Everyone expects certain life events to be stressful. Losing a job, divorce, death, moving, and illness all top the list when one is asked to list the most stressful occurrences in ones’ life.
However, what many people fail to realize is that happy events also lead to stress, and in many cases, depression. It might seem hard to imagine that something as joyous as marrying the love of your life or achieving a major goal could lead to sadness, but it’s more common than you might expect.
For example, more than half of all brides report that wedding planning is stressful, and less enjoyable than they expected it to be. And do you think that taking a vacation will ease your woes? According to one study, 53 percent of people who take vacations report that they don’t feel refreshed after going away, and a full 30 percent of vacationers believe that taking a vacation will only increase work stress.
With statistics like those, you might think that humans are just doomed to be unhappy. After all, if they can’t be happy whether things are great or they are awful, then we should just accept stress and move on. However, it’s not really that simple. Many of the factors that cause stress and depression during difficult times are the same factors that cause negative emotions during happy times, so understanding how the mind works, and developing strategies for coping with these feelings effectively can prevent happy occasions from spiraling into depressing ones.
Most people would agree that, in general, positive change is a good thing. However, even when change is a good thing — you landed a great job, you’re moving to a new city that you’ve always wanted to live in, you’re having a baby — it still brings with it a certain amount of uncertainty, and with uncertainty and fear, comes stress. As humans, we have a tendency to become comfortable in our circumstances, even if they are dysfunctional or appear, at least to others, to be unbearable. Anything that takes you out of your comfort zone is bound to create insecurity, at least temporarily.
Whether you’re planning a wedding or a vacation, or experiencing a major life event, like a graduation, you probably have an image of what it’s going to be like — or what’s going to happen afterwards. If the reality doesn’t quite match up to your expectations, though, you could experience disappointment, sadness, or even anger.
Research shows that post-vacation depression is real. Many people return home from vacation and experience a myriad of emotions, from sadness that the trip is over, to guilt for spending money on “frivolous” experiences. While they have many happy memories of their trip, the reality of returning to their normal routine — and the stress that didn’t go away while they were out of town — often leads to the doldrums.
The same thing can happen after other big events as well. When you’ve spent the better part of a year planning a wedding, and being the center of attention with parties, photo sessions, and planning meetings, settling into life after the wedding can be challenging, since you have to find a new routine.
Certain happy events, such as retiring or starting a new job, require a certain amount of preparation. If you feel like you aren’t ready for the change, then it’s easy to become overwhelmed and fearful, and slip into depression.
It’s easy to say that you can avoid “happy” depression by simply embracing change, keeping expectations in check, and preparing in advance. If it were that simple though, everyone would do it, and depression wouldn’t be an issue. Obviously, that’s not the case.
However, you can reduce the risk of depression by maintaining perspective and being realistic. Experts also suggest maintaining a positive point of view when facing change. For example, if you’ve been promoted or been tapped for a big project, instead of saying “I have no idea how I will do this,” it’s better to focus on the positive, and be happy that your boss recognized your skills and feel confident that you will do a good job.
At the same time, it’s okay to feel a little sad when something enjoyable comes to an end or the reality doesn’t match the perfect vision in your head. If you understand that those feelings are normal, and focus on the good things that happened, you’ll get out of the funk sooner. If the feelings don’t subside, or get worse and begin to affect your daily activities, seek help. There’s no reason to live with depression — even if happy things bring it on.