Depression doesn’t discriminate – it can happen to anyone of us. Depression is a common mental illness that affects millions of people around the world.
Depression drains energy, hope, and drive. It feels like nothing can make you feel better. You seem trapped and unable to escape.
Depression is NOT merely feeling down or hopeless. While depression may include such feelings or emotions, this mental illness incorporates a complex and chronic collection of symptoms, both physical and emotional. Every day with this disorder is different.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, pessimism, hopelessness
- Extreme sleep patterns – too little or too much sleep
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Weight gain or loss
- Psychosomatic symptoms (g., headaches, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal upset)
- Suicidal thoughts
- Frequent crying and feelings of overwhelming sadness
- Irritability or anger
- Loss of pleasure in usual activities
- Loss of libido
- Daytime sleepiness
The symptoms of depression can make it difficult to attend to normal daily activities and can negatively impact employment or schooling and relationships. For these reasons, it can be a devious challenge for someone suffering from depression to seek help and follow through on finding the help you need for recovery.
Types of Depression
Major Depressive Disorder (Clinical Depression)
- A common form of depression
- Require medical intervention
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
- Less severe symptoms
- Chronic (lasting two or more years)
Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)
- Characterized by extreme highs and lows
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Due to reduced daylight hours of winter months
- You feel like a completely different person to who you are in the summer: you feel hopeless, sad, and tense.
- Can be treated with light therapy in combination with meditation and exercise
Postpartum Depression (Peripartum Depression)
- Affects women who have recently given birth
- Due to a drastic change in hormones after giving birth, women may experience depression, sluggishness, and difficulty connecting with their infant post-delivery
A Scientific Model for Depression
For decades, it is thought that depression is due to an imbalance in brain chemistry – if you could balance your serotonin (a happiness-inducing neurotransmitter), then you’d be free from depression. But there are a few flaws with this theory. Firstly, it’s impossible to measure serotonin levels in a live human brain accurately. Second, serotonin-inducing drugs aren’t working in people with depression.
With this, we welcome a new theory of depression: Inflammation is the root cause of depression.
Depression is due to a chronic inflammatory response, and activation of the compensatory anti-inflammatory reflex system, characterized by negative immunoregulatory processes (1). Clinical depression coexists with oxidative and nitrosative stress (2). Inflammation increases the risk for the onset of depression (3, 4). Ongoing oxidative and nitrosative stress leads to chronic inflammation, which impairs the growth of new brain cells.
Causes of Depression
Ok, enough of the science jargon! So what causes depression?
Here’s a list of common causes:
- Unresolved conflict
Are you harboring resentment due to a recent conflict? The problem with suppressed anger is that the lid may suddenly blow off and the uncontrollable rage surfaces, especially during periods of depression. And as a result, you might feel guilty for the outburst, which then worsens your depression.
- Repetitive compulsion.
Look for a standard, repetitive theme – this is often a reiteration of early adverse experiences in your life.
Without practical insight, we get trapped in a repetitive cycle and regurgitate the same problem over and over again. Find out what unresolved part of your past that you keep replaying.
Human seeks comfort in the familiar – the desire to return to an earlier state of things – this takes form in simple tasks. Our repetitive actions might be ingrained in our mindset. When we ruminate our negative emotions, it begins to accumulate and emotionally overwhelm us, which leads to false accusations and unintentional harm to interpersonal relationships.
Burnout and depression go hand-in-hand. When you neglect yourself, you don’t enjoy work or play, and you drag others down with you.
Pamper yourself, reward yourself, and give yourself the attention you crave.
You’ll feel better about yourself.
Low self-esteem fuels depression. Those negative internal voices dampen your self-image. You’ll start to see others as more appealing and better than you, even when it’s not true.
“I’m always on the outside.”
Such toxic false affirmations drain your energy and leave you depressed.
Depression can be due to a side effect of a psychoactive drug. Substance intoxication or withdrawal can also lead to depression. Also, you may have depression coexisting with a substance abuse disorder.
Likewise, high rates of depression occur in heavy drinkers. Alcohol abuse directly causes the onset of depression in many alcoholics.
The abuse of anti-anxiety drugs, especially benzodiazepines, can also cause depression.
- Due to another medical condition
Depression can occur secondary to an underlying medical condition. Many medical conditions can trigger mood episodes, including neurological disorders (e.g., dementia) and endocrine disorders (e.g., hypothyroidism).
How to Overcome Depression?
Dealing with depression is a Catch-22 situation. We need to take proactive action to overcome depression, but taking action when you’re depressed can feel too exhausting to put into action. By taking baby steps, you’ll soon lift the dense fog of depression and find yourself in a happier sanctuary again. Depression can drain your energy. You feel empty and unable to muster the strength or desire to seek treatment.
You should equip yourself with a wellness toolbox – a set of tools that you can use to overcome depression. It should contain tips that elevate your body, mind, and spirit. Come up with your list of mood-boosting tools – the more, the better. Try to implement a few of the following ideas each day, even if you’re feeling good.
Exercise is a powerful depression fighter – and one of the essential tools in your recovery arsenal. Short bursts of exercise (e.g., high-intensity interval training) is shown to naturally increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a compound that enhances neuronal connectivity (7). Exercise can be just as effective at relieving symptoms of depression as many antidepressant medications. Exercise increases the neuro-plasticity of your brain and releases endorphins, which help to elevate your mood.
Get outside more. By getting into nature, especially forest bathing, rapidly lowers stress levels. Sunlight also helps you to relax by stimulating the release of feel-good hormones such as serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine. Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours to get a healthy dose of sunlight for at least 15 minutes a day. Consider a weekend hike or taking a walk in the forest during a meal break to reacquaint with nature.
Do something enjoyable
Do something you once liked to do even if you don’t feel like it. Depression can push you into fatigue. Depression destroys your will and energy to engage in activities you once loved. But the last thing you want to do is giving into this lethargic state. Staying active will re-ignite your spark. Do something you like – something relaxing, but energizing.
Beat Procrastination. Do something. The symptoms of depression make procrastination tempting. But putting things off fuels depression – it increases worry, guilt, and stress. Establish short-term goals and get the important stuff done first. Each task you complete will help you break through the habit of procrastinating. As you start to feel better, you can incorporate more challenging daily goals. Instead of compiling a lengthy to-do list, set smaller but attainable goals. Gradually increase your goals after each achievement. This way, you have a list of tangible accomplishments that you can celebrate.
You may either sleep too little or too much when you have depression. Both can deteriorate depression symptoms. You need to get the proper amount of sleep to feel more balanced and energized throughout the day. Aim for eight hours of sleep per night. You will find joy in the morning.
Try to improve your sleep hygiene – peaceful rest will restore your soul. Going to be and waking up at the same time every day can help you with your daily schedule. Turn off your electronics at least half an hour before bedtime. Take all the distractions out of your bedroom – no handphone and no computer. Do not work in bed – it would cause you to associate your bed with stress, rather than relaxation. Engage in a relaxing activity under dim light. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. In time, you may find improvement in your sleep pattern.
No magic diet would remedy depression. But what you eat can have a significant impact on the way you feel.
Eliminate food allergens that are responsible for inflammation. Reduce your intake of refined carbs, sugar, and trans fats – these “feel-good” snacks quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy. Try to limit stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Consult with a registered dietician for guidance.
Instead, a nutrient-dense diet is effective in reducing inflammation and thereby keep depression at bay. Eat a mood-boosting food rich in lean meat, fatty fish, walnuts, low-fat dairy, and dark chocolate. The real secret behind it? The boost of omega-3s they provide for your brain. More omega-3s means a healthier, happier mind.
Probiotics are associated with a significant reduction in depression (1).
There are multiple natural health remedies you can take to fight depression. St. John’s Wort is a flower extract that can help to relieve mild to moderate depression. Dopamine supplements can help increase your motivation and pleasure.
Challenge negative thoughts
Depression puts a negative spin on everything. In your war against depression, a lot of work is mental – changing how you think.
Depression is often accompanied by a self-destructive mentality that clouds reality. When depressed, people tend to accept this negativity as an accurate representation of who they are. When internalized early in life, this critical inner voice functions like a disciplinarian parent keeping us in place. When you examine them, they don’t hold up.
Acknowledge and identify the type of negative thoughts responsible for your depression and replace them with a more realistic way of thinking. Put your thoughts on the witness stand. As you cross-examine your negative thought process, you may be surprised that none of it hold any weight. Do the opposite of what the negative, irrational voice suggests. Instead, when you notice these thoughts taking precedence over your mind, you should identify them as an alien point of view. It takes practice, but over time, you can beat these negative thoughts before they spiral out of control. Don’t punish yourself for feeling bad. Feeling embarrassed or self-loathing over your depression will only exacerbate your symptoms and dissuade you from seeking help.
By having self-compassion, you can begin to see who you are through realistic lenses. Don’t punish yourself for feeling bad. Feeling embarrassed or self-loathing over your depression will only exacerbate your symptoms and dissuade you from seeking help.
Let it out.
You may feel reluctant to talk, guilty for neglecting relationships, or ashamed of your situation. Suppressing your feelings may seem like a strategic way to cope with depression – but this is ultimately unhealthy. But this is just the depression talking. When depressed, you may hear the negative inner voice telling you to be alone, keep quiet, and not to bother other people with your problem.
Reaching out is NOT a sign of weakness. You are not a burden to others. Talking about your problems is not a self-centered or self-pitying endeavor. Your loved ones do care about you and are eager to help. They would appreciate knowing what’s going on. Don’t keep your feelings inside – bottled-up grief can build up until finally exploding like a volcano. Confiding in a loved one can lighten your burden and initiate a healing process. Talk to someone or write down your thoughts in a journal. Don’t isolate yourself. Hang out in a social atmosphere. Reach out and stay connected. Then, when the negative emotions lift, talk about that, too. Seeing the ebb and flow of depression can be instructive for both self-healing and hope.
Try something new
Don’t be stuck in the rut of routine. Push yourself to try something new entirely. When you to the same activity every day, you use the same parts of your brain, while neglecting the other parts. Challenge your neurons by doing something entirely different. Break away from your routine. Incredible things can be discovered when you are willing to leave your comfort zones.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to your body, mind, and soul at the moment you are doing, feeling, and thinking it. The peace will guard your hearts and minds against trouble. Live life abundantly.
Clinical studies showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapies (mBCT) are beneficial for clinically depressed individuals. Furthermore, studies show that mBCT with support to discontinue antidepressant treatment is superior to maintenance antidepressant treatment for the prevention of depressive relapse (5). It is associated with enduring positive outcomes in terms of relapse or recurrence, residual depressive symptoms, and quality of life. Mindfulness is especially crucial if your depression is rooted in unresolved trauma or fed by obsessive, negative thoughts. When cognitive therapy is combined with mindfulness, we can work on noticing negative thought processes – not attempting to fix the content of the thoughts but redirecting them. Instead of being overwhelmed by our thoughts or emotions, which is what happens when we’re depressed, we see them as those thoughts or feelings again, and that disempowers them. Stay present in the moment. Listen to your authentic inner voice. Attune to the challenges that are going on in your current circumstances.
You should show active love for others. Love for others is essential because we all at some time or another find ourselves sucked into a vortex of morbid self-improvement, which keeps us from accepting ourselves.
It’s nice to receive support, but you get an even more significant mood boost from assisting others. So find ways to help others: volunteer, be a listening ear for a friend, do something nice for someone.
Reward your efforts
All achievements are worthy of recognition and celebration. When you improve, recognize it. Self-reward is the best weapon against depression’s negative weight. The memory of a job well done may be especially powerful against negative talk.
When should you see a therapist?
Lifestyle interventions alone may not be adequate for overcoming depression – especially those diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
A therapist can assess your symptoms and help develop a clinical intervention plan tailored to your needs. Finding an effective treatment regime may take some time, so be open with your provider about what is and isn’t working.
Use these therapies in conjunction with self-improvement methods and medication.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is handy – 80% of people with depression improve when CBT is used either alone or in conjunction with medication.
- Learning how to control negative thoughts
- Loss of energy, even when not physically active
- Learning how to combat negative emotions
Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
IPT is brief, attachment-oriented psychotherapy that revolves on resolving interpersonal issues and symptomatic recovery. It is an empirically-supported treatment that follows a time-limited and highly structured approach. IPT is based on the principle that life events and relationships affect mood. Combine IPT with anti-depressants or CBT for more effective outcomes.
Doctors sometimes prescribe antidepressants to the chronically depressed individuals. These medications usually work by altering the brain neurotransmitters that lead to depression.
Antidepressants can be a powerful and constructive tool in helping people navigate the complicated and overwhelming waters of depression. It can be used as a stepping stone to help you get to a healthier and happier emotional place.
The types of antidepressant available include selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs). Your doctor will prescribe a class of antidepressant based on your family history and the symptoms you are experiencing.
You should never attempt any antidepressant medication before consulting your doctor.
The Bottom Line
While overcoming depression is neither quick nor easy, it’s far from impossible. You have more control than you realize – even if your depression is severe and stubbornly persistent. The key is to take small steps in the recovery journey and build from there. Make positive choices for yourself each day. You have the power and strength to navigate even the most turbulent storms. Rest assured, this journey is well worth the effort. Give yourself the grace to accept that while some days will be difficult, some days will also be great. Try to look forward to tomorrow’s fresh start.
Don’t give up!