Reactive Depression: How to Identify and Deal with It

reactive depression

Have you had experience with reactive depression? It’s the kind that is created by events and circumstance, rather than being biological in nature. If you have had a history of anxiety and depression, and are now facing challenging times, brace yourself, and listen up!

I have had numerous challenges in my life, and not only endured them, but conquered! The past two years have been brimming with challenges outside my control. I lost a close friend, was ripped off, and had dramas aplenty. Still, I felt I was coping. There was the odd panic attack, but I was still functional, breathing deeply and keeping active. Then ‘a week’ happened. You know the kind I am talking about. There you are, taking care of business, crafting a life for yourself, when bam! Toxic people make a reappearance; people get cranky with you for something you did or didn’t do. Unexpected bills come in, and you aren’t paid for a contract you undertook. Illness grafts its way into the mess, as does the sudden death of a loved one. The car breaks down, and relationships fall apart.

All in the space of a week!


Here is what the overwhelm feels like:

  • You shut down and disassociate. It is your brain’s way of protecting you, ensuring you are carried out of your body, escaping the extreme stress.
  • You tend to shut out social media and the beep of your phone. You don’t know what to say to people, even those whom love you, and are at a loss as to how to articulate what is happening.
  • You don’t want to burden anyone, and so retreat further, shutting everyone out.
  • Your body is shaking involuntarily, and you are listless, due to the excess adrenaline coursing through your system.
  • You have a massive headache, and every muscle is tight, causing pain.
  • You can’t think straight, so devising a plan of action seems impossible.
  • You either lose your appetite or can’t stop eating.
  • Sleep is impossible, with all the thoughts whirring around your head, so you are awake at night.
  • Utter exhaustion is the obvious result of it all, and you may eventually find yourself crawling into bed and sleeping for hours.
  • You may find your bowel playing up, and that, along with nausea, may see you on the lavatory for hours on end.
  • You may find yourself getting flushed and overheated, as your body attempts to deal with the stress.

Overall, there is a feeling of numbness, and if you aren’t careful, the above can be symptomatic of a nervous breakdown. It is horrifying to feel this low, particularly when you can’t see a resolution to the stress. If you have even a fleeting thought of fleeing or ending your life, you need to seek help immediately.

depressed coping

When I had a recent period of extreme stress, here is what I did.

  • I let myself weep. I was overwhelmed and needed to let it all out. I was exhausted afterwards, but I needed the space to fall in a heap. I wasn’t in the right head space to make decisions on what to do next.
  • I answered a few texts from friends who were concerned I had dropped off the face of the earth. I said yes to their suggestion of coming around, and also to taking me for a drive to clear my head.
  • You won’t want to leave your house, nor see anyone. Do it anyway. I eventually made up a list of the actions that needed to take place, and it was huge and overwhelming. I stared at it for over an hour, before looking out the window and noting that it was a glorious day. I decided to go for a walk, and am so glad I did. I walked for two hours, and felt the adrenaline dissipate, and my mind clear. I know that you are snowed under and have much to do, but it is much better to do so with a clear head.
  • I contacted Beyond Blue, and they located two counselling services near my home, which suited my needs. I was incredibly grateful, as it is hard to source services when you are feeling overwhelmed.
  • I was assured that it wouldn’t be normal for me not to be having strong reactions, considering what was going on in my world. It normalized how I felt.
  • I lost three kilos in a few days, purely from the acute anxiety I was enduring. I completely lost my appetite, and had to eventually force myself to eat, even if it was only an apple. I also had to make sure I kept my water intake up.
  • I avoided alcohol as though it were poison. When you are feeling on the verge of a breakdown, it is in fact, poison. It can tip you well over the edge, acting as a depressant.
  • I did whatever I could to make myself feel a little better. Whether that be having a bath, putting lavender oil on my pulse, taking Rescue Remedy or sitting outside in the sunshine.

peace and calm

Feeling on the edge of collapse is to not feel like yourself anymore. Intense and painful circumstances have robbed you of your ability to cope, and also of your clarity and peace of mind. You are having a normal reaction to extraordinary stress, and shall require assistance to navigate your way through. We all have a breaking point, and if you have experienced deep trauma in the past, it can weaken your ability to cope with this new onslaught. Feeling out of control is a dreadful thing, whether the cause is your career, marriage, friendships, health or money. Let trusted people in and confide what you are going through. Seek help and open yourself. It will feel strange to be vulnerable in front of a counsellor or doctor. It is far worse though, to continue feeling how you are.

Eventually, the dawn will break, and peace of mind shall return. The adrenaline will dissipate and new possibilities shall open before you. The aim is to get to this state in one piece, and the best way to do so is to let people in and seek help. Remember, Reactive Depression is a normal response to extraordinarily stressful events.


Beyond Blue

Black Dog Institute