Tired, stressed or depressed? When to go to your GP

With so many demands on our time, energy (and emotions), working mums are frequently under a lot of pressure. So it’s no wonder if we sometimes feel tired, stressed and even depressed.

But how can you tell the difference between feeling a little under the weather, and in need of a good night’s sleep or break, and a genuine illness or depression that would benefit from professional help?

As a GP and mum herself, Juliet McGrattan knows all too well the pressures working mums are under. To help you identify when you simply need to take better care of yourself, and when you should make an appointment with your GP, she explains some of the most common symptoms mums come to her with, and shares her advice.

When should you call your GP?

Having a career and raising a family demands high levels of energy and endurance at all times. It’s tough! Grabbing early morning and late night working windows means the days are long. We get frustrated when we feel tired, and our body and mind aren’t always willing or able to keep up with our demands.

This can cause our stress levels to rise and mood to fall. And when fatigue kicks in as a result, we start to wonder if we might actually be ill.

It can be hard to know when to visit your GP. You don’t have the time to spare to make the trip to the surgery, and you don’t want to waste your GP’s time either. Here’s my advice on when you should make that call and some tips for keeping well.

Symptom: You feel tired all the time

So many women consult me with this. They’re often hoping for a diagnosis, quick fix and a speedy recovery but sometimes they just want reassurance.

When to go

Make an appointment with your GP if:

  • Your tiredness is extreme.
  • Your weight is falling or increasing despite eating normally.
  • You have physical symptoms such as a cough, a change in your bowel habit, abdominal pains or bloating.
  • You are short of breath when you exert yourself or you’re having palpitations.
  • Your periods are heavy or your cycle has changed.
  • You feel very thirsty all the time and you are passing more urine than usual.
  • You have a family history of an under active thyroid.

When not to go

  • You know deep down that you are just doing too much.
  • You don’t have any other symptoms.
  • You’ve felt like this before.
  • Things improve after a holiday, a quiet weekend or some early nights.

My prescription

Make yourself the priority. Often simple re-organisation can allow you time to get some extra sleep (if you struggle with sleep, these sleep tips may help). Even though you feel tired, taking some exercise can make you feel more energetic.

Look to reduce your stress levels too as they are a constant drain on your energy supplies. Here are 17 quick stress-busting ideas to try.

Symptom: You feel stressed

Women commonly see me when their stress levels are high. Often it’s associated with guilt about how they’re taking it out on their partner or children. Stress can be vicious and cause physical and emotional problems such as headaches, nausea, low self-esteem or anxiety.

When to go

Make an appointment with your GP if:

  • You feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn.
  • You have physical symptoms that you are worried might be from a serious cause.
  • You feel anxious or are having panic attacks.
  • You’ve tried to solve the feeling yourself but aren’t making any progress.

When not to go

  • You’ve experienced it before and have identified the triggers and can take action to resolve it.
  • You feel irritable but still in control.
  • You don’t have any physical symptoms.
  • You are well supported by those around you.

My prescription

Look at what you are trying to achieve each day and make sure it’s realistic. Delegate any jobs you can (here are some ideas for delegating chores to your children) and make sure your partner is pulling their weight. Share your feelings with those close to you. Eat properly. Exercise regularly to reduce stress levels and help you sleep.

Meet up with friends who make you laugh. Don’t use alcohol to help you cope (you can read tips on drinking less here), and avoid drinking too much caffeine. Try meditation too – here’s a beginner’s guide to getting started.

Symptom: You feel depressed

We can all feel a bit down in the dumps sometimes, but occasionally this progresses to depression and expert help is needed. (You can read more about depression, and how not meeting our basic emotional needs impacts how we feel here.) 

When to go

Make an appointment with your GP if:

  • Your black mood is lasting weeks and will not lift despite your best efforts.
  • You don’t want to see anyone and are avoiding social contact.
  • You’ve lost your motivation or feel hopeless.
  • You can’t concentrate on tasks you would normally find easy.
  • You’ve thought that your family would be better off without you or considered harming yourself.
  • Your sleep pattern is severely disrupted.
  • You have a family history of depression.
  • You’ve recently had a baby.

 When not to go

  • You have bad days but plenty of good days too.
  • Your mood lifts easily with company.
  • There is a cyclical pattern to your moods and you can manage some pre-menstrual glumness.
  • Your mood is not stopping you from achieving your daily tasks.
  • You can identify steps you can take to improve things.

My prescription

Tell someone you trust how you are feeling. Be kind to yourself and make time to do things you enjoy. Do some exercise, it’s a proven treatment for mild to moderate depression. Struggle with exercise? Here’s how to enjoy a better relationship with it!

Make sure you eat healthily too. Here’s how your diet affects your mental health, and what you can do about it. And you can discover the 10 essential nutrients you need as a woman here.

Set yourself a small goal each day so you feel you’ve achieved something. Seek professional help if you aren’t feeling better. Have a look at Mind. (We also recommend taking the depression Learning Path to understand how depression works, and get advice on how to treat it.)

Look after yourself

You may even be feeling a mixture of all three of these symptoms – tired, stressed and a bit low in mood. If so take action, your body is trying to tell you something. See your GP if you fit any of the criteria in the When to go sections, otherwise follow my prescriptions and see if things improve.

I appreciate that you’re a busy mum and many people rely on you. But you have a duty to look after yourself and keep yourself happy and healthy. Your career and your family will thank you when you do!

Juliet McGrattan is a GP, mum of three, runner and a freelance health writer. You can read her blog here.