Have you ever been in a bad mood? Well, you’re not the only one. Feeling sad, anxious or irritable is part of the human experience. It happens to everyone at some point or another in life and usually passes in time.
However, being in a bad mood that lasts for more than a couple of weeks is a different story. Clinical depression is both common and serious. Affecting up to about one out of ten Americans and increasing at about 20% a year, persistent depression can take a huge toll on one’s life.
Consequences of Depression
Depression may leave people feeling unhappy, hopeless and angry. It can also create relationship problems, insomnia, oversleeping, loss of appetite, overeating, and reduced energy, as well as minor to severe aches and pains, real or imagined.
The stress of depression is also often an underlying cause of many illnesses. Suffering from illness, in turn, can lead to even greater depression. For example, depression has been linked to:
- 25% of cancer patients
- 27% of substance abusers
- 33% of heart attack victims
- 40% of PTS disorder sufferers
- 50-75% of people with eating disorders
Degenerative brain disease illnesses, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, have a complicated and not yet fully understood association with clinical depression. Up to 40% of Alzheimer’s patients and about 60% of those with Parkinson’s disease suffer from significant depression symptoms. And people with depression have four times the risk of having a heart attack.
Clinical depression can affect just about anyone from teens to senior citizens, but women, those in their 40s and 50s, African-Americans and Mexican-Americans appear to have the greatest risk of the disease.
Causes of Depression
The causes of depression are many and often not fully understood. Being a very complex disease, no one knows for sure the real cause. So far, it’s almost impossible to determine why the same events affect different people in different ways. The puzzle raises the same old question. Is the root cause nature or nurture?
However, there are certain experiences and events that seem to be common triggers for most depression. They include:
- Abuse. Whether it’s emotional, physical or sexual, abuse in early life, if not dealt with, is often associated a greater risk of clinical depression in later life.
- Death/Loss. Though a natural part of life, the death or loss of a loved one, even if it’s only a pet, may significantly increase vulnerability to depression.
- Major Events. Change is inevitable, but sometimes it’s hard to accept, causing stress and symptoms of depression. Most people want things to stay the same. So when stuff happens, either good or bad, like starting a new job or losing an old one, a period of depression can be initiated.
- Conflict. Disagreements and disputes between individuals, family members, communities, races and nations can often lead to depression in the participants.
- Genetics. Depression may run in families, but like other psychiatric disorders, the genetic causes are not quite as simple or direct as they are for such genetic diseases as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia or Huntington’s disease.
- Medication Side-Effects. Certain prescription drugs, such as the acne treatment isotretinoin, antiviral interferon-alpha and corticosteroids have been found in research to possibly cause problems with depression in some individuals.
- Substance Abuse. Major or clinical depression is a quite common trait in people who have problems with substance abuse. About 30% of substance abusers experience bouts of depression. However, the question gets down to – Which came first? The chicken or the egg?
Other possible causes of depression may be bullying and peer pressure, social isolation or loneliness, moving to a new town, childbirth, menopause, financial difficulties, natural disaster, etc., etc. The list goes on.
How to Fight Depression
Battling with depression may not be easy, but it can be done. You can win the war and you can do it without resorting to either expensive and time-consuming psychiatric treatment or possibly harmful mind-altering psychotropic drugs, either legal (lithium) or illegal (cocaine). There are natural alternatives that can produce positive results.
One recent study, for example, published in Translational Psychiatry, researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey discovered that two weekly two-hour sessions combing aerobic exercise and meditation over a period of two months reduced depression symptoms by as much as 40 percent.
At the completion of the study, those subjects who were depressed at the beginning reported experiencing fewer symptoms of depression and worrying less about negative situations. They also reported being more self-assured and motivated to deal with their life in a more positive manner in the future. The Rutgers University research showed how fast, effective anti-depression outcomes can be produced with simple, safe and inexpensive solutions, such as meditation and exercise, that are available to everyone.
Meditation – In another study, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, A research team from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, after reviewing thousands of earlier meditation studies, concluded that mindfulness meditation may be just as effective as antidepressant drugs, such as Prozac, in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
This is good news, since the common side effects of Prozac, for example, include dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, fatigue and sleep problems, which, in themselves, can also be the cause of more depression.
On the other hand, there’ are virtually no serious side effects of meditation, other than the fact that some people at first may feel a senses of guilt over selfishly spending time on themselves. Once meditators experience the positive benefits of mindfulness meditation, considerations like guilt usually pass away like any other fleeting thought.
Mindfulness meditation is nothing exotic. It’s simply being still and focusing the mind in a non-judgmental way on what is going on physically, mentally and emotionally in the moment of here and now. Mindfulness meditation is not doing nothing. Instead, it’s actively training the mind to pay attention and to increase awareness and can be a valuable tool in reducing depression, as well as a support for other therapies.
Exercise – Many studies have shown a positive relationship between regular physical exercise and lower rates of depression, improved self-esteem and a more positive attitude and mood.
The reason why there are so many encouraging psychological benefits of exercise is clear. Physical activity releases specific body chemicals called endorphins. This release of endorphins generates two major results.
- Endorphins reduce your perception of pain
- Endorphins trigger a sense of euphoria.
In many ways, endorphins released by exercise act as a natural analgesic or pain relief medication that produces a state known as a “runner’s high.” However, endorphins, unlike morphine, do not lead to a condition of dependence or addiction.
A regular program of moderate physical exercise has also been proven to help you:
- Improve sleep
- Increase energy
- Reduce body fat
- Strengthen the heart
- Lower blood pressure
- Strengthen and build bones
- Improve muscle tone/strength
- Reach/Maintain a healthy weight
- Look younger, fit, trim and healthy
When designing a personal physical fitness program, it isn’t necessary to go overboard or spend a lot of money at a gym or a health club. One half hour of moderate exercise five days week is more than enough to produce the positive mental, emotional and physical results you’re looking for.
Here are some simple, inexpensive moderate exercise ideas.
Having a good, active social life also plays an important role in the battle against depression. That’s why joining a group fitness class or exercising with a friend or partner would be beneficial. Having a supportive person around will provide some emotional comfort and help keep you motivated.
Importance of a Healthy Lifestyle
Depression needs to be taken seriously. Anything that can be done to reduce the frequency and severity of depression in any way should be considered, including adopting a healthy lifestyle. Besides meditation, exercise and getting a good night’s sleep, it’s also vital to eat a healthy diet low in fats, sugar and salt and high in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals and low-fat meats and dairy. It’s also a good idea to stay away from alcohol and recreational drugs. At first, alcohol and drugs may seem to relieve depression symptoms, but it’s a trap. In the long run, they generally increase the risk of depression and make it even more difficult to treat and overcome.
When compared to long-term psychotherapy and psychotropic mind-altering medications, much research has shown that low-cost natural alternative methods are often just as effective treatments for depression and anxiety. Since they are less expensive and have very little downside, they should probably be attempted and explored at first. In many ways, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.