Identify and Reduce Your Risk of Depression
Signs and symptoms of depression
The symptoms of depression include loss of interest in pleasure in things you would normally enjoy which is called anhedonia; feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness; insomnia, hypersomnia, or a mix of both; notable changes in appetite meaning eating too little or eating too much (stress eating); low energy or fatigue; indecisiveness and trouble with concentration; moving or speaking so slowly that others can notice it (think Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh); thoughts of wanting life to just be over.
Depression is considered “clinical” when symptoms interfere with your functioning. For example, missing or struggling to perform at work or school, avoiding chores around the house and errands such as shopping and appointments, not keeping up with personal hygiene, reducing or giving up important recreational activities, and shutting down or isolating from others.
It’s important to note that some people may experience depression without having any noticeable signs or symptoms. This is known as “hidden depression” and can be more difficult to recognize and treat. For example, some people with hidden depression may appear to be functioning normally, but may still feel depressed inside. Some people have become quite skilled at hiding their depression from the world which leads to intense loneliness, bottling up their feelings, and sometimes addiction.
Causes of depression
While the exact cause of depression is not yet known, there are a variety of factors that can contribute to it. These include genetic factors, such as a family history of depression, as well as environmental factors, such as traumatic life events or a chronically stressful environment. Depression can also be caused by physical health problems or some medications. A lack of certain nutrients, especially vitamin D, is also heavily associated with depressive symptoms.
Types of depression
Depression can come in a variety of forms. Major depressive disorder (MDD) refers to either a single episode or recurring episodes of depression which show up as a notable change from your baseline mood. Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), also called dysthymia, refers to chronic low mood meaning depression is your baseline. Postpartum depression is often quite serious and can occur in mothers following the birth of a child even if the mother has never experienced depression before.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) refers to depressive episodes that occur during periods of less sunlight such as the fall and winter and is largely attributed to lower levels of vitamin D as well as reduced activities. Depression can sometimes cause symptoms of delusions (believing things that are clearly not real) or hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that aren’t actually there) though this is not particularly common. Bipolar disorder is characterized by manic episodes and may or may not include depressive episodes.
Self-care strategies to help prevent depression
Self-care is an important part of preventing and managing depression. This can include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and engaging in activities that you enjoy. These strategies are very important for preventing symptoms because they cause the brain to produce more dopamine and endorphins which are necessary for feeling better.
Your mood may tell you to do things like avoid people, stay in bed or on the couch, or listen to sad music but these behaviors typically just lead to making the symptoms worse. Before I knew how to prevent or manage my own struggles with depression, I spent too much time taking warm baths, oversleeping, scrolling social media, avoiding responsibilities, and playing video games. Instead of telling yourself you will change your behavior after your mood improves, try doing things like talking to someone who helps comfort you, going for a walk, or watching a funny movie. In other words, don’t wait to feel better before re-engaging in healthy behaviors- use healthy behaviors to improve your mood and shorten your depression.
Additional strategies include limiting or avoiding activities that may be triggering your depression symptoms such as social media, alcohol, drugs, or communicating with people who upset you. It can also be helpful to practice coping skills to help manage your depression symptoms. This can include relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, journaling, reading, hobbies such as drawing or making things, and listening to encouraging music.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) includes skills to help you change your unhealthy beliefs about yourself, others, and the world that contribute to your depression. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) includes skills to help you practice mindfulness, respond to difficult emotions, manage emotional overwhelm, end harmful relationships, and find and maintain healthier relationships. Gottman Method Couples Therapy can help you vastly improve your relationship so your partner can be a source of support rather than a trigger.