When you have a cold or flu, the symptoms are obvious: Coughing, sneezing, congestion, and a general hatred of the universe. (Kidding. Sort of.) Symptoms of depression, on the other hand, aren’t as clear-cut as rom-coms and made-for-TV movies make them out to be. Intense sadness and hopelessness is only part of the equation-not only can depressive symptoms range from mild to severe, they can also disguise themselves as everyday habits and emotions you wouldn’t necessarily equate with being depressed.
Here are eight sneaky signs of depression you shouldn’t ignore:
1. You keep yourself crazy busy.
Sure, we all have hectic schedules, but someone with depression might use being perma-busy as a way to steer clear of their feelings. (A recent study published in the journal Plos One found that workaholism frequently co-occurs with psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.) “Keeping busy might be a way for them to ignore or avoid the painful issues that may be contributing to or triggering their depression,” says SooMi Lee-Samuel, M.D., medical director at Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment center in Illinois.
2. You feel nothing.
Depression might not translate into extreme sadness, but apathy instead-a tricky gray area where you’re not sad, but you’re not exactly happy, either. In fact, you don’t feel much of anything. (Emotions? Meh.) “With depression, these alterations of mood (whether sadness, anger, or no emotion at all) are sustained, rather than merely being an appropriate emotional response to an event,” says Lee-Samuel.
3. You toss and turn on the regular.
It’s easy to blame your lack of sleep on a late night at work or a pet who only wants to play at 3 A.M., but persistent sleep disturbances can also be a sign of depression. Some people might oversleep and find it increasingly difficult to get up in the morning, says New York-based psychiatrist Carly Snyder, M.D., while others might struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. The perpetual exhaustion can domino into feelings of anxiety and frustration, not to mention exacerbate other depressive symptoms you might be experiencing, she says.
4. You hurt everywhere.
“Depression can trigger painful symptoms like headaches, whole-body aches, and fatigue,” says Lee-Samuel. (And in some cases, pain may be the first or only sign of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.) “The pain may make the depression worse, which may then heighten the pain even more, creating a vicious cycle where one constantly feeds into the other,” she adds.
5. You struggle to make decisions.
“Physiologically, the part of the brain that affects motivation and decision-making is shown to have gray matter loss in those with depression,” says clinical psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of Better Than Perfect. This can cause even the smallest of decisions (Coffee or tea? Heels or flats?) to feel overwhelming.
6. Your appetite’s touch and go.
Any change in your eating habits could be a precursor of depression. Some people don’t want to eat when they’re depressed; others might try to soothe the emotional pain of depression by reaching for comfort foods, says Lombardo. Meanwhile, if you’re all about eating healthy and suddenly find yourself drowning in takeout containers and junk food wrappers, a diet downgrade could also be a sign of depression, says Snyder.
7. The slightest thing sets you off.
Since depression is so closely attributed to sadness, irritability is a common sign that most people overlook. “Consider things you do routinely, such as waiting in line for coffee at Starbucks,” says Snyder. “If you find yourself getting super agitated about things you’d normally shrug off-a slow barista, a customer who pays in nickels-this might be a red flag that something else is brewing under the surface.”
8. Or you burst into tears instead.
On the flipside, you might find that you sob over the tiniest things (a minor tiff with your sig-o, losing your keys, accidentally buying low-fat yogurt). “Small issues can feel enormous when you’re depressed,” says Snyder. “Rather than handle these things as you otherwise would, you may cry more easily and then have trouble closing the floodgates.” In other words, if little, everyday things have you reaching for the Kleenex, take note.
If you think you might be depressed…
Start by taking a hard look at any pesky thoughts and feelings you’re having, as well as any behaviors that are making you feel stuck, suggests licensed clinical psychologist Stephanie J. Wong, Ph.D. On a scale of one to 10, with one being the least intense and 10 being the most, rate the intensity of these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If one or more are hella intense and are putting a damper on important aspects of your life (such as your career or relationship), you should consider talking things out with a mental health professional. Don’t let the seemingly little things go unheeded; they could be tipping you off to something larger. Take charge of how you feel (or in some cases, don’t).
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, visit Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) website for valuable resources and to find help and support.