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You're Not Alone: Taking Charge of High-Functioning Depression



May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this month, we're tackling a hidden foe: high-functioning depression. You might have heard this term on the Mel Robbins Podcast with Dr. Judith Joseph. It resonates deeply because depression can be a master of disguise.


What is High-Functioning Depression?


High-functioning depression (HFD) isn't an official diagnosis, but it's a common term used to describe people who experience depression symptoms yet keep their lives outwardly successful.


  • People with HFD might not see themselves as depressed because they manage daily tasks well.

 

  • It can go unnoticed because they appear to be functioning normally.


Imagine this: you're rocking your career, your relationships seem okay, you tick all the "adulting" boxes. But underneath, there's a persistent low hum of sadness, a lack of energy that makes everything feel like a chore. Maybe you used to find joy in hobbies, but now they feel like obligations. That's high-functioning depression.

 

Forget the stereotype of someone constantly in bed. Sometimes, depression shows up in high achievers who excel at work and maintain relationships, yet feel a hollowness inside. This emptiness has a name: anhedonia. It's the loss of interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy. It explains why that once-loved hobby feels like a chore or why social gatherings leave you drained instead of energized.


What causes HFD?

 

There's no single cause, but it's a mix of things:


  • Family history: If depression runs in your family, you're more at risk.


  • Brain chemistry: Imbalances in brain chemicals can contribute to depression.


  • Life stuff: Stressful life events, past trauma, and ongoing challenges can make things worse.


  • The way you think: Perfectionism, high self-criticism, and feeling like you're never good enough can play a role.


  • Lifestyle: Poor sleep, lack of exercise, unhealthy eating, and not managing stress can all contribute.


  • Inflammation:  There are also theories that inflammation in our bodies can impact our our mental state.


Maybe you can relate. Here's what it's been like for me:


I want to get real, raw, and vulnerable. Like so many of you, I've been on a rollercoaster lately. Life threw a bunch of curveballs, and I'm still trying to catch my breath. Redefining what "normal" looks like has been an exhausting journey, to say the least.


Remember that friend who always seems to have it together? The one crushing deadlines, rocking social events, maybe even planning a dream vacation? Yeah, that used to be me. But lately, that friend feels like a stranger in the mirror.


Exhaustion. It's a constant companion these days. Getting out of bed feels like a monumental feat, and even the simplest tasks take ten times the effort. Remember that spark I used to have? That infectious enthusiasm for life? It feels like it's dimmed, replaced by a dull ache of "going through the motions."


Don't get me wrong, I'm still "functioning." I show up for work, meet my obligations, maybe even squeeze in a workout here and there. But it's like I'm on autopilot. There's this constant pressure to keep pushing, this relentless "go-go-go" mentality that's leaving me feeling hollow.


Then it hit me – the Mel Robbins podcast with Dr. Judith Josephs. High-functioning depression. It was like a lightbulb went off. All those feelings, the exhaustion, the lack of joy – it all fit.


A wave of relief washed over me, mixed with a touch of sadness. Relief because finally, there was a name for what I was experiencing. Sadness because, well, depression.

But here's the thing: this isn't the end of the story. This May, I'm choosing to fight for my well-being. I'm sharing my experience because I know I'm not alone.


Wondering if this might be you? Here are some common signs to watch out for:


  • Emotional Numbness: You go through the motions, but it's hard to connect with your feelings. It's like watching your life unfold on a screen instead of actively participating in it.


  • Low Motivation: Even the simplest tasks feel like scaling Mount Everest. Getting dressed, making breakfast, starting that project – everything requires a herculean effort.


  • Fatigue: You're constantly tired, even after a good night's sleep. It's a deep, soul-crushing exhaustion that lingers even after physical rest.


  • Concentration Challenges: Your mind feels like a foggy swamp. Focusing on tasks at work or following a conversation can be a frustrating struggle.


  • Changes in Sleep or Appetite: You might find yourself sleeping more or less than usual. Meals might become forgotten necessities, or you might find yourself mindlessly snacking.


  • Social Withdrawal: Socializing feels pointless and draining. You might cancel plans, avoid phone calls, and isolate yourself from loved ones, even though you crave connection.


Here's the good news: This doesn't have to be your reality.  High-functioning depression and anhedonia are treatable. Here are some actionable steps to start feeling better:


  • Seek Professional Help: Talking to a therapist, counselor or coach can be a game-changer. They can help you understand your experiences, develop coping mechanisms, and create a personalized roadmap to recovery. Don't hesitate to prioritize your mental health – it's just as important as your physical health.


  • Self-Care is Your Superpower: Make time for activities that nourish your mind, body, and soul, even if they don't feel exciting at first. This could be anything from taking a warm bath to spending time in nature, reading a good book, or listening to calming music. Start small and prioritize activities that bring a sense of peace, even if it's just for 5 minutes a day.


  • Reconnect with Loved Ones: Isolation is the enemy of progress. Don't be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or a support group. Talking about your struggles might feel scary, but surrounding yourself with supportive people who understand what you're going through can be a powerful source of strength.


  • Explore Mindfulness Practices: Activities like meditation or yoga can help you reconnect with your emotions and find moments of peace in the present. Mindfulness doesn't have to be complicated – even a few minutes of deep breathing can make a big difference. There are many free guided meditations available online to get you started.


  • Move Your Body: Exercise is a natural mood booster. It releases endorphins, which have mood-lifting and stress-reducing effects. Start with gentle activities like walking, swimming, or yoga, and gradually increase the intensity as you feel more energized.


  • Prioritize Sleep Hygiene: A lack of sleep can worsen depression symptoms. Develop a regular sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and make sure your sleep environment is dark, quiet, and cool.


  • Challenge Negative Thinking Patterns: Our thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies. When negativity creeps in, challenge those thoughts. Are they realistic? Are there alternative explanations?  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that can help you identify and reframe negative thinking patterns.




Remember, change takes time. Be kind to yourself on this journey. Celebrate small victories, like getting out of bed in the morning or taking a walk. Forgive yourself for setbacks, and remind yourself that you're worthy of feeling good again.




May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it's the perfect time to prioritize your well-being.  If you suspect you might be experiencing high-functioning depression, know that help is available.  Want to learn more? Dr. Judith Joseph, a leading expert on this topic, has quizzes to see if these issues might be impacting you:




Remember, you're not alone.

If you're struggling with similar feelings, please know that there is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Let's break the stigma together and reach out for help.

Here are some additional resources that might be helpful:


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988


  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): [ nami national alliance on mental illness ON nami.org]


This May, let's make mental health a priority. Let's redefine "strength" to include vulnerability and self-care. And let's reclaim the joy in our lives, one step at a time.



If you'd like to talk to someone who can relate with what you are going through, I'd love to chat with you. We can have our first discussion FREE in a 60 minute Breakthrough Session. No obligation other than you time, focus and honesty.


If you'd like more community support from like-minded women who inspire and support each other, then come join our Facebook Group, Joyful Balance Circle. We share tips, inspiration, stories and laughs together.






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