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Depression Isn’t A Choice, It’s A Kind Of Brain Damage

Depression Isn’t A Choice, It’s A Kind Of Brain Damage

After years of debate, researchers finally determined that persistent depression causes brain damage, and not the other way around.  Neurologists previously had hypothesized that brain damage was a predisposing factor for chronic depression, but a new study published in Molecular Psychiatry sheds a different light.

The study, which consisted of 9,000 individual samples, collected from the ENIGMA group, succeeded in definitively proving a causal relationship between persistent depression and brain damage.  Magentic resonance images (MRIs) showed evidence of hippocampus shrinkage in 1,728 patients diagnosed with chronic depression compared to the 7,199 healthy individuals partaking in the study.

Specifically, the study found that those patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder, “showed robust reductions in hippocampal volume (1.24%) in MDD patients compared with healthy controls.”  You can read the full study here.

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    What is the hippocampus?

    The hippocampus is a small area of the brain that is located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain.  It is comprised of two halves, one which resides on each hemisphere of the brain.  It is generally agreed that the main functionality of the hippocampus encompasses the creation of new memories, the formation of long term memory, and spatial navigation.

    Inside the hippocampus resides the amygdala.  The amygdala is a part of the brain which has previously been linked with depression.  Studies in the past have suggested a direct relationship between a shrinkage in the hippocampus and depression, but the sample size of previous studies hasn’t been large enough to yield definitive results.

    The hippocampus and depression

    Researchers have found that in addition to its importance in forming and maintaining memories, the hippocampus is also pivotal in controlling emotions.  Professor Ian Hickie, a co-author of the study and a renowned mental health campaigner, explains the hippocampus’ relationship to depression, “Your whole sense of self depends on continuously understanding who you are in the world – your state of memory is not about just knowing how to do Sudoku or remembering your password – it’s the whole concept we hold of ourselves”

    Professor Hickie further elaborates on the relationship between a shrinkage in the hippocampus and changes in behavior observed in animals from the past, “We’ve seen in a lot of other animal experiments that when you shrink the hippocampus, you don’t just change memory, you change all sorts of other behaviors associated with that – so shrinkage is associated with a loss of function.”

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    Those who suffer from depression usually have low self esteem and lack confidence in managing their daily lives.  It is common for those suffering from depression to also have a deflated ego, which simply refers to an individual’s sense of self.  This could potentially affect how one forms memories, and how they view themselves in the past and thus project themselves in the future.

    What is depression?

    Depression is a seemingly hopeless state of mind where one takes extremely pessimistic thought patterns as reality. The key word is “seemingly.” Someone who is depressed generally has a deflated sense of self and a faulty perception of the world around them and how they view themselves in it.
    I believe that the state of depression manifests through repetitively regretting your past and fearing the future. It is not a singular conscious choice. I believe that it is a consequence of repetitive thought patterns that results in a negative outlook on life and one’s self in it. A negative outlook and thought cycle only leads to more negative thoughts without some form of intervention. Sort of how like an avalanche only goes faster and gets bigger when careening down a snow-covered mountain.

    These statistics concerning hippocampus reduction are intriguing as one could argue that the reduction in the hippocampus parallels this change in thought pattern. Couldn’t it be harder for someone with even the slightest reduction to step out of this negative thought cycle without the full capacity of their brain?

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    Change Your Outlook

    From my experience, my journey overcoming this condition started when I accepted what my misguided thoughts were telling me for what they were– thoughts. I found for much of my life that I tried to escape this state of mind which in a sense gave validity to it.
    One simple, but effective tool in breaking free from depression is to get in touch with the present moment. Meditation and yoga has been essential in my daily life.
    Surrounding yourself with positive individuals is also extremely beneficial in overcoming depression. Sometimes when someone is depressed they simply cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel or find any hope in their life. That doesn’t mean that those around them can’t show them it’s there though!

    Depression in the United States

    Depression is not something that should be taken lightly.  From 1999 to 2010 the suicide rate in the United States amongst Americans between the ages of 35 and 64 has increased over 25%.  Additionally, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that report that spanned from 2007 through 2010 found that almost eight percent of individuals 12 or older suffer from depression.

    In the past, depression has often been thought of as a lifestyle that people are just too weak to climb out of.  Other people might incorrectly assert that depression is a sign of mental weakness.

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    This could not be further from the truth.

    Whether depression is a disorder or disease doesn’t matter.  The fact remains that depression is a debilitating condition that drastically affects the lives of millions of people all over the world.  Depression is not just sadness, nor is it is symptom of weakness.  It isn’t discriminatory against race, gender or ethnicity.

    Most importantly, depression is not a choice.

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    Last Updated on October 16, 2018

    The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

    The Ultimate Guide to Help You Sleep Through the Night Tonight

    It’s well past midnight and you’ve got to get up in less than six hours. You toss and turn all night. Before you know it, another hour passes by and you start panicking.

    If I don’t get to sleep in the next 30 minutes, I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow!”

    One thing is for sure, you’re not alone. Over 70M+ Americans have stated that they don’t get the proper sleep they need at night.[1] So what could possibly be causing this insomnia epidemic?

    Throughout my entrepreneurial journey of building my language learning company, I have experimented and researched dozens of best sleep practices. Some have flopped but a few have dramatically improved the quality of my life and work.

    In this article, I’ll look into the reason why you’re sleep deprived and how to sleep through the night tonight.

    Why you can’t sleep through the night

    The first step to improving anything is getting to the bottom of the root problem. Different studies have shown the reasons why most people cannot sleep well at night.[2] Here are the main ones that the average person faces:

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    Stress

    If you’ve ever stayed up at night worrying about something, know that it’s a major sleep inhibitor. When you’re feeling stress, your mind and body becomes more activated, making it incredibly difficult to fall asleep. Even when you do manage to sleep, it won’t be deep enough to help you feel rested the next day.

    Exposure to blue light before sleep time

    We’re exposed to harmful blue light on a daily basis through the use of our digital screens. If you’ve never heard of blue light, it’s part of the visible light spectrum that suppresses melatonin, our sleep hormones. Other harmful effects include digital eye strains and macular cellular damage.

    While daytime exposure to blue light is not very harmful, night time exposure tricks our brain into thinking it’s daytime. By keeping your brain alert and suppressing melatonin, your mind is unable to shut down and relax before bedtime.

    Eating close to bedtime

    Eating too late can actually be an issue for many people, especially those who are older than 40. The reason is, eating before laying down increases the chances of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid backflows into the esophagus.

    Another reason not to eat too late is sleep quality. Even if you manage to sleep right after eating, it’s likely that you’ll wake up tired. Instead of letting your body rest during sleep, it has to digest the food that was entered before bedtime.

    Rule of thumb: eat 3-4 hours before bedtime.

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    Medical conditions

    In some cases, it could be medical conditions that cause your sleep problems. If you can’t relate yourself to the above reasons or any of these common sleep problem causes, you should visit the doctor.

    The vicious sleep cycle

    The biggest danger to repeating the bad habits mentioned above is the negative cycle that it can take you through. A bad night’s sleep can affect not only your energy but your willpower and decision making skills.

    Here’s an example of a bad sleep pattern:

    You get a bad night’s sleep
    –> You feel tired and stressful throughout the day.
    –> You compensate it with unhealthy habits (for example junk food, skipping exercises, watching Netflix etc.)
    –> You can’t sleep well (again) the next night.

      You can imagine what could happen if this cycle repeats over a longer period of time.

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      How to sleep better (throughout the night)

      To help you break the vicious cycle and stop waking up in the middle of the night, I’ll explain to you a list of actionable steps to solve your trouble staying asleep.

      1. Take control over the last 90 minutes of your night

      What you do (or don’t do) before bedtime have significant impact on the quality of your sleep. Many times, it can be the difference between staying up until 4am and sleeping like a baby.

      Here are a few suggestions:

      • Go from light to dark – Darkness stimulates production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Turn off unused light around the house, and think about investing into warm light that you can use in the bedroom before bedtime.
      • Avoid screens (or wear blue light blocking glasses) – Keep the bedroom a technology-free zone as the light from electronic devices can disturb your sleep. If you need to work, wear blue light blocking glasses (also known as computer glasses) throughout or before you sleep to prevent sleep disruption.
      • Find an activity that helps you to wind down  This could be anything that calms you down, and reduces thinking (especially unnecessary stress). Fir example, listening to soothing/good feel music, taking a hot bath, reading or meditating.
      • Keep any electronics you have on the other side of the room or outside the room – One of the most harmful things that can disrupt your sleep is the notifications you get from your smartphones. The simplest way to avoid this is to keep it away from you.
      • Create a bedtime routine – A night routine is a couple of things you do prior to going to bed. By doing these things every night, you’ll have a more restful and high-quality sleep. Learn how to pick up a night routine here: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide to Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

      2. Eat the right nutrients (and avoid the wrong ones)

      What you eat (not just when we eat) plays a critical role in your sleep quality. If you’re ever in doubt of what to eat to improve your sleep, take the following into consideration:

      • Kiwi – This green fruit may be the ultimate pre-bed snack. When volunteers ate two kiwis an hour before hitting the hay, they slept almost a full extra hour. Kiwis are full of vitamins C and E, serotonin and folate—all of which may help you snooze.
      • Soy foods – Foods made with soy such as tofu, miso and edamame, are rich in isoflavones. These compounds increase the production of serotonin, a brain chemical that influences the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
      • Fiber-rich foods – Eating more fiber could be key for better sleep. Eating fiber was associated with more restorative slow-wave sleep—the more you eat, the better you sleep—per a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Fiber prevents blood sugar surges that may lower melatonin. Get a fiber boost from beans, artichokes, bran cereal and quinoa.
      • Salmon – Most fish, especially salmon, halibut and tuna boost vitamin B6, which is needed to make melatonin— a sleep-inducing hormone triggered by darkness.

      3. Adjust your sleep temperature

      Once you’ve gone through the first 2 recommendations, the last step to experiment with is temperature. According to Sleep.org, the ideal temperature for sleep is 60-67 Farenheit. This may be cooler than what most people are used to, but keep in mind that our body temperature changes once we fall asleep.

      Rule of thumb: sleeping in cooler temperature is better for sleep quality than warmer temperature.

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      Find out how to maintain the optimal temperature to sleep better here: How to Sleep Faster with the Best Temperature

      Sleep better form now on

      Congrats on making it to the end of this guide on sleep. If you’re serious about taking the necessary steps in improving your sleep, remember to take it one step at a time.

      I recommend trying just one of the steps mentioned such as taking a hot bath, blocking out blue light at night, or sleeping in cooler temperature. From there, see how it impacts your sleep quality and you can keep doing what works, and throw away what doesn’t.

      As long as you follow these steps cautiously and diligently, I know you’ll see improved results in your sleep!

      Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

      Reference

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