"Women are caregivers by nature," says Lauren Napolitano, PsyD, licensed psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital. "You put everyone's needs first, but ultimately it leads to burn out."
Sound familiar? For many women, putting your needs last until after everyone else is fine is just another day in the life. "But you need to be able to set limits and take care of yourself," Dr. Napolitano adds.
After all, chronic stress is among the many causes of depression in addition to family history, chemical imbalance, hormonal factors or medical illness.
Stressful life events, such as trauma, loss of a loved one, an unhealthy relationship, job responsibilities, caring for children and aging parents, abuse and poverty, all can trigger depression.
"If you are prone to depression and anxiety and experience the perfect storm of stress, your symptoms can worsen," Dr. Napolitano says. "A perfect storm is not just two or three stressors; it's what seems like 27 stressors bearing down on you at once."
The result is feeling overwhelmed and unable to multitask. "When people get overwhelmed, they may isolate themselves from friends and family. That is when depression sets in because they are not getting support."
The Office on Women’s Health defines depression as a medical illness involving the body, mood and thoughts and affecting the way you eat and sleep, feel about yourself and think about things.
Different from feeling blue or sad for a few hours or days, prolonged and sustained depression symptoms include:
- Feeling sad, anxious or empty;
- Feeling hopeless;
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed;
- Decreased energy;
- Difficulty staying focused, remembering or making decisions;
- Sleeplessness, waking up early in the morning or oversleeping and not wanting to get up;
- No desire to eat and weight loss or eating to feel better and experiencing weight gain;
- Thoughts of hurting yourself;
- Thoughts of death or suicide;
- Easily annoyed, bothered or angered; and
- Constant physical symptoms that do not get better with treatment such as headaches, upset stomach, and pain that doesn’t go away.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, there are a few ways to cope, Dr. Napolitano says.
- Reach out to a primary care physician and/or psychologist. Depression can be treated with therapy and/or antidepressants. During treatment, your mood, appetite, and sleep will improve gradually.
- Push yourself out of isolation. Getting out of the house by going to a movie or the mall, for example, helps you “get out of your head where you are analyzing and criticizing yourself,” Dr. Napolitano says. Those negative thoughts only reinforce the depressed mood.
- Seek social support from friends or family. "The more you talk about what you are going through, the more you find people can relate to you than you thought possible," Dr. Napolitano adds. "No one has the perfect life."
- Exercise daily for about 30 minutes. "Cardio exercises forces you to stop criticizing yourself because you are inherently distracted."
- Eat a healthy diet. Unhealthy foods can worsen your mood because of sugar crashes and a heavy meal can lend for a lethargic feeling afterward.
- Prioritize responsibilities. Make a list of your responsibilities and break up the larger tasks into smaller ones. Set priorities and take pressure off yourself to do everything.
Overcoming depression for many women begins with feeling comfortable putting herself first to get help, treatment, and social support. "You are not alone in how you feel and it is okay to ask for help," Dr. Napolitano says.
If you're struggling with everyday stress and it has begun to take its toll, Main Line Health provides behavioral health services to help you cope.