Signs and Symptoms of Depression: A Guide to Understanding and Coping with Depression

Allie Bausinger
May 14, 2021

Talking about the signs of depression is something we want to normalize. It's important to know when things take a turn and when you need to get help, or get your friends help. This article seeks to supply just that. 

College is stressful. Add in a pandemic and the anti-racist efforts being ignited across the world and life might be a little more than you can handle right now. Many of us are feeling the same way, and lots of us aren't sure if what we are experiencing are signs and symptoms of depression or just your average valley in life. It’s important to remember that there are times when you might not be able to get through these feelings on your own.

Understanding how you are feeling can be hugely helpful for your mental health and well-being. Whether you want to reach out to a professional and seek therapy or try something new at home to release stress here are some helpful ways to better understand your feelings and find ways to cope with the signs and symptoms of depression.

First and foremost:

If you’ve had any thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life, DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. Please, immediately get yourself some help. The National Suicide Hotline phone number is: 1-800-273-8255 or you can text “HOME” to 741-741 to get in touch with the National Crisis Textline. There is zero shame in getting help.

8 Depression signs and symptoms

Not sure if you are experiencing the first signs of depression? Unsure if you're ready to reach out to a professional?

Ask yourself these questions to determine whether now might be the right time to seek some help. It's hard to know what depression feels like if you've never felt it before.

1. Are you still interested in your everyday activities?

This is a telltale sign of depression. If you’ve lost interest in the things you used to enjoy, this might be a sign that you need therapy. Spend a day analyzing how you’re feeling. If things are feeling monotonous or you aren’t getting any joy out of your day, look into getting some help. 

2. Do you still enjoy seeing your friends?

Whether it’s going out or staying in, do you like connecting with your friends? Or would you rather stay in bed all day? Does going outside stress you out? If your answer is one of the latter, it might be time to ask for some help.

Depression can lead to self-isolation, which is a really bad coping mechanism that can lead to feeling even worse. Self-isolation, when you're experiencing depression, can be an incredibly hard cycle to get out of.  If you find yourself feeling isolated, try your best to get outside and talk to your friends and family. 

3. Has your appetite changed?

Are you eating way less than normal? Way more than normal? Either way, this might be a sign that something is wrong. Appetite changes can be a physical reaction to whatever is going on in your brain.

Remember, depression is not just something in your head. It’s a physical illness with physical symptoms and understanding these first signs is incredibly important - especially in college students. 

4. Are you often feeling exhausted?

Does getting out of bed make you groan and cry? Do you go through your day feeling like your eyelids weigh a million pounds? Extreme exhaustion and chronic tiredness is another physical symptom of depression and/or anxiety. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and not drinking too much caffeine.

Be mindful that this can help, but might not be enough to make these symptoms go away. That’s okay, remember, this is a physical illness. 

5. Has your personal hygiene declined?

Have you been brushing your teeth? Taking your vitamins? Showering? If your personal-hygiene routine starts to feel unimportant, this is a huge sign that you may be struggling with depression. When you’re depressed or anxious, you may feel like taking care of yourself doesn't matter.

This can be dangerous, as it might result in cavities in your teeth, declines in health and other physical problems. It's hard to describe what depression feels like since everyone is different, but this symptom, in particular, is hard to mistake.

6. Has the voice in your head become more negative than normal?

Do you say “I hate myself” a lot? Do you look in the mirror and think “I’m ugly” or “I’m not worth it”? Having a negative and overpowering inner monologue is a red flag for a mental health issue.

Try to negate the negative self-talk by saying the opposite to yourself when you catch yourself in the act.

7. How is your body image?

Are you catching yourself on the scale a lot? Or picking at your face? Do you feel like you can’t look good no matter how hard you try? When you're depressed, your brain will tell you lots of negative things to keep you sad.

Try to stop this negativity when it happens, just like mentioned in the point above. Make sure you’re talking yourself up and that the people around you are supportive.

8. Have your friends and family noticed a shift in your behavior?

Ask your parents, siblings and friends how they think you’ve been behaving. Sometimes, it's impossible to spot a change in yourself, but the people around you can shed some light. The people who love you may be reluctant to speak up unless asked. You can start by asking them if they think you've been "off." Your friend and family truly love you, and surely they’ll be honest with you about your concerns and can offer support to get the help you need. 

If you're not comfortable talking to a friend or a family member, you can start by seeking an online counselor to start the conversation. Talkspace offers a great resource and you don't even need to pick up the phone, it can all be done via chat if that's what you're comfortable with.

How to cope with symptoms of depression

If you feel like you relate to some of the signs and symptoms of depression outlined above, but you're not sure if you need therapy just yet (although there's never a bad time to talk to a professional), try shaking a low mood with some of the activities listed below.

Art therapy

This is my personal favorite and a strategy that encompasses so many possible activities. Art therapy can be any type of expression that brings you joy. This can be a DIY project like painting your bedroom or building a desk, or a more traditional art expression such as drawing, painting or working in clay. Maybe it's just coloring in a coloring book or doodling in a notebook.

If you’re quarantined because of COVID-19 right now, you probably have some colored pencils and paper and a lot of extra time. Get creative! Companies like Brit+Co offer online art classes or you can search for painting, sketching, and other tutorials on YouTube. Learning a new skill is always a fun way to relieve some stress and self-express! Not to mention, art is clinically known to redirect the negative energy that might be arising from feelings of depression and anxiety.

Cleaning and organizing

When your life feels like it’s a mess, a cleaning session in your room can remind you that you have control over some of that mess. Seriously, cleaning can literally sweep away your stress. When your mind feels out of order, getting your space in order helps way more than you might think.

You don’t have to do anything big. Whether you’re cleaning off your nightstand or just getting all of the dirty dishes and water bottles out of your room, it counts.


What better way to escape your anxieties than escaping into a whole new world? Reading is a wonderful stress reducer. Put your problems away and find a fun universe to jump into, or reread an old favorite.

Baking and cooking

If you're feeling sad or down, baking or cooking can lift you up. There is nothing wrong with making yourself some goodies when you’re feeling a little low. If you need a little inspiration, check out Pinterest for some ideas, there are tons of pins that might ignite your creativity and excitement to get cooking.

The reason cooking and baking can be so therapeutic is because you can actually control the process as it's happening. This can distract you from what's really happening in your life even just for 30 minutes, putting you back in the driver’s seat of your own life. Plus, I’m sure your roommates won’t complain about some chocolate chip cookies on the counter.


If your mind is feeling overcrowded, grab some trash bags and get rid of some stuff (mentally too). A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t used or worn it in a year, toss it. Getting rid of older stuff is a great way of helping put your mind more at ease.

Take this as an opportunity to throw out those binders from freshman year of high school that you swore one day you would need. If you want to make this into a profitable project, you can even sell some clothes on Poshmark and anything else on Offerup and earn a little extra cash.


This is a therapeutic technique that I’ve found very useful over the years. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment, aware of where you are and what you're doing, rather than being reactive to or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.

This is a technique that can be used to center yourself when feeling incredibly anxious or just overwhelmed with sadness. There are lots of methods you can use to be mindful. A common one is the five senses mindfulness practice.

Here's how it works, first shut off/mute any audio you might be in control of:

  1. Notice 1 thing you can taste
  2. Notice 2 things you can smell
  3. Notice 3 things you can hear
  4. Notice 4 things you can feel
  5. Notice 5 things you can see

The reason this mindfulness practice works is because it allows you to be fully present in your surroundings and focus on something that is not anxiety or worries about the past or future. There are plenty of guided strategies online to use if you just search “mindfulness exercise.”


Meditation is incredibly simple to add into your daily routine, and there are a lot of apps that make it very easy to do. It's manageable to take five minutes out of your day to sit quietly and center your mind. There are many benefits that come with keeping a consistent meditation practice, but one of the most profound is the ability to recenter and ability to use breathing exercises to stay present.

You'll feel more refreshed and calmer throughout the entire day. Check out some of these meditation apps that college students can use to regain their sanity.

Start a positivity or gratitude journal

A gratitude journal is where you take time each day to write down the good things that happened and the things you are grateful for in your day. This helps the days seem a lot less negative when depression is trying to take over.

A positivity journal serves a similar function. Regular journaling is helpful too. Reflecting on your day can help you realize that it wasn’t all that bad. It can also help you track your mood, which is important when you’re struggling with your mental health. 

You can get a few inexpensive notebooks on Amazon and make one a gratitude journal, one a positivity journal, and one a regular journal and use them to keep your thoughts organized and happy.

Will depression go away?

Mental health problems can be incredibly difficult to address because of the stigma and confusion around them and the murkiness you might feel when going through it. It's not always a simple and quick diagnosis and it's often hard to define where depression comes from and how to make it go away.

Though there might not be definitive answers to these questions, there's no wrong way to address your mental health other than not addressing it. Sometimes you can feel dismissed or ignored because “you don’t look sick,” a common refrain to people suffering from mental illness. Don’t listen to these toxic words! Mental illness is real and has real, physical symptoms.

If you have even the slightest indication that you may need help, don't hesitate to reach out. At the end of the day, it could save your life. Finding a psychiatrist or therapist may be necessary to pick yourself up out of the pit that you feel like you’re falling into.

There is no reason to be ashamed if you are suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or anything else you may be feeling, or if you need some medicine to boost your serotonin, help you sleep, or help manage your anxiety. The most important thing is to address the way you're feeling and get the help that you need.