bio test, writing articles for the school newspaper, and applying to as many summer internships as humanly possible – can cause daily stress. But how do you know when your pent up stress has turned into something more serious?

According to a 2009 poll by mtvU, one out of every ten college students reported signs of moderate to severe depression. Depression is a serious medical condition affecting thousands of collegiettes across the country. Knowing when to seek help is key to your wellbeing as well as your ability to enjoy college. If you think your stress might be escalating into something more serious, read on. Her Campus is here to help you take a step back from any sadness, frustration, or anxiety and figure out what’s going on.

So What Exactly is Stress?

Collegiettes have all experienced stress at some point in our lives. Whether you pulled an all-nighter to finish that 10-page research paper or had a fight with your boyfriend last weekend, surely you have felt the anxiety-ridden sensation of stress pumping through your veins.

Nedra Lee Friedman, a Clinical Specialist in Psychiatric Nursing, explains stress as, “usually taking more of a form of anxiety, which could get in the way of concentration, lead to overeating, binge drinking, and other things that are symptoms of someone being nervous and overwhelmed, especially at school. However, students experiencing stress are still able to do what they need to do.”

If you are still functioning normally on a day-to-day basis, then you are most likely experiencing the expected stress that goes along with being a college kid. Stress from friend drama, schoolwork, and finding that killer internship might increase feelings of anxiety as well as heighten your emotions, but the important thing is that your daily productively is not hindered.

Stress can also be overcome using a variety of strategies and stress management techniques. Katherine, a freshman at Northwestern University, has her own ways of dealing with stress that she learned while attending a super competitive high school. “A lot of times I get paralyzed by the amount of stuff I have to do. There’s just so much of it and I can’t see myself ever finishing it. When that happens, I think it’s best to just jump right in and start something. Say, ‘I’m going to do my Spanish exercises,’ then do them. Don’t think about anything else. Once you finish, you’ll have one task done and you’ll have already started your work, so it won’t seem so overwhelming anymore!”

If that’s Stress, then what’s Depression?

While stress is not the most enjoyable experience, it can easily be managed. However, if your stress becomes all-consuming and begins to affect your overall enjoyment of college, then something more serious might be going on.

Jordan, a sophomore at Boston College, has experienced anxiety since being at college and explains, “Anxiety is more of a fixation over certain things whereas depression is overwhelming and all-consuming.”

So how do you know if what you thought was stress is actually something more serious, like depression? Friedman explains, “People will withdraw socially, lose interest in things, might not go to classes, and not get their work done. More likely than not, depression is more of a withdrawal. With it comes isolation and losing interest in things. It is not about daily drama.”

It is important to realize that depression doesn’t always take the same form. Friedman outlined two common types of depression: agitated and vegetative. “Agitated depression is when a person exhibits increased irritability and restlessness. Vegetative depression is the opposite. People suffering from vegetative depression don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to socialize, may stop eating, and they generally withdraw.”