Most people suffer from varying degrees of depression at some point in their lives. An unhappy event like bereavement or the breakdown of a relationship can cause depression – but some people are more prone to depression and researchers are working hard to find out why. Depression sets in when levels of serotonin dip in the brain – serotonin is released when we are happy and affects our moods, as well as memory, concentration and problem solving and eating and sleeping, all of which can be affected when we are depressed.
The area of the brain which handles feelings of happiness also causes the feelings of elation in people who have a tendency to addiction, whether they use drugs, food, alcohol, gambling or spending money to make themselves happy. Not everyone who suffers from depression has a tendency towards addiction, however – but the connection between the area of the brain which deals with mood and addiction is one of the areas of research scientists are examining to try and help people overcome addiction, as well as depression.
Some people may cope with stressful situations or grief better than others and this can help protect them from depression. People who do not cope well with sadness or loss may suffer from depression because their mood influences neurochemicals in the brain, which limits the production of serotonin – because of this interaction between mood and brain activity, depression can seem like an impossible cycle to break. Depression may also be inherited and again researchers are looking into this – and women also tend to suffer from depression more than men and this may be caused by the effects of female hormones on mood. Postnatal depression is not uncommon among new mothers and may result from the influence of hormones after giving birth, combined with the responsibility of caring for a new life and the immense changes being a parent brings,
Acknowledging that you need help can be often be the first step to making changes which will help you cope when you feel low. Your GP is the person to talk to, as many GP surgeries now have a resident psychologist who can offer an assessment and counselling. Some people with depression find speaking to a GP can help relieve some of the anxiety about the condition – and taking this first step to getting help can help you feel slightly more optimistic about finding a way through your depression.
Think about taking small steps forward and making small changes to your life which will break the cycle of not doing anything new or going out. This in itself can make depression much worse – the brain needs new experiences and new information to enable it to make new connections and trying something new or acquiring new information can help break the cycle of feeling everything is pointless.
Here are top tips for handling depression on a daily basis:
- Depression can result from a poor self-image, which can be learned from parents, friends or partners. Make a list of all your good points – criticism from others often says more about them than about you, so don’t let yourself be a target for others’ negativity.
- Keeping active is often recommended if you are depressed – but activity is often the last thing you feel like. If your energy levels are low, try and take short walks daily and build up to longer ones. Find new places to walk and visit – take a new route home or investigate a new part of your neighbourhood. Again this stimulates the brain to make new connections and absorb new information, which can break the cycle of feeling low and hopeless.
- It can be easy to lose your routine when you are depressed – daily chores get left and work passes in a blur. Plan one chore a day – and if necessary, treat yourself at the end of it. Just one small glass of red wine is excellent for the arteries and will boost blood flow to the brain.
- Some foods can boost serotonin levels and chocolate is the most popular natural happiness food – but chocolate is also addictive, giving you a fast “high” followed by a dip in energy and mood. A little chocolate as a treat can help perk you up, but choose a few squares of 70% cocoa dark chocolate, which will help protect arteries and boost blood flow to the brain. Other foods boosting serotonin include turkey, cherries, bananas and plums. Turkey and bananas contain tryptophan, which boosts helps the brain produce serotonin.
- Taking care of yourself can be difficult when you are depressed – and even if you do not live alone, depression can make you feel separated from others. Speaking to your GP and other healthcare staff can help overcome feelings of isolation if you don’t want to talk to friends and family about your depression. Depression Alliance can also offer self-help remedies including a penfriend scheme so you can write to someone who understands how you feel (http://www.depressionalliance.org/how-we-can-help/).
- Get plenty of beneficial sleep by going to bed early, rather than staying up late and sleeping all day. And if you do have a day in bed, try and compensate for this the next day by going for a walk.
If you find yourself falling into addictive behaviour to compensate for your low mood, tell your GP or counsellor so you can get help early.
Written for the Brain Injury Experts