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Can You Stop Depression from Damaging Your Brain?

Can You Stop Depression from Damaging Your Brain?

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in America, according to the latest mental health statistics.[1] Approximately 17.3 million adults have had at least one major depressive episode.

In this article, we will take a deep look into depression, what a depression brain is like, and how to prevent the damage from depression.

What is Depression?

In order to tap into treatment options for depression, we must first examine what defines this disorder.

Apart from differing scientific and medical jargon, depression – also known as Major Depressive Disorder – is best categorized as a serious mood disorder.

While it is common, it is anything but innocent. The symptoms of depression have serious effects on daily living, and leave the afflicted person with an inability to carry out normal tasks, such as working, interacting with friends and family, and sleeping.

Depression itself is an umbrella term for a list of specific types of depression, such as Postpartum Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (which leads into serious symptoms of depression), Bipolar Disorder, and Psychotic Depression (which is depression with symptoms of psychosis), just to name a few.[2]

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While everyone experiences moments of depression in their life, being clinically diagnosed with depression is usually done with the aid of medical help. This diagnosis typically relies on a baseline of depression symptoms that have been present for at least two weeks.

Symptoms of Depression

Because depression is categorized as a serious mood disorder, most symptoms will begin with a person’s behavior. A person may feel persistent sadness that simply won’t go away, or they may experience a loss of interest in activities that they once enjoyed, like gardening, traveling, or working out.

Other symptoms, although not a complete list, may persist:

  • Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Angry outbursts, followed by a complete mood change (from happy to sad in very quick shifts)
  • Struggles with insomnia or significant changes in sleep schedule
  • Inability and lack of desire to get out of bed in the morning
  • Significant decrease in personal hygiene, nutrition, and maintenance of their home or space
  • Decreased interactions with friends, family, or colleagues
  • Lack of energy and physical weakness, apathy, or pains and aches
  • Trouble concentrating on specific tasks or making decisions
  • Frequent thoughts about death, or even suicidal plans, thoughts, or attempts
  • Back pain and headaches

While this list is not complete or exhaustive to a person’s struggle with depression, it does provide a general picture of some of the common symptoms.[3])

Causes of Depression

Mental health disorders still very much pose a mystery to medical professionals and science, in general. While depression is treated in a variety of ways (medicine, therapy, alternative healing, etc.), professionals are still learning more about this disorder and how it affects people of different genders, ages, and backgrounds.

However, a variety of factors are known to be possible contributors to depression, such as:

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  • Hormones – in cases of giving birth or going through menopause, women’s hormones quickly change, which can trigger depression or similar symptoms
  • Genes – while not everyone gets depression from inherited traits, it is a factor, and research has seen a correlation between depression in families that is carried through generations
  • Brain chemistry – one of the key factors in understanding cause of depression is brain chemistry, specifically neurotransmitters that work with the neuro-circuits in the brain to balance mood stability. If these neurotransmitters are not working properly, it could lead to depression or similar symptoms

We already mentioned brain chemistry, and how it plays an integral part in understanding how your brain works in relation to mood stability. Neurotransmitters are your body’s chemical messengers. They transmit these messages between neurons for a plethora of reasons – cognitive function, organ function, dopamine release, etc.[4]

In terms of relating this to depression, however, those transmitters also regulate mood stability, and if they’re not relaying messages correctly or connecting to the brain circuitry in normal, functioning ways, we see a correlation between that “misfiring” and mental illness.

To paint a picture, imagine your brain split in half, the two lobes or hemispheres perfectly separated from each other.

Now, imagine the mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters like tiny little ping-pong balls that bounce from one hemisphere of the brain to the other, relaying messages that connect the brain as a whole. This is what we normally see in a healthy functioning brain.

However, if there is a change in this chemistry, and the ping-pong balls are not crossing and relaying as they should, that change creates a shift in your brain circuitry that may cause depression or similar symptoms.

Because our brain is an extremely complex and intricate organ which scientists are still studying and learning about, it wouldn’t be complete to say that only chemical imbalances cause depression.

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In fact, recent Harvard research suggests that a slew of factors are involved in creating a correlation between depression and your brain function. These are inclusive of the neurotransmitters we described above, but they also include your way of life, medication, stress levels, and even genetic contributions or ways in which you were brought up.[5]

Because depression is a mood disorder, we have to look at our behavior, and how it is influenced by our brain chemistry.

Behavior is shaped by our temperament, and much of that comes from our genetics. We are predisposed to act in certain social situations in ways that tie us to our family chain.

How we react to life circumstances or other people is very much a reflection of what we picked up from our parents, guardians, friends, or social upbringing. From this, we may make different choices in life, for better or worse, depending on these genetics.

Similarly, our view of the world and our relation to it also have a hand in how depression may form. We create our world view early on in life, and while it is influenced by our family and life events, it’s also very much our own.

If you’ve experienced loss or disappointment, you’re likely to fall back on your world view to cope with it and allow it to protect you. As an example, you may close yourself off from new relationships because you’ve endured heartbreak and don’t believe that you’re worthy of real love; or, you come from an upbringing that wasn’t emotionally available, so you don’t create habit patterns or behaviors that show you how to handle emotion in a healthy way.

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All of these scenarios create behavior. In turn, that behavior creates habit patterns, that in turn, create your daily life and your interaction with it.

While chemical imbalances can have a direct role in manifesting depressive episodes, we have to be aware that our own, inherent behavioral traits are just as powerful contributors.

Medications to re-balance any chemical disruptions in the brain are a proactive tool against depression. These can be explained and provided to you by a medical health professional.

When it comes to our behavior, however, and how we deal with stress, trauma, loss, medical problems, and the like – all of which are triggers for depression – we can implement new habits[6] that can decrease any damage to our state of body and mind, such as:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga or any body-conscious movement or workout
  • Journaling about life events or problems we encounter on a daily basis
  • Therapy or group-sharing
  • Acupuncture, Reiki, or any alternative-healing modality
  • Diet and nutrition rich in foods that cleanse and empower (rather than numb and overpack the gut)
  • Hiking, running, biking, or any cardio-increasing activity
  • Spending time with others who support you

These are habits and tools that you can implement on your own, as well as with a professional. Remember to always consult with your doctor before starting any new regiment.

The Bottom Line

Depression is a disorder that affects our mood. While research has uncovered that depression may be linked to chemical imbalances in the brain, it also suggests that our behavior and inherent genetic traits are strongly connected to how depression manifests.

How you deal with the many ups and downs of daily life are strong indicators of where you may want to make changes, whether medicinal or alternative, to decrease your chances of depression and its damage, and embrace a life of health and well-being.

Featured photo credit: AJ Garcia via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] National Institute of Mental Health: Major Depression
[2] National Institute of Mental Health: Depression
[3] Mayo Clinic: Depression (Major Depressive Disorder
[4] Queensland Brain Institute: What are Neurotransmitters
[5] Harvard Health: What Causes Depression?
[6] Help Guide: Coping with Depression

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Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Last Updated on October 6, 2020

6 Signs It’s Time to Change Your Life

6 Signs It’s Time to Change Your Life

Is it time to make some changes in your life? It just might be. Life is too short to not live it to the fullest.

Here are some signs it’s time to change your life.

1. Every week, you cannot wait for Friday.

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Lifehack_Quotes_579f8e157b18a6ba61516259c5c7d191

    Fridays are fun, but one thing I’ve discovered in my quest to find and do work I absolutely love is that almost every day can be really fun. If you’re saving all your living for the weekends, it’s time to truly think about your lifestyle and consider making some changes. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to have plans you look forward to on the weekends, but what if you could have that excited Friday feeling most, if not all, days of the week? It takes a lot of self-discovery and work, but it’s truly possible to live a life you love—even on Mondays.

    2. You live for your vacations.

    Vacations are great, but what’s even better is building a life you don’t need to take a vacation from. As Seth Godin said, “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” Vacations are fun and exciting, but even better is building a life where you have the potential to do what lights you up many weeks of the year, not just your two allotted vacation weeks.

    3. When you stop and think about it, you’re really not focusing your life on your priorities.

    Write down your 3 top priorities. Then write down the 3 things you focus most of your life on. Are you spending your time living your top priorities? Consistently spending time doing what matters most to you is one of the keys to feeling fulfilled in your life. If you’re not focusing your life on what’s important to you, it’s time to make some changes.

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    4. You have no idea what lights you up, and you don’t have the space in your life to discover it.

    If you haven’t found your passion in your current life, you’re not going to find it if you continue to do your same routine, over and over, year after year. In order to discover what lights you up, start by creating the space in your life to seek it. Give yourself time to figure out who you are, what your strengths are, and what picques your interest. Experiment with learning new things, spending time with inspiring people, and doing more of what excites you and less of the things that suck your energy.

    5. You’re frequently jealous.

    If you find yourself frequently feeling jealous of someone, there are 3 changes to consider making:

    1. Make a point to focus on your path instead of his or her journey. Sometimes this involves taking a break from social media.
    2. Get inspired from the person you’re jealous of, and work toward a similar goal in your life.
    3. Decide what the other person has is not something you are willing to put in the effort to achieve, so you’ll cheer him or her on but choose to not be jealous.

    When you are feeling jealous, consider why you want what the other person has, and what your motives are. Living a life on your terms, focused on your priorities, passions, and strengths, will provide you with much more fulfillment than trying to be somebody else.

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    6. You can’t remember the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone.

    According to Neale Donald Walsch, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Your life can become even more amazing if you stretch beyond your comfort zone. If you’re not sure where to start, try the tips in this article about small ways to step out of your comfort zone.

    Life is too short to spend your years not living to your full potential. If you decide you’re ready to change your life, I encourage you to start taking small action steps toward the life you want to live. Keep moving forward.

    Check out this video if you’re ready to make a change in life:

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    Featured photo credit: Lauren McKinnon/https://flickr.com via flickr.com

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