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Persistent Depression Damages Cognitive Functions, Study Concludes

Persistent Depression Damages Cognitive Functions, Study Concludes

A global study involving 9,000 people has found that persistent and recurring depression can lead to a shrinking of one key area of the brain. This zone is known as the hippocampus (Greek for seahorse) and it does indeed look like one.

This is the area which helps us store long term memories and plays an essential role in connecting our emotions to memories, personality, and consciousness. It can also help us with spatial navigation. It is one of the first areas of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s and explains why recent memories are such a big problem for those affected.

Research details

The depression research project involved 15 institutes from all over the world. Researchers compared people possessing normal hippocampi with those who were suffering from persistent depression. This was the largest comparative study of brain volumes ever carried out. The results showed that people who had no treatment for depression (or had recurring episodes over long periods) ended up with a smaller hippocampus.

Researchers used brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and this clearly showed that two thirds of the depressed patients who had recurrences over long periods of time were the ones who had a smaller hippocampus.

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“The more episodes of depression a person had, the greater the reduction in hippocampus size.” – Prof. Ian Hickie, co-director of the research project

What are the implications for the treatment of depression?

First, the good news is that treatment with anti-depressants may help to preserve the size of the hippocampus. There are a wide variety of these drugs available, including Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, which help to balance serotonin and can improve mood. Other popular medications include tricyclic antidepressants.

Of course, it must be remembered that all anti-depressants are required by the FDA to carry a black box warning of possible suicidal thoughts. This usually occurs at the beginning of treatment in teens and young adults or if a drug or dosage is changed.

“There is a lot of nonsense said about antidepressants that constantly perpetuates the evils of them, but there is a good bit of evidence that they have a protective effect.”- Prof. Ian Hickie.

Experts are now convinced that medication in treating depression is just one of the many alternatives available.

Why talk therapy is a valid alternative

Talk therapy is another possible treatment for depression, with various types that can suit individual needs. The chance to talk about depression without being judged, misunderstood or even criticized cannot be overestimated. It is a great way to approach problems and possible ways of solving them. Most medications can never do that quite as effectively.

Additionally, there is a wide range of supplements and lifestyle changes which can help a patient to maintain balance and prevent relapses. These can range from exercise which helps the brain to rewire itself in positive ways to dietary and mindfulness routines.

Research presents no conclusive results regardging the use of supplements but it seems that fish oil, SAMe and folic acid hold out some promise.

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“There’s promising evidence for certain supplements for depression. But more research needs to be done before we’ll know for sure.” – Dr. Ian Cook, Director of the Depression Research Program at UCLA.

The way forward

Depression is still not fully understood. We know that certain areas of the brain such as the hippocampus are involved, but experts are not sure how they all interlink and what mechanisms are at work.

“Despite intensive research aimed at identifying brain structures linked to depression in recent decades, our understanding of what causes depression is still rudimentary.”- Prof. Jim Lagapoulos, co-author of the research project, Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney.

One thing is certain. We have learned from the research on the hippocampus that lack of treatment or recurring depression are affecting the brain. Processing emotions and memories are at risk. That sends a very clear message — there may be other areas of the brain affected which may have more serious consequences. But this damage is in many cases also reversible.

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This is why we can never ignore depression and always seek treatment when or if it should happen to us or our loved ones.

Featured photo credit: Sigh, Clouds, Rain, Sigh, Iceland via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Freelance writer

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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