The Invisible Yet Deadly Link Between Stress and Depression?

depression leading to angerMany of us can sense, without really having to think about it, that stress can cause or exacerbate depression. Yet very few are able to put a finger on how it actually happens.  At the end of the day if we can learn about it, maybe we can stop it and feel better, don’t you think?

Stressors are all around us, causing us to feel like we never get a break and that we will never catch up. Particularly stressful events, such as getting terminated from your job or losing a loved one, are well known triggers for depression. This clear link between emotions like stress and depression has prompted a number of scientific studies, which found that there may be much more connecting the two emotions than we had previous realized.

What most people don’t realize is that stress is not just effecting you on an emotional level. It is actually causing physical changes to your brain that lead directly to depression. Stressors affect the homeostasis, or balance, in your brain that allows it to function properly. Chemicals called neurotransmitters travel throughout your brain, affecting and regulating your mood and your actions. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters that stimulates your brain, effecting your mood and causing feelings of reward and gratification. It is an important part of what allows you to feel pleasure. Serotonin is another neourotransmitter, which causes feelings of happiness and well-being. When something hinders the ability of dopamine and serotonin to get to your brain, it can lead to serious feelings of sadness and depression. When you have constant feelings of stress putting pressure on your brain, there is a significant decrease in your levels of serotonin and dopamine and an increase in chemicals like cortisol, which contribute to further stress. This shift in the chemistry of your brain leaves you unable to properly regulate your mood and energy levels, leading to both continued stress and serious depression. In fact, prolonged stress causes the same changes to the brain that episodes of depression do, so the two emotions feed each other on a chemical level.

Stress also causes changes in your nervous system. Stress also damages neurons in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that regulates long term memory. However, stress actually strengthens a part of your brain called the amygdala. By no means this is a “good” thing.  The reason is that activity in the amygdala often causes sadness, anxiety, and fear. Because stress causes this part of your brain to get stronger, it greatly increases negative feelings, like anxiety, and can even make you more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.  Its really like training a bad muscle.

While stress can cause depression and anxiety in anyone, young people are particularly susceptible to this kind of response to depression. The frontal lobe is the part of your brain that deals with regulating emotions, making decisions, and other higher functions of the brain. Because this part of your brain does not fully develop until age 25, young people are particularly likely to experience changes in their frontal lobe. Extreme or long term stress causes these neurons, which allow neurotransmitters to flow through your brain, to atrophy. While this can have a number of consequences, including seriously impaired judgement, it also causes an increased likelihood of depression and other mood disorders.

In short, it is wise to be aware that stress can cause serious depression which in turn can give rise to anger and other mental afflictions.  Awareness if your key to looking for solutions.


  1. I’ve had depression for a couple of years now. It’s hard to come by educated people about destructive emotions, however, you sound like you’ve done some decent research to render good advice. Thanks

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