Depression is also known as a major mood disorder (MDD) and causes persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. This can last days, weeks, months or even years. It affects how you think, behave and feel. And, if left unchecked, it can cause physical and mental problems. It can affect you to the point you may struggle with daily activities and with meeting your responsibilities. At your low points, you may even feel that living is not worth the trouble.
MDD is more than just feeling sad or disappointed. We all feel that way sometimes. This is a serious form of long-term depression. But there is help. And you may need help to start feeling better. There is treatment – pharmaceutical and non-medical, or a mix of both. Which works best is different for everyone.
How depression affects the brain
While it is difficult to pinpoint why people become depressed, it is known there is a biological link and the brain’s chemistry can contribute. A chemical imbalance is often blamed for depression. But it is not as simple as that. Your body contains billions of chemical reactions. These are what influence your emotions, how you think and perceive the world around you. This is why depression affects people in different ways. We are all individuals.
There are three parts of your brain linked to depression and these are the:
- Hippocampus. The hippocampus is at the centre of your brain. And is critical for learning and memory. It produces cortisol when you feel stressed and depressed. When you feel stressed for long periods of time, you brain floods with cortisol which can cause problems. Too much cortisol can slow the regeneration of neurons and cause the hippocampus to shrink over the long term. And this can affect negatively affect your memory.
- Prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is at the front of your brain. It is the part of the brain used for making decisions, creating memories, regulating your emotions and reactions to stress. It can also shrink when your body releases too much cortisol.
- Amygdala. The amygdala produces emotional reactions such as joy and fear. When exposed to ongoing high levels of cortisol, it can become enlarged and overactive. Combined with other unusual brain activity , this can disrupt your sleep patterns, activity and hormone levels.
Symptoms of depression
Symptoms of depression can negatively affect you daily at home, work, school and socially. You may feel absolutely miserable for days without knowing why. For a diagnosis of MDD, you need to have at least five of the following symptoms daily for at least a two-week period:
- Appetite changes that result in excess weight loss or gain.
- Changes in sleep patterns so you are sleeping too much or not enough.
- Loss of interest in daily life including the things you once enjoyed.
- Persistently feeling sad, empty, hopeless or teary.
- Easily angered, frustrated and irritated even about the smallest things.
- Trouble focusing and making decisions.
- Continual thoughts about ending your life.
- Excessive feelings of worthlessness and guilt, fixating on past mistakes.
- A suicide attempt.
- So tired that it is an effort to do even the smallest task.
- Agitated, restlessness or anxiety.
- Unexplainable physical problems such as headaches or aches and pain throughout your body.
Causes of depression
Depression can be caused by a number of things, including:
- Genetics. People with a family history of MDD are more susceptible to developing it.
- Stress levels. Going through a divorce, the death of a loved one, conflict, starting a new job and moving to a new house are all highly stressful and can trigger an MDD episode.
- Substance abuse. Depression and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. While the chemicals of your substance of choice may make you feel better temporarily, ultimately they will trigger a depressive episode.
- Some medications. Some medications such as corticosteroids and interferon can trigger depression.
- Serious or chronic illness. Serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer may cause depressive episodes.
There are several ways to treat depression. Typically doctors will prescribe medications to balance the chemicals in your brain to reduce the symptoms of depression. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms, especially if you do not already have a diagnosis.
Then there is psychotherapy as an intervention. Talking with a therapist can produce long term changes to the brain’s structure and produce long lasting positive effects.
There are other ways such as eating healthily and regular exercise that can help you manage depression. Here are 10 tips you can try yourself.
10 tips to manage depression
Depression can make you feel hopeless, angry and frustrated. Everything in your life may have become too hard. You no longer enjoy what you once did. How you think and behave changes when feeling depressed. And you may just want to feel normal again. But there are some things you can do to deal with the symptoms and boost your quality of life.
1. Create a routine
Add structure to your life. Create a routine. When you are depressed, it is hard to get motivated. But even when you do nothing, you may worry about the things you are not getting done. This can make you feel frustrated and guilty which can amplify your depression. So setting up a daily schedule will help you get through each day. It will help motivate you. This way you do not need to make too many decisions when recovering from depression. And will help you move forward to achieve your goals.
2. Set daily goals
When you feel depressed, you lack motivation. And your chores and untended commitments start piling up around you. This only serves to make you feel worse. So set daily goals. They do not have to be difficult ones. Set goals that are easy to achieve. For example, vacuum the house, clean the shower or wash the clothes. Add more challenging goals as you start to feel better.
3. Exercise, exercise, exercise
Exercise is a great way to clear your head. It releases the feel good endorphins that benefit you at any time, and they are even more beneficial when you have depression. Are you thinking, “argh, exercise”? Do not worry. You do not need to suddenly exercise a couple of hours a day. Going for a regular walk several times a week will help boost your brain health.
4. Eat well
Eat well. Have a healthy diet. Throw out all the junk food full of unhealthy fats and high in sugar. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. And cook your own meals. Foods such as leafy greens, seafood, lean organ meats, and foods high in omega-2 fatty acids and folate can help reduce the symptoms of depression. Just make sure before making drastic changes to your diet that you talk to your doctor.
5. Sleep better
Get a better night’s sleep. Depression can play havoc with your sleep patterns. You may have trouble going to sleep or feel exhausted when you wake in the morning. This means you are not getting quality sleep which can exacerbate your depression.
Make sure you turn off all electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed. Quietly read a book instead. And avoid foods and drinks containing caffeine after dinner. Also make sure your bedroom is a place to relax and unwind. Avoid using your bedroom for anything other than sleeping or as a place to relax.
6. Stay involved with life
When feeling depressed, it is natural to pull back from all involvement in life. But stay involved. It will help you manage the symptoms of depression. Maintaining your daily responsibilities and commitments can give you something else to focus on. And this may counter the symptoms of depression. Staying involved with life gives you purpose and a sense of achievement.
7. Challenge your negative self-talk
Challenge your negative self-talk. It will only make you feel worse. And negative self-talk is usually wrong anyway. You jump to the worst conclusions when feeling depressed.
Next time you find self-talk turning negative, challenge it. For example, you may think everyone hates you. But where is the evidence of that? Or you may tell yourself you are too selfish but you always help others. So are you really selfish? Challenge those negative thoughts. Use logic to prove the negative self-talk is baseless and just plain wrong. It will make you feel better.
8. Try something new
Try something new. When depressed it can be tough pushing yourself to do anything so it is an ideal time to try something new or different. Visit the zoo. Watch a sunset sitting on the beach. Try a new recipe. Volunteer at your local animal shelter. Doing something new can increase the chemical dopamine in your brain and boost your happiness and enjoyment.
9. Create a strong support network
Create a strong support network to turn to in times of need. These people are vital for your recovery. This can mean asking trusted friends and family if you can call them to talk when you need support. Or you may feel more comfortable being part of an online support group or a community group that can meet your needs.
10. Make time to have fun
It may be the last thing you want to do when feeling depressed, but make time to have fun. Do the things you enjoy. You may have to make extra effort and keep trying to do the things you once enjoyed. Start small such as playing with your pet or cooking a meal. When this makes you feel better it can motivate you to start doing other things such as meeting a friend for coffee or going for a walk during your lunch break.
There is help
Managing depression can be difficult. This can be because everything just gets too hard. But it is important to make an effort to support any medication and therapy. Until you do something about your depression, it can continue to have a negative impact on your overall health.
With some simple changes to your life and practice, you can learn to manage depression. Create a routine with daily goals. Eat and sleep well. And do not forget to exercise, exercise, exercise. Try something new and make time to have fun. These are all important strategies to help manage depression.
If your mental health has become a problem, it is time to turn it around. Time to do something positive about it. Seek help. You do not have to go through it alone. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can start taking good care of your mental health.
If you are struggling, reach out to our professionals. When you are not coping, contact us. We can talk to you about getting your life back on track. But if you reach a crisis point, call us immediately. We are here to support you.
We can work with you over the phone, via Skype or in our Spas. Book in today for my Emotional Empowerment Program. I have an introductory offer for just $79 so you may start taking back control of your life. We aim to help you cope with depression. Our facilitators may alleviate the effects of depression so you feel happier and start to enjoy life again.
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My Emotional Empowerment Program has helped many people like you for more than a decade. My aim is to help you manage depression. This can give you a new hope for the future. A future filled with happiness, peace and contentment in weeks not years. Listen to what Monica has to say about my program after only a few sessions.
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