Situational anxiety and depression

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What is situational depression?

Situational depression is defined as an adjustment disorder with a depressed mood, and it is a common occurrence for many people as a response to a specific instance, such as job loss or the end of a relationship.

“Situational depression is encountered by virtually everyone. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t encountered a situation such as a relationship break-up or a job loss that can lead to depression. It can be a perfectly normal response to life’s difficulties,” says Bill Prasad, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC).

Moreover, situational depression is one of two types of depression, says Prasad. The first, which includes situational depression, is referred to as “exogenous” and is the result of an outside antecedent or source. The second, Prasad explains, is “endogenous,” which is caused by a brain chemical imbalance and includes major depressive disorder (MDD).

Ultimately, MDD is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act—fortunately, it’s also treatable. By comparison, those with diagnoses of major depressive disorder also can experience situational depression, but those with situational depression may not necessarily have major depressive disorder.

What are the symptoms of situational depression?

While situational depression is indeed common, the DSM-5 states that the stress associated with situational depression, along with other adjustment mood disorders, exceeds expected reactions to the stressor, and that symptoms must be clinically significant, impairing a person’s functioning at home, work, or school.

Symptoms of situational depression can include:

  • Sadness
  • Constant worrying
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Changes in eating habits (eating less or overeating)
  • Changes in sleeping habits (too much or too little)
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Excessive crying
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Anhedonia: Inability to anticipate joy and difficulty comprehending that the day will bring some happiness
  • Fatigue

Prasad, who works with Contemporary Medicine Associates, a private practice in Bellaire, Texas, also notes a loss of interest in activities as a sign of situational depression.

“In my private practice, I always ask patients to tell me about activities that they enjoy,” he says. “Once the question is answered, I ask if they are still participating. If they aren’t…this can be a major red flag.”

What causes situational depression?

Per the DSM-5, symptoms of situational depression often correlate to a three-month period following the onset of a new, life stressor. For most people, situational depression should resolve within six months after the stressor has been removed. If a case of situational depression is sparked by a move to a new location, you should experience relief within six months of adjusting to your new surroundings.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Milkelis Martinez Walker, who runs a private practice in Tampa, Florida, also notes that situational depression presents as a result of nature and nurture, as opposed to one or the other.

“ is brought upon by outside stressors, yet a person’s stress response is influenced by genetic markers that influence personality, your predisposition to depression and anxiety, and by what you learn in your environment,” she says, adding that identifying situational depression in oneself or others is not always easy.

It’s important to know, Martinez Walker says, that situational depression is common enough to be considered normal and is more likely to affect those with a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible to experiencing heightened reactions to transitions.

How is situational depression treated?

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“Mostly through psychotherapy,” says Martinez Walker. “There are many modalities a therapist can utilize…but a very common approach is through CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy). In CBT, the therapist helps the client learn the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as well as recognize and change patterns of distorted thinking that is contributing to these more than bothersome symptoms.”

Medication management is also an option, says Martinez Walker, but it works best when combined with psychotherapy. “If you or someone close to you is experiencing this, it is not a character flaw to be ashamed of or a sign of weakness,” says Martinez Walker. “The best thing one can do is be educated on , so if it happens to you, you can recognize it and ask for help. It is very treatable.”

Additionally, Prasad offers these tips for getting through a bout of situational depression:

  • Exercise
  • Get proper rest, improve sleep hygiene, or temporarily use a medication to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep exacerbates the symptoms of situational depression.
  • Improve your diet—food can improve your mood.
  • To avoid setting yourself up for failure, take one, small action step at a time. If you’re suffering from situational depression, it’s best to move forward at a reasonable pace.
  • Setting and accomplishing small goals is more manageable and can also be rewarding.
  • CBT is extremely beneficial against the war on depression. CBT teaches a person to examine their perception of reality and their thought patterns and whether those patterns are serving them. Finding a therapist who is properly trained in CBT can be a highly effective treatment tool. Finding a therapist who uses a holistic approach can be most effective.

The good news? “The trek is tough, but situational depression is highly curable!” says Prasad.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or may be at risk for suicide, seek help immediately. Please remember that you aren’t alone. Resources to obtain help include:

  • Calling the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Calling 911
  • Calling a friend or family member to stay with you until emergency medical personnel arrive to help you.

Pauline Campos is an artist, author of Be Your Own F*cking Sunshine: An Inspirational Journal for People Who Like to Swear, and proud mother of a brilliant Autistic girl. ADHD is her superpower and autism . Pauline Lives in Minnesota, but will always be from Detroit. Find her on Twitter: @pauline_campos and at

Prasad, B. (2018, May 28) Email interview.

Martinez Walker, M. (2018, June 2). Personal Communication.

Jump to: Not All Depression Is The Same What You Can Do

*Sarah came to therapy for the first time on the cusp of age 40. Until she lost her the job she’d held since college graduation 11 months previously, Sarah had always been easily able to handle whatever psychological curveballs came her way. Although she’d found another job just three months after the lay-off, employment hadn’t eased her downward spiral.

Eyes rimmed with tears, in a monotone Sarah explained at our first session, “Some days I can barely get out of bed. It’s a wonder I haven’t lost the new job. My boss is very kind – she’s the one who said I really needed to go to therapy.” She added, “The instigator to my depression is solved. I have a fabulous new job. Why do I still feel so awful?”

Not All Depressions Are the Same

Depression, of course, is not a rarity. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that in 2016, 6.7% of adults in the United States —16.2 million!—endured at least one major depressive episode in a given year.

Obviously, it feels miserable to feel miserable whether it’s a temporary or chronic condition. But it is essential to know what you are dealing with so you can get the proper treatment as quickly as possible.

Major Depressive Disorder is diagnosed when you experience five or more of the following symptoms over a two-week period that impact your ability to function day to day:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you normally enjoy
  • Lack of energy and fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Anxiety, restlessness
  • Unexplained physical pains such as headaches or backaches
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

There need not be a trigger or obvious cause for these symptoms to develop.

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Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood, also called Situational Depression, may sometimes feel nearly as bleak as MDD, but a major difference is that it does not arise out of the blue. Rather, situational depression occurs after there is a specific trauma–divorce, accident, death of loved one, a major life change…

The good news is, situational depression is not permanent. Typically it has an onset within three months of the upset and the symptoms usually begin to recede within six months.

Take *Pamela. Four years ago she experienced a sudden depression that “stopped me in my tracks.” The 33-year-old recalled, “My emotional breakdown was caused by two cousins who were like my sisters…until they betrayed me by sharing secrets I’d told in strictest confidence to the entire family. Their betrayal was so unexpected and so wounding and caused relatives to take sides…Thankfully, most importantly, my parents and sister were unwaveringly there for me.”

The ray of light is that within a month of the onset of her depression Pamela sought therapy: “I’d never been to a shrink before, but my sister insisted that it was the best way to sort out my complicated feelings and understand what this all meant. I had to really look back on my childhood and life and evaluate my relationships right down to their core.”

For a while Pamela was on psych meds to control her symptoms so that she could use the tools she was learning to handle rather than be swept away by her chaotic emotions and thoughts. She decided to cut off communication with the relatives who had betrayed her, and to figure out healthier boundaries with people in her life. A few months before ending treatment, Pamela weaned off the meds under the guidance of the psychiatrist who had prescribed them. “I felt acceptance if not total closure of what I’d gone through. I’d learned more about myself and that I was stronger than I thought.”

Throughout her husband’s year-long battle with stage 4 cancer treatment and eventual decline *Annie experienced “a selfish, even shameful sense that I was going to make sure I lived even if he wasn’t going to.” She was a staunch advocate for her partner of 12 years, researching his illness and being his caretaker. Almost immediately after *Ben died, for the first time in her life Annie “was hit with the soul-crushing, lingering depression that tells you life is meaningless and perhaps there is no point in going on.” She began wishing she were dead.

“Ben’s hospice nurse had warned me I’d be more exhausted and absent-minded than I could ever imagine after he died, but I hadn’t realized losing your own will to live was a side effect of grief.”

Two things kept her going: having a dog who needed to be walked and fed and loved every day… and 13 months of free grief counseling provided by the hospice center.

The counseling helped her “learn to adjust to life without my partner after his cruel, miserable death and incorporate grief into my life and re-commit to living.”

She’d learned through counseling that what she was enduring was part of grief, a path she could walk through with guidance and helping hands (and paws).

Two years after being widowed she says, “I’m still grieving, some days really f-ing hard but I’m doing my best to live, too.”

Pamela and Annie were able to come through their crises because they realized they were going through crises and shouldn’t just proceed as if nothing in their lives had changed. Imagine breaking an arm or leg and never getting it treated—you wouldn’t because the physical pain tells you something must be done: I cannot proceed with anything else until I deal with this.

Contrast that with my patient Sarah who was hit so hard by losing her longtime job that although she quickly found new employment, solving the problem did not arrest her emotional tailspin. This was because Sarah buried her despair, buried her sense of failure and hopelessness. “I hadn’t realized my sense of self was defined by what I did. After being cast out of my safety net, I didn’t know who I was.” Rather than taking the time to mourn what was no longer there and learn to redefine herself in a way that encompassed much more than a job title, she “just kept it moving.”

Thus her plunge deepened, continuing to severely impact her daily functioning, and developed into MDD.

Once she finally came for help, and opened the wound, it finally stopped festering and began to cleanse.

If You Undergo a Life-Changing Trauma, Do This

Acknowledge the loss and that things will never be the same – cry, scream, most importantly don’t instantly return to life as normal. Take time to heal.

Go to individual and/or group therapy.

Get a check-up—the physical and emotional are very connected and you want to ensure you take care of all parts of yourself.

Be physical—exercise is vital.

Eat healthy and do your best to maintain good sleep patterns.

Don’t depend on alcohol and/or drugs as a crutch.

Stay connected to people who care about you versus isolating.

Sarah says, “Now that I don’t rely on my job to totally satisfy my needs, I have a much fuller life – close friends, hobbies, the ability to enjoy just being by myself. Before I always needed to be busy because I was afraid of my thoughts. Now I know I’m enough.”

*Names and identifying details are changed

Last Updated: Mar 20, 2019

Adjustment disorder is a short-term condition that occurs when a person has great difficulty coping with, or adjusting to, a particular source of stress, such as a major life change, loss, or event. In 2013, the mental health diagnostic system technically changed the name of “adjustment disorder” to “stress response syndrome.”

Because people with an adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome often have some of the symptoms of clinical depression, such as tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness, and loss of interest in work or activities, adjustment disorder is sometimes informally called “situational depression.” Unlike major depression, however, an adjustment disorder doesn’t involve as many of the physical and emotional symptoms of clinical depression (such as changes in sleep, appetite and energy) or high levels of severity (such as suicidal thinking or behavior).

The type of stress that can trigger an adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome varies depending on the person, but can include:

  • Ending of a relationship or marriage
  • Losing or changing job
  • Death of a loved one
  • Developing a serious illness (yourself or a loved one)
  • Being a victim of a crime
  • Having an accident
  • Undergoing a major life change (such as getting married, having a baby, or retiring from a job)
  • Living through a disaster, such as a fire, flood, or hurricane

A person with an adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome develops emotional and/or behavioral symptoms as a reaction to a stressful event. These symptoms generally begin within three months of the event and rarely last for longer than six months after the event or situation has ended. In an adjustment disorder, the reaction to the stressor is greater than what is typical or expected for the situation or event. In addition, the symptoms may cause problems with a person’s ability to function; for example, the person may be have trouble with sleep, work, or studying.

An adjustment disorder/stress response syndrome is not the same as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD occurs as a reaction to a life-threatening event that occurs at least 1 month after the event, and its symptoms tend to last longer than in adjustment disorders/stress response syndromes. By comparison, adjustment disorders/stress response syndromes rarely last longer than six months.

Situational depression is a short-term, stress-related type of depression. It can develop after you experience an event that is traumatic or even a series of events. Situational depression is a type of adjustment disorder. It may make it hard for you to adjust your life following an event. This is known as reactive depression. Find out what events can cause situational depression and how to heal.

There are many reasons why people struggle with situational depression. The following are circumstances which may cause situational depression:

  • Problems at work or school
  • Illness
  • Death of a loved one
  • Moving
  • Relationship issues


Some of the following symptoms of situational depression vary from person to person. Situational depression can magnify the intensity of stressful life events. This stress may cause severe disruption to daily life, including the following:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of enjoyment in daily life
  • Regular crying
  • Constant, ever-present worry, anxiety, or stress
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Disinterest in food
  • Trouble focusing
  • Trouble with daily activities
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Not practicing self-care

Previous Trauma and Situational Depression

Previous life experiences impact the way you deal with stress. You are at higher risk of situational depression if you have:

  • Experienced stress in childhood
  • Have existing mental health challenges
  • Several difficult life circumstances occur
  • Abnormalities in the brain
  • Hormonal issues
  • Genetic changes
  • Family members with depression

Treatment Options

A doctor may be able to diagnose situational depression but it may also mirror other types of depression. Treatment can help you better cope with stressful events. Medications may be prescribed to help with dopamine production. Supportive therapy is also a preferred method for this type of depression as it can help enhance coping mechanisms and resilience. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also be helpful (CBT). It also helps to exercise, meditate, relax, rest, and eat healthy food (stay away from sugars and processed foods). If you are struggling, treatment for addiction can be helpful if there are co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders going on.

Offering a full continuum of care for both men and women, A Step In The Right Direction strives to provide quality, life-changing care. Teaching clients to walk the road of recovery in daily life sober living, our program utilizes evidence-based therapies and the real life experience of recovery in our staff to provide a transformational expeirence. For more information on our programs of care and sober livings for men and women, call (877) 377-3702

Situational depression or clinical depression?

Share on PinterestA disappointing event or devastating news can lead to short-term symptoms of depression.

Some key differences between situational and clinical depression will determine the type of treatment the person needs and the severity of the condition.

No type of depression is more “real” than another. Both can present significant challenges and threats to wellbeing.

However, knowing which type of depression is at the root of a persistent negative mood can support recovery.

Situational depression

This is a short-term form of depression that occurs as the result of a traumatic event or change in a person’s life.

Adjustment disorder with depressed mood is another name for this emotional state.

Triggers can include:

  • divorce
  • loss of a job
  • the death of a close friend
  • a serious accident
  • other major life changes, such as retirement

Situational depression stems from a struggle to come to terms with dramatic life changes. Recovery is possible once an individual comes to terms with a new situation.

For instance, following the death of a parent, it may take a while before a person can accept that a family member is no longer alive. Until acceptance, they may feel unable to move on with their life.

Symptoms can include:

  • listlessness
  • feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • sleeping difficulties
  • frequent episodes of crying
  • unfocused anxiety and worry
  • loss of concentration
  • withdrawal from normal activities as well as from family and friends
  • suicidal thoughts

Most people who experience situational depression begin to have symptoms within 90 days of the triggering event.

Clinical depression

Share on PinterestA doctor or psychiatrist can diagnose clinical depression.

Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression.

It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily function.

The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) classifies clinical depression as a mood disorder.

Disturbances in levels of certain chemicals — known as neurotransmitters — may be to blame.

However, other factors are likely to play a role, for example:

  • genetic factors may influence an individual’s response to an experience or event
  • major life events can trigger negative emotions, such as anger, disappointment, or frustration
  • alcohol and drug dependence also have links to depression

Depression can also alter a person’s thought processes and bodily functions.

By The Recovery Village Editor Camille Renzoni Reviewer Tracy Smith Updated on11/25/19

Situational depression, or adjustment disorder, is prompted by a significant change in a person’s life, such as the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship. Other significant changes can include an accident, traumatic episode or other considerable life change. Situational depression is not long-lasting and symptoms typically tend to resolve themselves within several months of the event.

Situational depression has some similarities to clinical depression, which is also known as major depressive disorder, especially as it pertains to symptoms. However, clinical depression is more severe and symptoms are not necessarily connected to a particular event.

Table of Contents

What Is Situational Depression?

Situational depression, also known as adjustment disorder, is a condition that involves depressed mood and is triggered by a stressor that is representative of a major life change. The situational depression definition refers to an individual who has trouble coping or adapting to a particular life event. The nature of the stress that prompts situational depression differs from person to person, but the emotional response to the stressor is atypical to what is commonly expected. Symptoms may cause impairment in a person’s daily functioning.

Situational depression does not last long and is not a permanent condition. A person with situational depression experiences symptoms that are in direct response to the life event or change. Symptoms usually start within three months of the event and commonly do not persist longer than six months after the life event has concluded.

Prevalence of Situational Depression

Situational depression is one of the most commonly used diagnosis in clinical practice, but is understudied and has limited research. Situational depression statistics show that the disorder is extremely common and impacts people regardless of culture, gender or age.

Situational depression is equally prevalent in men and women and varies in development and expression in different cultures. The prevalence of situational depression diagnosed in primary care facilities ranges from 3-10%, while the prevalence ranges from 5-20% in outpatient mental health treatment facilities and 50% or higher in-hospital psychiatric screenings.

Situational depression statistics show that there is a 1-2% prevalence of situational depression in the general population in the United States. Another study shows that the prevalence of situational depression in a multinational (Finland, Ireland, Norway, and Spain) study is 0.2-1%

Situational Depression vs. Clinical Depression

The main difference between situational depression and clinical depression is that symptoms with situational depression are always in response to a specific stressor, resolve when the stressor ends and do not meet the diagnostic criteria for a major depressive episode. Clinical depression does not have to be prompted by a certain stressor and can occur with or without it.

Despite differences, when comparing situational vs. clinical depression, there is considerable overlap in symptoms. A person with situational depression will likely struggle with similar symptoms as a person with clinical depression, such as feelings of sadness, tearfulness, and hopelessness. However, the symptoms of situational depression are of a much lower severity level and rarely include thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Another difference between situational depression vs. major depressive disorder is that a person with clinical depression is more likely to have difficulties in their daily functioning. Difficulties can occur in academic, occupational or interpersonal settings.

Symptoms of Situational Depression

Situational depression symptoms are similar to the symptoms of clinical depression and vary from person to person. Symptoms always portray a significant change from a person’s general state of functioning. Symptoms can either be emotional, physical or behavioral in nature. Children and teenagers often act out and show more behavioral symptoms, while adults commonly display more emotional symptoms.

Signs of situational depression can include:

  • Sadness and frequent tearfulness
  • Anxiety and apprehension
  • Detachment and isolation from others
  • Fatigue and a lack of energy
  • Disrupted eating and sleeping habits
  • Headaches
  • Stomach issues
  • Heart palpitations

Causes of Situational Depression

The causes of situational depression are always related to stress and can be both positive or negative in nature. Causes can either stem from one traumatic event or from a number of different situations.

Stressful events that can trigger situational depression can include:

  • The birth of a baby, adoption or addition of a new family member
  • Illness or death of a friend, family member or loved one
  • Changes in a marriage or relationship, such as fighting, separation or divorce
  • Financial changes, such as bankruptcy, the loss of employment or retirement
  • Going away to college or moving to a new house
  • A traumatic episode, such as a car accident, natural disaster or assault

Diagnosing Situational Depression

Mental health conditions are diagnosed by criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th revision (ICD-10).

Mental health professionals use these two guides when diagnosing situational depression. For example, DSM-5 situational depression and situational depression ICD-10 criteria include:

  • Emotional or behavioral symptoms occurring within three months of a life event
  • Exaggerated response to a stressor
  • Significant impact on interpersonal relationships
  • Symptoms are not the result of another mental health disorder

A medical practitioner may conduct situational depression tests to rule out medical causes or other mental health disorders, such as major depressive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Treatment for Situational Depression

Situational depression treatment is important, as situational depression can potentially turn into a clinical depression in individuals who have risk factors for developing a mood disorder. Situational depression can also elevate a person’s risk for suicide and can lead to substance abuse if a person uses alcohol or drugs to help manage their symptoms. More mild cases of situational depression may not require treatment, as symptoms may resolve themselves.

Psychotherapy is the preferred method of treatment for situational depression and can help a person to understand and process how a stressor has impacted their lives. Therapy can help a person to problem-solve and provide them with healthy coping skills, interventions, and techniques. Support groups may also be recommended for a person struggling with situational depression, as extra support and validation can be received from others who are experiencing similar challenges.

At times, situational depression medication may be prescribed to help individuals to manage feelings of sadness, sleeping difficulties or anxiety. Antidepressant medications or anti-anxiety medications are most often prescribed by medical providers.

With proper treatment, most individuals are able to successfully overcome situational depression. Situational depression often resolves with the passage of time, as circumstances improve and when the person learns how to manage the triggering stressor.

The majority of people make a complete recovery and learn new coping mechanisms that allow them to improve their overall functioning as they move forward. Recovery occurs when a person learns how to effectively cope with a new life change.

If you or a loved one struggle with substance abuse and co-occurring depression, don’t wait to get help. Call The Recovery Village today to learn about our programs that treat addiction and mental health issues simultaneously.

When Life Gets You Down: Coping With Situational Depression

You’ve heard people complain that they’re depressed after a breakup, a layoff, or an overall terrible week. But are these people really experiencing depression?

When a stressful situation is particularly hard to cope with, we react with symptoms of sadness, fear, or even hopelessness — a type of reaction that’s often referred to as situational depression. Unlike major depression, when you are overwhelmed by depression symptoms for a long time, situational depression usually goes away once you have adapted to your new situation.

Actually, situational depression is usually considered an adjustment disorder rather than true depression. But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored: If situational depression goes untreated, it could develop into major depression.

“Situational could lead to major depression or simply be a period of grief,” explains Kathleen Franco, MD, professor of medicine and associate dean of admissions and student affairs at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine in Ohio. “If emotional and behavioral symptoms reduce normal functioning in social or occupational arenas, it should be treated.”

“Situational depression means that the symptoms are set off by some set of circumstances or event. It could lead to major depression or simply be a period of grief,” Franco explains. However, she adds that situational depression may need treatment “if emotional and behavioral symptoms reduce normal functioning in social or occupational arenas.”

Who Gets Situational Depression and Why?

Situational depression is common and can happen to anyone — about 10 percent of adults and up to 30 percent of adolescents experience this condition at some point. Men and women are affected equally.

The most common cause of situational depression is stress. Some typical events that lead to it include:

  • Loss of a relationship
  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Serious illness
  • Experiencing a traumatic event such as a disaster, crime, or accident

What Are the Symptoms of Situational Depression?

The most common symptoms of situational depression are depressed mood, tearfulness, and feelings of hopelessness. Children or teenagers are more likely to show behavioral symptoms such as fighting or skipping school. Some other symptoms include:

  • Feeling nervous
  • Having body symptoms such as headache, stomachache, or heart palpitations
  • Missing work, school, or social activities
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Feeling tired
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs

How Is Situational Depression Diagnosed and Treated?

A diagnosis of situational depression, or adjustment disorder with depressed mood, is made when symptoms of depression occur within three months of a stress-causing event, are more severe than expected, or interfere with normal functioning. Your doctor may do tests to rule out other physical illnesses, and you may need a psychological evaluation to make sure you are not suffering from a more serious condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder or a more serious type of depression.

The best treatment for situational depression is counseling with a mental health professional. The goal of treatment is to help you cope with your stress and get back to normal. Support groups are often helpful. Family therapy may be especially important for children or teenagers. In some cases, you may need medication to help control anxiety or for trouble sleeping.

Situational depression and other types of depression are a common problem today, notes James C. Overholser, PhD, professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “Many people are struggling with social isolation, financial limitations, or chronic health problems,” says Dr. Overholser. “A psychologist is much more likely to view depression as a reaction to negative life events. Many people can overcome their depression by making changes in their attitudes, their daily behaviors, and their interpersonal functioning.”

If you have situational depression, you should know that most people get completely better within about six months after the stressful event. However, it is important to get help, because situational depression can lead to a more severe type of depression or substance abuse if untreated. For many people with situational depression, the coping skills they learn in treatment can become valuable tools to help them face the future.

Are there certain situations that, no matter what you do, seem to cause your nerves to completely spike?

For many people, public speaking is one such circumstance.

As they stand up to speak, their hands instantly begin to tremble. Their voices change from steady to shaky. Beads of sweat pool at the top of their temples, and they can feel their faces reddening. Worry and sleeplessness take over in the days before, and sometimes even after.

These symptoms can become so uncomfortable that any speaking event, big or small, is a miserable experience, and one that should be avoided altogether.

This is an example of what’s known as situational anxiety.

What exactly is situational anxiety?

Situational anxiety is a specific type of anxiety that occurs during unfamiliar situations or events that make us so nervous that we lose control of our ability to stay calm.

And it’s incredibly common, especially when it comes to public speaking. But there are other situations that can cause anxiety levels to elevate.

These can include:

  • Going to a job interview
  • Attending a networking event
  • Meeting someone for a first date
  • Riding an airplane
  • Sharing an opinion during a meeting
  • Making small talk with new acquaintances
  • Being away from home
  • Using a public restroom
  • Leading a meeting or discussion
  • Standing alone in a public place

It’s important to note that situational anxiety is not necessarily the same as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is a continuous state of worry despite the situation.

What does situational anxiety feel like?

Situational anxiety can cause both a mind a body response, triggering physical as well as emotional symptoms.

These can include:

  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Worry
  • Low self-esteem
  • Shaky hands
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Chest pains
  • Sweaty palms
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sweating
  • Blushing

Anxiety is very personal and people may experience different symptoms from one another.

Additionally, symptoms can vary based on the specific situation at hand. For example, someone who’s afraid of public speaking might experience a shaky voice and flushing in their face. On the other hand, someone who’s nervous before a big interview might experience sleeplessness and sweaty palms.

How to Relieve Situational Anxiety

Not only is situational anxiety uncomfortable and frustrating, but it can have real consequences. It can hold people back in their careers, affect personal relationships, and lower self-esteem levels.

But there’s good news: there are ways to cope with situational anxiety.

Expose Yourself

Exposure therapy is a technique commonly used to help people overcome a fear by intentionally “exposing” themselves to something they fear.

In practice, it isn’t quite as extreme as it may sound. The idea here isn’t to jump head first into a situation that scares you; instead, it’s to take a series of small steps over time to gradually help you feel more comfortable when you’d typically feel anxious.

Science of Us Editor Melissa Dahl used exposure therapy to figure out why she felt embarrassment so intensely. She wanted to understand why memories of her awkwardness would suddenly reemerge in her mind, causing her to relive her humiliation over and over again, something Melissa dubbed “cringe attacks”. Most importantly, though, she wanted to discover how she could learn to embrace these feelings rather than shy away from them.

Melissa’s book Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness covers the series of challenges she took with the hope of learning to be more accepting of her feelings.

For example, she had a difficult conversation with a friend who had a completely different set of political beliefs than herself. She danced in the middle of a circle, leading a group through the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” during an improv class. She even auditioned and performed for a live edition of Mortified, a show that invites people to read aloud from their childhood journals in front of an audience.

Build a Routine

Once you have an understanding of what types of situations make you anxious and where your fear is coming from, you can then start to come up with strategies to help you dissipate that anxiety and improve your performance.

One of the most common ways to do this is by creating a “pre-performance routine”.

Think of it as practice or a dress rehearsal for whatever it is you’re preparing for.

The goal here is to calm yourself by going through the motions of everything you’ll be doing so that it becomes familiar. Familiarity can help decrease stress because it means you’re already used to something.

This can include drawing up a plan with as many details as possible. For example, if you’re preparing for an interview, find out how many people will be in the room and who they are. This way it won’t be a shock when you walk into the room. Then, make a list of everything you’ll need to take that day so you don’t forget anything.

Setting yourself up to be as prepared as possible before a big event arrives will help keep you calm.

But perhaps the most important preparation advice is the most basic. When we’re feeling extra busy or particularly anxious, it’s easy to forget to practice self-care.

According to registered psychologist Dr. Ganz Ferrance:

“Anything that puts you in a calmer state is going to give you more capacity to handle stress when it shows up. When you feel comfortable and calm in the regular part of your life, you have a much better chance of staying calm when you’re in front of people you need to give a presentation to. Typically, people in our culture don’t sleep enough or we live on coffee, cigarettes, and fast food. So our bodies, before we show up to a presentation, are already in a state of stress because we haven’t been treating them very well. And so it doesn’t take much to get us to overreact. We fall apart, and then, of course, we judge ourselves when we fall apart. And that just makes it worse for next time.”

So matter how frazzled you’re feeling, don’t forget to get enough sleep, exercise, eat regularly and take breaks when you need.

Ask for help

If your anxiety is troubling you or if you feel like it’s getting in the way of you navigating through your daily life, it’s important to ask for help.

It’s frustrating to feel like we don’t have control over our own bodies, especially during big moments such as presentations or interviews. But there are many different options available that can help, including different types of medications, therapies, and other coping techniques.

Try speaking with your primary care doctor or psychiatrist about what options might work for you.

Or if approaching a doctor in-person about your anxiety makes you uncomfortable, there are several sites and apps available that are dedicated to offering mental health support in a digital setting.

Situational anxiety may feel like it’s getting in your way, but it doesn’t have to. Preparing yourself with a pre-performance routine, exercising your mental fitness with exposure therapy, and asking for help when you need can help you overcome your situational anxiety and reach your goals.

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Author Bio: Katy Tripses is the Growth Lead at Kick Health, which helps self-aware, ambitious, and capable professionals overcome the situational fears that hold them back.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.

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Ask The Therapist: How To Cope With Situational Depression

By Deborah Serani, PsyD May 1, 2017

  • Post Views: 3,403 Views

    Stressful life events can lead to situational depression. Talk therapy that focuses on positive reappraisal and problem-solving will improve your ability to cope.

    By Deborah Serani, PsyD

    Long ago, the mental health field divided depression into two categories. The first was called endogenous depression, meaning that symptoms of depression were caused by your biological or genetic makeup. The other, called exogenous depression, occurred because life events or stressors were responsible for depressive symptoms.

    Nowadays, these medical terms have been casually redefined, with “clinical depression” replacing endogenous and “situational depression” pink-slipping exogenous. I think the name changes are good because these new phrases help describe how depression touches lives better than the Latinate medical terms of yesteryear.

    When something unusually stressful occurs in your life—a job loss, a death, financial troubles, conflict in a relationship—you may experience increased feelings of sadness, despair, helplessness, fatigue, and other symptoms of depression. If depressive symptoms gradually lift once the life event passes, we say that the situation caused the depression.

    Some individuals may feel deeply sad, hopeless, lost, apathetic, or unusually irritable even when their day-to-day experiences aren’t overwhelmingly problematic. In fact, things may even be going well for them. In this case, depressive symptoms aren’t related to life events, but rather to an internal physiological experience. This is called clinical depression.

    When it comes to treating situational depression, seeking help from a psychotherapist generally suffices. Through talk therapy, the individual will learn better skills for coping with the life stressor.

    Psychotherapy is extremely helpful with clinical depression as well, but often antidepressant medication is necessary in order to address the underlying physiology that caused the depression. Some individuals with clinical depression may have to remain on antidepressants for a long time, whereas situational depression tends to resolve more quickly.

    The take-away here is that depression is a treatable illness whether it is situational or clinical.

    What coping strategies help in situational depressions?

    Coping strategies are intentional techniques that shift how you think and feel. Here are two coping styles that have documented benefits for reducing depression:

    POSITIVE REAPPRAISAL: According to the appraisal theory of emotions, how we feel about a certain situation is determined by how we think about it. So if you think negatively about an event, you will feel negatively about the present and future.

    “…how we feel about a certain situation is determined by how we think about it. So if you think negatively about an event, you will feel negatively about the present and future.”

    One of the best ways to understand positive reappraisal is to think of the old adage about seeing a glass as half-full instead of half-empty. After losing a job, your mind might be consumed with worry: “How am I going to pay the mortgage?” A positive reappraisal might go like this: “I didn’t like that job anyway, so now I have a chance to purse what I like.”

    After a romantic breakup, you might default to catastrophic thinking, “I’ll never get over this. I’m going to be single for the rest of my life.” Positive reappraisal helps shift your focus: “I can use this time to learn how to be more self-reliant.”

    It can feel unnatural to reframe your thoughts in a positive light, especially if you tend toward the pessimistic, but studies show that if you shift even one negative word to a positive one, it can jumpstart goal-directed behaviors.

    You may need outside coaching from a mental health professional to get the hang of it. Once mastered, however, positive reappraisal has the power to lift your mood, reduce helplessness, and pave the way for the next coping technique: problem-solving.

    PROBLEM-FOCUSED COPING: This approach aims to energize you into making changes. In this kind of therapy, you learn skills to help you analyze a situation, identify a manageable problem, and create specific, task-oriented solutions. As you start to feel less stuck, depression loses its traction.

    When you have to endure a toxic boss, move through grief, or deal with a sudden medical issue, focusing on possible solutions puts the momentum on getting through the situation—not being thrown by it.

    Printed as “Ask the Therapist: Cause and Effect- Situational Depression”, Spring 2017

    Situational Depression – What It Is And What To Do About It

    By Julia Thomas

    Updated August 29, 2019

    Reviewer Dawn Brown

    Bad things happen to everyone at some point in their lives. If you’re resilient, you get over these unhappy or stressful situations quickly and get back to living your life. If not, your sadness may linger and begin to affect your daily functioning for a while. Anyone who faces difficult life changes may benefit from learning about situational depression.

    What Is Situational Depression?

    In a way, the name “situational depression” speaks for itself. It refers to a kind of depression that happens after a traumatic event, a stressful situation, or a major life change. The depression is directly related to the trauma, stress, or change.


    Situational depression is also a common name for a specific type of adjustment disorder. “Adjustment disorder” is also somewhat self-explanatory. If you have it, that means you are having trouble adjusting to something that’s recently come into your life. There are many kinds of adjustment disorders, but the one that most closely relates to situational depression is adjustment disorder with depressed mood.

    Is Situational Depression Real Depression?

    Although situational depression is medically termed as adjustment disorder, it can still be a significant mental health problem that feels very much like clinical depression. It can affect your personal life, your job, and your relationships. Even if it resolves quickly, you may be left with troubles that built up while you were feeling sad and overwhelmed.

    What Triggers Situational Depression?

    Unlike other forms of depression, the situational kind is always triggered by some recent event or situation. The one thing all situational depression triggers have in common is that they’re all major life changes. Triggers can be positive or negative life events, but they’re typically dramatic. Some triggers include:

    • Losing your job
    • Getting a divorce
    • The death of a loved one
    • A major illness or injury
    • Going away to school for the first time
    • Having a baby
    • Relationship problems
    • Being assaulted
    • Retirement

    What Are the Symptoms?

    The symptoms of situational depression usually manifest within three months of the triggering event. Situational depression may come with one or several of the following symptoms:

    • Feeling sad and crying frequently
    • Listlessness
    • Feeling hopeless and helpless
    • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
    • Feeling worried or jittery
    • Having trouble sleeping
    • Problems concentrating
    • Losing your appetite
    • Feeling overwhelmed
    • Impaired daily functioning
    • Withdrawing from your support system
    • Avoiding things that seem hard, like going to work
    • Suicidal thoughts


    How Long Does It Last?

    Situational depression often only lasts a very short time, but it can last much longer in some cases. Nearly all cases of situational depression can be classified as acute or persistent adjustment disorder. It can also develop into a more serious mental illness.


    If you have acute adjustment disorder, your symptoms will typically last six months or less. If your situational depression is related to an ongoing stressor, the symptoms will ease up when that stressor is eliminated.


    If you have persistent situational depression, the symptoms hold on and last more than six months.

    What Happens if It Doesn’t Go Away?

    In some cases, situational depression leads to major clinical depression. Although you may or may not need treatment for adjustment disorder if it resolves quickly, you most certainly do need help if you have major clinical depression.

    If you feel you have situational depression and it’s hanging on or even getting worse, your condition may be developing into a major depression. Watch for these symptoms of major depressive disorder:

    • Weight loss or gain
    • Sleeping too much or too little
    • No appetite or eating too much
    • Restless or irritability
    • Tiredness
    • Low energy
    • Feeling worthless
    • An inappropriate feeling of guilt
    • Trouble making choices and decisions
    • Finding no pleasure at all in any activities
    • Recurring thoughts of suicide
    • Delusions or hallucinations

    Treatment for Situational Depression

    Getting treatment for situational depression can help you recover faster and avoid long-term mental health problems. Generally, treatment for adjustment disorders is relatively short, usually only a few months. The two main types of treatment are psychotherapy and medications.

    Doesn’t Situational Depression Go Away on Its Own?

    In some cases, situational depression does go away without treatment. People who suffer from this disorder because of a stressful situation often get better quickly once they’re out of the situation or the situation improves. Or in the case of a traumatic event, they may recover as time passes. However, situational depression doesn’t always go away so easily. That’s when treatment becomes most important.


    Psychotherapy can help with situational depression. Just getting a chance to talk about the traumatic event or stressful situation can help. This emotional support may prove critical in helping you recover. As you explore why the event affected you so deeply, you can come to a greater understanding of yourself and your situation. This helps you heal faster. Your therapist can also help you find your way back to your normal routine. In addition, you can learn coping skills to deal with the stress.

    Talking to a therapist may make the difference between having a short-term adjustment disorder and sinking into a major long-term depression. Counselors may be available to help where you live. Or if you would like the convenience and comfort of online therapy, you can talk to a therapist through BetterHelp. Either way, getting help from a therapist can improve your condition significantly.


    Medications aren’t always needed for situational depression. However, your physician or psychiatrist might suggest a short course of antidepressants to lift the depression faster. If anxiety is a part of the problem, they may prescribe anti-anxiety medications as well.

    One thing to remember is that once you’re taking a psychiatric medication, it’s crucial that you don’t stop taking it abruptly. Before you stop, talk to your doctor about it. They may want to reduce your dose gradually to avoid discontinuation syndrome, which can cause symptoms like nausea, insomnia, balance problems, and flu-like symptoms. This doesn’t mean you’ll have to stay on it forever. It only means that you need to continue taking it in the right way while still under the care of your doctor.

    What You Can Do for Yourself

    Whether you seek treatment or not, there are many ways you can help yourself recover from situational depression.

    Taking good care of your physical health can help you fight the effects of situational depression. Get the right amount of sleep, eat the right amounts of healthy foods, and get enough exercise every day. You’ll feel both mentally and physically stronger and better able to deal with your emotional problems.

    Social support is more important than ever during this difficult time. Seek out healthy support from friends and family members who are positive and helpful. Connecting with other people can give you opportunities to talk about your feelings. Talking to a close friend or family member about the issue may make you feel heard as well as give you ideas about how to feel better. Being with other people may also offer a way to get your mind off your troubles and enjoy the company of other friendly people.


    Another thing you can do is to occupy yourself with something every day that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. Accomplishing something that matters to you can help improve your mood and get you back into the swing of things. As you focus on something positive, you may regain the feeling of power that you had before the stressful situation made you feel out of control.

    Be positive and hopeful whenever you can. Although any kind of depression can make this harder, you always have a certain amount of choice in how you view the world. Try to get into a positive mindset, and you’re more likely to see the situation as something you can manage effectively.

    Now is also a good time to recognize and build on your strengths. Focus on the actions you can take to improve your situation or recover from your traumatic event. Given who you are and the strengths you have as an individual, how are you best equipped to handle it? Once you focus on that, you can do what works for you.

    One thing you can do to keep the depression from getting worse and possibly avoid mental health issues later on is to stop avoiding your problems. Instead, think about how you can address any problems that come up as they happen. Remember that avoiding a problem usually doesn’t make it go away. In fact, it may compound the problem. So, it’s important to face your problems when they occur.

    Your friends and family provide a casual social support system that can be very beneficial to you. However, when you’re facing a difficult problem, it’s often helpful to talk to others who are or have been in similar situations. In that case, you might want to get involved with a support group that focuses on problems like the one you’re facing. For example, if your situational depression is related to the death of a loved one, it might help if you go to a grief support group.

    Situational depression can be difficult to live with. Even though it often resolves fairly quickly, it can be extremely painful while you’re in it. If it lasts longer, it can lead to a major depression. You may be able to recover from an adjustment disorder without any additional help. However, if you do need help, there are many ways to get it both in your community and online. All that matters is that you do what works for you to regain your mental well-being as quickly as possible.

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