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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

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

More by this author

Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Last Updated on January 21, 2021

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

5 Powerful Self-Care Ideas for When Life Is Stressful

Stress affects everyone, invariably in different ways. Regardless of how stress shows up in your life, when it does, it takes over, making it difficult to stay in the present moment or show gratitude for what and who we have in our life. In the eye of the stress storm, everything is tossed around into oblivion, and self-care ideas go out the window.

However, this is the moment when self-care is the most important. When you notice that you’re struggling with stress, anxiety, or powerful emotions, it’s time to get back to a sense of balance by showing yourself love and compassion.

How Does Stress Show Up?

On a physical scale, stress tends to be behind many of our typical ailments, such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, or body aches and pain.[1] When we’re in stressful situations, our body activates our fight-or-flight response through the stress hormone, cortisol.

According to the American Institute of Stress, when the body is in this mode due to stress, “the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.”[2]

While our fight-or-flight response is extremely helpful when we’re in situations that risk our survival, not every situation is that dire. However, the body doesn’t know how to differentiate between such scenarios.

Rather, we become accustomed to seeing every stressful situation as life-threatening, and we become locked into this fight-or-flight response automatically. This causes us to burn out because our body is constantly fighting or fleeing from threats that are not causing us any real harm.

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On a mental and emotional scale, stress affects your thoughts, feelings, and ultimately your behavior. Everything is interconnected. When stress takes a toll on our bodies, this has a domino effect on how we process our thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see correlations between depression and anxiety when it comes to dealing with stress.

Self-Care Ideas to Combat Stress

Below are five self-care ideas for combating stress in your life. Consider implementing them into your daily routine for the best results.

1. Start a Brain Dump Writing Exercise

When you’re overwhelmed with thoughts, it can become very difficult to stay present and focused. This could affect you at work, in school, or in your relationships. It’s as if your mind were filled to the brim with thoughts that are constantly competing for your attention. If left unattended, this can affect your performance or your state of being, so it’s important to turn to self-care ideas in these moments.

One exercise to get this under control is called a brain dump, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Start by getting comfortable with a pen and paper or your favorite journal. Without any special formatting or introduction, just start writing any and all thoughts that come up.

Consider your paper a blank canvas onto which you’re going to spill every thought, no matter how small or unimportant. This can look like a laundry list, a jumble of words, or a paragraph.

Don’t focus on how it looks or how well it’s organized. The idea is to give your thoughts an exit. Once they’re on paper, they’re no longer swimming in your head for attention.

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Once you have them written down, leave them as they are. We have a tendency to want to fix our thoughts. Instead, allow them to simply exist as they are—they’re not right or wrong. Consider coming back to this exercise daily or whenever you feel like you have a lot on your mind.

2. Sweat It out

There is nothing more therapeutic than moving the physical body when it feels the weight of stress. Energetically, we carry our day in our body, mostly in our neck, shoulders, and hips. If we’ve had a particularly difficult day, that energy is going to feel tense and unsettling. This is why it’s so important to move and really break a sweat!

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America[3]:

“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

Find what exercise regimen works for you, and commit to it for a few days per week for your mental and physical health. Scientists have also found that even 10-15 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a tremendous effect on your body. Go for a run, take a spin class or a power yoga class, or dance the stress away in Zumba. Whatever gets your heart rate up and breaks a sweat is one of the perfect self-care ideas to keep the stress away.

3. Seek the Care of a Therapist

Sometimes writing out our thoughts and feelings doesn’t seem quite enough. This is common and to be expected. After all, we are complex human beings who want to understand and process our emotions on a deeper level. This is why spending time in a regular therapy session is so beneficial!

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In the presence of a professional, we can open up about what stressful situations we’re going through. We don’t have to keep our emotions bottled up, and we know that our honesty will be protected and safeguarded.

Additionally, when we’re feeling stressed, we often want to simply vent and get things off of our chest. Having someone on the receiving end who will simply listen and hold space is a truly healing gift. We can often leave the session feeling more empowered, seen, and offloaded of the stress we brought in.

Lastly, we may be able to receive guidance from our therapist on a particular situation we’re struggling with. Having someone else’s perspective on something we’re too emotionally close to can be just the right solution and a great addition to our self-care routine.

Here are more self-care ideas from a therapist: Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

4. Interrupt Your Day

When it comes to self-care ideas, this may seem like a derailing technique, but give it a shot! Interrupting your day means introducing something entirely new or random into a routine that is very monotonous or typical.

If your work or school day is the same sequence of events every single day, bringing in an interruption can be quite conducive to your productivity and creativity. This can look like pausing in the middle of the day for a yoga stretch at your desk or in your office. It could be playing your favorite playlist in-between meetings or taking a walk outside for lunch. Not only does this stir up new energy for your day, but it can also help you de-stress

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As I said above, when we’re too close to a situation or conflict, we have a harder time breaking away. We’re so emotionally and mentally invested that we don’t see how that proximity is affecting our health. So, interrupt yourself when you’re feeling stress coming on, and do something fun, random, and refreshing to feel good.

5. Get Some Energy Work Done

Energy work is anything that is being done to improve the circulation and energetic flow of the body. This could be a massage, a Reiki session, chiropractic adjustment, or acupuncture[4].

Moving the body helps move the energy that is blocked or stuck. This is why exercise is so important. However, sometimes we need a session where that work is done for us by a licensed professional.

In such treatments, we have the luxury to relax and receive the benefits of the treatment, making it a beautiful way to squeeze in self-care!

You can find even more stress management techniques in the following video:

Final Thoughts

Stress is, unfortunately, a common part of every life. It affects everyone, but to what extent it affects you is personal. One thing is for sure, and that is that stress has a tremendous effect on our physical, mental, and emotional state.

This is why regular exercise is so important, as well as mental stimulation and emotional release. These self-care ideas won’t necessarily guard you from ever feeling stressed again, but they will certainly help you manage it better and offer amazing health benefits along the way.

More Self-Care Ideas

Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Mayo Clinic: Stress Management
[2] The American Institute of Stress: How the Fight or Flight Response Works
[3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Physical Activity Reduces Stress
[4] Medical Acupuncture: Does Acupuncture Reduce Stress Over Time? A Clinical Heart Rate Variability Study in Hypertensive Patients

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