Written by Dr. Paul Kelly, PhD, C.Psych. February 6, 2023
This article is for people who want to learn about walking depression.
- What is walking depression?
- How to tell if you have it?
- What are the risks of ignoring it?
- How can friends and family support you?
- How lifestyle changes can help you overcome depression.
- How to choose the right therapy and therapist.
My Story Of Walking Depression
Why This Matters: This is why I care about helping you.
It can be hard to recognize walking depression. I know from personal experience. I had walking depression for a year when I was in graduate school. Someone I hoped to marry ended our relationship. I was very depressed on the inside, but I kept working. No one picked up on my depression. And my friends were all studying Clinical Psychology! Eventually, I had to face my depression because it interfered with my schoolwork. I found a good therapist. I recovered, and I was able to complete my schooling.
I have been there. That is one of the reasons I wrote this article. I want to help others who are dealing with walking depression. Do you wonder if you have walking depression? Check the topics below. Learn more about walking depression so you can take care of yourself. You deserve it.
What is Depression?
Depression is a common but serious mood disorder. It affects how you feel, think, and handle daily activities. It can affect your sleeping, eating, or working. It’s more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. Sadness is temporary. Depression lasts longer. It can significantly impact your life. People with depression usually feel a deep sense of sadness. They lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. And they often struggle with feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
What Is Walking Depression?
Walking depression describes people who have depression symptoms but appear to be getting by. On the outside, they might look okay. They can work, go to school, keep up with things. But on the inside, they feel sad, discouraged, and hopeless. They are really struggling. Walking depression is sometimes called smiling depression because the person doesn’t show how they feel on the inside.
7 Warning Signs for Friends and Family
Why This Matters: This list shows your loved ones when you need help.
Your loved ones can help you better if they know how to identify walking depression. This list shows them what to watch for. They can use this list to start a conversation with you. See the Friends and Family Can Help to learn what loved ones should do or avoid doing.
- Fake Smiles: They see you putting on a happy face, but it doesn’t seem real.
- Always Saying “I’m Fine”: You tell loved ones that you are fine, but they can tell that something is off.
- Irritability: They see that you get annoyed or upset more easily. Little things set you off.
- Lack of Energy: They see that you are always tired. There is no vitality in your step.
- Change in Sleep Patterns: They notice that you sleep too much or too little.
- Eating Habits Change: They notice that you eat too much or less than usual. They see you skipping meals or eating lots of snacks.
- Low Sex Drive: You stop being interested in sex. Your partner is hurt and confused.
10 Warning Signs That You Might Have Walking Depression
Why This Matters: If you are sad, it will pass. If you have walking depression, you probably need to do something.
These warning signs can help you figure out whether you have normal sadness or walking depression. Normal sadness usually goes away on its own. Walking depression can get worse if you don’t deal with it. Don’t worry. If you have walking depression, there are things you can do to overcome it. Check my advice about lifestyle changes and treatment.
Here are some signs you might be living with walking depression.
- Feeling Empty: You feel empty or sad even when things are going well. It is always there in the background.
- Wearing a Mask: You pretend to be happy around others. But when you’re alone, you feel down.
- Loss of Joy: Favorite activities or hobbies no longer bring you joy. It’s like the pleasure has been turned off.
- Tired All the Time: You’re constantly exhausted. Sleep doesn’t help. It feels like you’re dragging yourself through each day.
- Change in Appetite: You might notice you’re eating much more or less than usual. Food isn’t appealing, or you might overeat to feel better.
- Hard to Focus: Concentrating or making decisions is hard. It feels like you have brain fog.
- Feeling Worthless: You have harsh, critical thoughts about yourself. Your thoughts say, “You’re not good enough” or “You are a failure.”
- Anxiety: You feel more anxious or worried, even about small things. Your mind can’t settle.
- Irritability: Little annoyances make you upset. You snap at people without meaning to.
- Thoughts of Escape: You think about disappearing from your life. In extreme cases, you might think about suicide.
8 Risks of Not Recognizing Walking Depression?
Why This Matters: You can make better choices if you know the risks of ignoring depression.
I know it can be hard to look at things if you have walking depression. I have been there. Try to be kind to yourself. Have a look at the risks on this list. If some of these risks show up for you, try to be honest about it. Talk with someone. Don’t keep it a secret. Start by sharing with a friend or family member.
- Getting Worse: Your depression might get deeper over time. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away; it can make things harder in the long run.
- Physical Health Problems: Stress and depression can lead to real body issues like headaches, stomach problems, and heart trouble.
- Relationship Issues: You might start having more fights or misunderstandings with friends and family because they don’t know what you’re going through.
- Work or School Trouble: Concentrating or caring about work or school might get harder. You could end up with lower grades or problems at your job.
- Substance Use: Some people start using alcohol or drugs to feel better. This could lead to addiction and more problems.
- Isolation: You might pull away from people and feel lonely. This could make your depression even harder to handle.
- Self-Harm: You might start to hurt yourself as a way to deal with the pain.
- Suicidal Thoughts: Ignoring depression can lead to thinking about suicide as a way out. It’s very important to get help before thoughts turn into actions.
How Friends and Family Can Help with Walking Depression?
Why This Matters: Loved ones want to help. Often, they don’t know how. These tips can guide them.
Friends and family can play a very important role if you have walking depression. No one recovers from depression in a vacuum. We all need some help. The list below offers some advice for loved ones – what they should do and avoid doing. Ask them to read the list. Let them help you. It is also okay to ask for professional help. A mental health professional like a psychotherapist or psychologist will have expert knowledge about how to treat depression.
Advice for Loved Ones: What to Do
- Listen Without Judging: Let them know you’re there to listen, not to judge. Sometimes, just being heard can make a big difference to someone.
- Encourage Sharing: Encourage them to talk about their feelings. You can share your own feelings to show it’s okay to talk about these things.
- Encourage Activities: Invite them to do things with you that could be enjoyable. Help them to start or work on something to give them a sense of accomplishment.
- Read the Lifestyle Section Below: There is a list of lifestyle advice in the next section. Read it. Can you help your loved one start some of these good habits?
- Suggest Professional Help: Talk about how seeing a counsellor or therapist could help. Offer to help them find someone or go with them to their first appointment.
Advice for Loved Ones: What to Avoid
- Don’t Overlook Their Feelings: Take their feelings seriously if they do open up. You don’t need to give advice, just show that you are with them.
- Don’t Push Them Too Hard: Give them space if they’re not ready to talk. If they are not ready for a big step, help them with a small one.
- Avoid Cliché Advice: Saying things like “Just cheer up” or “Look on the bright side” isn’t helpful.
- Don’t Make Them Feel Guilty: Avoid making them feel bad for being depressed. It’s not their fault.
- Take Care of Yourself: Supporting someone with depression can be draining. Make sure you’re looking after your own mental health, too.
Good Habits and Lifestyle to Overcome
Why This Matters: Simple lifestyle changes can help you to prevent or overcome depression.
These good habits and lifestyle changes can go a long way to help you prevent or overcome walking depression. Have a look at the list. What would be the easiest thing for you to start with? That would be a good choice. Ask a friend or family member to support you with a lifestyle change. Take it slow. Try one thing at a time. That is the best way to move forward when you have been depressed. I know. I have been there.
- Regular Exercise: Doing physical activity, such as walking, running, or yoga, can significantly boost your mood. Exercise releases endorphins.
- Healthy Eating: Eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and folic acid found in leafy greens are particularly helpful for depression.
- Limit Screen Time: Too much time on phones, computers, or watching TV can make you feel more down. Try to set some limits for yourself and spend more time doing things in the real world.
- Connect with Others: Spend time with friends or family who make you feel good about yourself. Talking and sharing with people who care about you can make you feel less alone and more understood.
- Do Things You Enjoy: Engage in activities that you enjoy and find meaningful. This will help you feel better about yourself and will boost your mood. Try something active like learning to play an instrument, paint or draw, or embroidery.
Would you like more advice? Have a look at this article.
Psychotherapy Treatment for Walking Depression
Why This Matters: When people are stuck in depression, they mistakenly doubt that therapy can help.
Here is the Good News: Psychotherapy is a very effective treatment for walking depression. Have a look at the list below. Which type of therapy feels right for you? They are all safe choices. All of them can help you overcome depression. Most therapists are eclectic. They know about several types of therapy. They blend them to make a personal treatment approach for you. You can trust this way of working. Eclectic therapy can be very effective.
Here is the Hardest Part: Starting therapy is often the hardest part. People with walking depression cope by keeping going. Often, they are afraid to slow down and look at things. They are afraid that they will crash. Does this feel like you? Don’t let this feeling keep you away from therapy. A good therapist can help you have an honest look at your life. And they can help you find your way out of depression. They can give you advice. They can help you feel less ashamed. They can show you how to return to yourself and your life. You deserve to feel better. A good therapist can help you get there.
A Tip About Therapists: Make sure you find a therapist who feels right for you. Who your therapist is matters more than the type of therapy. If your therapist is rigid, passive, cold, or disorganized, then you probably need a different therapist. There are some really good therapists out there. You deserve to work with one. Check my article about this for more advice.
4 Types of Psychotherapy for Walking Depression
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies. You learn to live according to your personal values, with kindness for yourself.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This talk therapy helps you challenge negative thoughts so you can behave differently and improve your mental wellbeing.
- Behavioral Activation (BA): BA helps you get moving and doing. When you complete more rewarding activities, you will feel more hopeful, and your mood improves. BA is simple and powerful. All by itself, it can be an effective treatment for severe depression. Here is how to get started.
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): MBCT combines cognitive therapy with mindfulness. You learn coping skills to overcome negative thinking. MBCT training also protects people from having a second bout of depression, after the first cure.
A Personal Note
Why This Matters: Here is why I care about giving you useful advice.
I know how tough depression can be. I had walking depression for a year when I was in graduate school. I finally saw a therapist when the strain became too much. Things started to get better after I had professional support. We are all human; sometimes life throws us a big curve ball. Trust yourself, and get advice from your family and friends. If they think you should try a therapist, be open to the idea. You deserve to feel better.
It is important to me that you find practical and trustworthy information. That is why I personally selected and reviewed all the sources for this article. My advice is also based on my decades of experience, working in hospitals, treating clients, and mentoring other therapists and psychologists.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fifth edition.). Arlington, VA.
- Barlow, D.H. (Editor). Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders: A Step-by-Step Treatment Manual, (sixth edition). The Guilford Press, 2021.
- Dozois, D. & Dobson, K. (Editors). Treatment of Psychosocial Risk Factors in Depression. American Psychological Association. Washington DC. 2023
- National Institute of Mental Health. Depression. (2024). Retrieved from: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression.
- American Psychological Association (2023, March) Overcoming Depression: How Psychologists Help with Depressive Disorders. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/topics/depression/overcoming.
- American Psychiatric Association (October, 2020). What Is Depression? Retrieved from: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression.