Depression & Stress: Faking It Until You Make It Can Hurt In The Long Run

man writing in journal

‘Fake it until you make it’. How often have we received and heeded this advice when we are seriously stressed? It is hard to ignore since it almost always comes from the people who love us the most. Sometimes, we heed this advice without being fully aware of it because masking stress or pain is so deeply embedded in our ‘survival tactic DNA’.

Many of our ancestors practiced masking or hiding pain because their day-to-day survival depended on it. So we learned to mask our stress and pain in similar ways. Some of us also watched our mothers, fathers and grandparents cope with stress by using this tactic.

The urge to fake it until we make it may be even stronger when we experience stress stemming from discrimination and unfairness since they are difficult to validate. We go to great lengths to hide any rip in our emotional vests because doing so helps us feel safer and in control.

But, the truth of the matter is that these survival tactics only provide temporary pain relief and may set us up to feel mental distress. And ironically, we may even feel more mental distress when we routinely try to push stress out of our awareness. Bottom line – We can only fake it for so long until we realize that we are not really making it at all.

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Depression, one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions, is one sign that despite faking it, you may not be really making it. The most recent estimates from National Institutes of Mental Health indicate that 10.4 million adults in the US (those 18 and older) had one episode of depression that led to significant impairment.

Far fewer Blacks are diagnosed with depression than Whites. But, this does not mean that stress is not taking a toll on our health. In fact, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Michigan suggest that Blacks use other kinds of behaviors (like overeating and substance use) to mask stress and depression.  These behaviors have their own set of consequences and are another sign that ‘faking it ‘ can have even broader impacts on our health.

Some common symptoms of depression include:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability
  • Frequent crying
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, sad, or empty
  • Loss of interest in activities

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There are different forms of depression and the symptoms described above can range from mild to severe.  Some forms of depression can also be treated with therapy alone and some might indicate the need for medication. But, you won’t know where you stand if you don’t take off the mask and seek help.

Seeking help for depression often runs counter to all the survival advice and social messages we receive. Black women are urged to be superwomen. While Black men are instructed to “take stress like a man”.  But masks and capes are for cartoon characters and masquerade balls.  It’s time we all retire them from use in our day-to-day lives.

So how do you stop faking it and begin really making it?