«It feels like there’s a constant rain cloud following me…»
Do you remember Eeyore, the donkey from “Winnie the Pooh”? As kids, some of us were sympathetic to him, and some were annoyed by his constant gloominess and melancholic behaviour. In childhood we could hardly understand the condition to which the donkey was suffering; Eeyore is a representation of depression.
Depression can be seen as something contrived but it is a real disease. People who suffer from it are not able to picture a happy future or remember a happy past, and do not realise the condition is treatable, so seeking help may not even cross their minds. As it progresses the intrusive thoughts, negative emotions and physical pain can become unbearable. Like cancer or diabetes, depression is an involuntary condition.
We have to be aware of the seriousness of depression in order to recognise Eeyore among us and provide help before it is too late.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 280 million people in the world have depression. Suicide is one of the worst consequences of depression. Suicide claims the lives of more than 700,000 people every year.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that is associated with low or sad mood, declined interest in things that used to be appealing, fatigue, unexplained guilt, hard time concentrating, and ongoing thoughts of death.
In the absence of treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years. It is, however, possible for most people with depression to benefit from appropriate treatment.
The very condition affects the hormonal production and chemical reactions in our body, especially in the brain. People with depression often have increased levels of monoamine oxidase, a ferment that breaks down key neurotransmitters, resulting in very low levels of serotonin (a hormone that stabilizes mood), dopamine (a hormone responsible for motivation) and norepinephrine (a hormone that affects mood, energy, and alertness).
How depression starts, develops, and kills
According to Doreen Marshall, PhD and vice president at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there is no exact cause for depression. The occurrence of depression is associated with several factors that may contribute to this disorder, such as the physical structure of the brain, brain chemistry, hormones, or genetics.
According to the National Health Service, the main causes of depression are the following:
over-the-counter use of medications, alcohol, or illegal drugs
chronic or severe illnesses and their complications
stressful events such as divorce, giving birth, redundancy
experience of physical or mental abuse, bullying
According to the World Health Organization, common signs of depression are:
general disinterest in usual/ pleasurable activities
shifts in appetite and sleeping pattern (patients either want to sleep, eat more or less than usual)
experiencing feelings of hopelessness, sadness, restlessness
having a hard time focusing, thinking, making choices, and taking decisions
experiencing suicidal thoughts (when depression is at its worst form of suicidal ideation).
Whenever you notice someone having thoughts of suicide, it is important to have open and direct communication with them and take the necessary steps to connect them with help.
Nine things that will protect you and reduce the risk of depression
With the right treatment, people with depression or suicidal ideation can live healthy and productive life. Depressive symptoms can be reduced with psychotherapy, medication, and self-care.
Regular exercising is literally the best way to improve your mental health. Exercise is an effective way to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety plus it can brighten up your mood.
Exercising has such positive effects because it leads to changes in parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. Performing physical activity results in the growth of the brain’s sensitivity to the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, both of which are responsible for relieving feelings of depression. Exercise can also elevate endorphin levels, which are known to produce positive emotions and reduce pain perception.
According to a study of nearly five thousand people, those who exercise regularly had 25% lower odds of being diagnosed with major depression.
What is more, exercising is proven to be as effective as antidepressants. The team of researchers randomly assigned depressed men and women into two groups: one war to take on aerobics, and another – to take an antidepressant drug. After 4 months, the moods of those in the drug group improved so much that they no longer felt depressed after four months. The group that exercised showed the same powerful result. It seems that exercise works as well as medication.
The best thing is that regardless of the intensity of your physical activity, exercise seems to boost your mood. So you may start any other sport that you adore and make it beneficial for your well-being.
2Get plenty of sleep
Balanced high-quality sleep is essential for our overall health. Moreover, decent shuteye plays an important role in maintaining mental health. The National Sleep Foundation reveals that insomnia makes people 10 times more likely to develop depression.
The researchers found that poor well-being was associated with 47% higher sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep.
So do not forget to give your body and mind 7-8 hours of rest per day in order to keep them both sound.
3Eat more plants
Diet is an integral part of our life and it has the capacity to impact our mental health and mood overall. The journal Nutritional Neuroscience summed up that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can be a natural and inexpensive therapeutic tool to support brain health. What is more, the statistics show that a higher intake of veggies may reduce the risk of developing depression by 62%.
So, to eradicate all blue moods and protect yourself from depression feast on the following plants.
Fruits and veggies fight ferment that causes depression
People who suffer from depression have a higher level of monoamine oxidase enzymes (MAO) – a ferment responsible for the degradation of serotonin and dopamine (hormones of motivation and happiness).
Many plant foods like apples, berries, grapes, onions, and green tea have phytonutrients that naturally suppress MAO. That’s why eating a plant-packed diet is associated with a lower rate of depression.
Tomato contains antioxidants that drop the risk of developing depression
Researchers have concluded that consuming antioxidant-rich plant foods can reduce the detrimental effects of stress on mental health.
Lycopene – the red pigment in tomatoes – has the highest antioxidant activity. The study examined nearly 100k men and women and found that those who consumed tomatoes daily were only half as likely to develop depression compared to those who ate them once a week or less.
4Drink more coffee, but limit to no more than 6 cups a day 🙂
Scientists from Harvard University examined data on more than 200,000 Americans of both sexes. They found that people who drink 2 or more cups of coffee have only half the suicide risk when compared to those who do not drink tea or coffee.
Interestingly, increasing coffee intake was associated with a continuous drop in suicide risk. The study demonstrates that people who had more than six cups a day were 47% less likely to commit suicide.
Although drinking 8 or more cups were linked with a 58% rise in the very risk if compared with more moderate drinkers.
5Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight is strongly correlated with depression, so maintaining a healthy weight is one way to keep from developing this mental health issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43% of adults diagnosed with depression were obese.
For some people, emotional distress and overeating are connected. They use food as a coping mechanism for stress, which can cause obesity. For others, obesity may lead to negative feelings about oneself.
The study found that people who suffer from obesity are at a 55% greater risk of developing depression throughout life compared to those who were fit.
Thus, in order to keep your mood high, you have to keep your body in a good shape. If you’re exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and eating right, weight maintenance should be as easy as falling off a log.
6Cut down on alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant, and that’s why even small amounts can make us feel blue. Alcohol overconsumption can lead to brain damage and later depression. Excessive alcohol intake makes you a prisoner of every-morning hangovers that make you feel ill, anxious and guilty. Plus, alcohol aggravates life problems such as family quarrels, and troubles at work. All of these factors may, later on, result in depression.
The research shows that people with alcohol use disorder(AUD) are 3.7 times more likely to succumb to depressive disorder.
7Give up smoking
Smoking is vividly linked with depression, it aggravates anxiety and tension.
Surveys in Australia and the USA found that smokers are more likely to develop depression. What is even worse is that suicide rates are higher among smokers. Cigarette smoking has been linked to suicidal behavior, which is thought to be related to lower brain serotonin (a hormone that stabilizes mood) function in smokers with depression.
The Journal of Psychiatric Research showed the result of 15 different studies and stated that smokers have an 81% higher risk of committing suicide compared to never smokers.
So, to protect yourself from the detrimental effects of nicotine that may later result in depression, it is better to give up and never start this harmful habit.
8Maintain a favourable social circle
Most of us have encountered someone who makes us feel bad about ourselves. These individuals may bully or belittle others in order to feel better about themselves or may take advantage of others. It is important to distance ourselves from toxic people in order to protect our well-being.
Observations from 2012 showed a link between negative social interactions and higher levels of proteins known as cytokines. Inflammation and depression are linked to these proteins.
So, to maintain our mental and emotional well-being we should seek out and spend time with people who bring positivity and support into our lives, such as family and friends.
9Try saffron – a natural antidepressant with no side effects, but costs a fortune
Saffron is a spice derived from the crocus flower, which has a positive effect in terms of lowering depression risk.
Scientists compared saffron and an antidepressant drug for their efficiency in fighting depression symptoms. Both the spice and the drug showed good results in reducing symptoms. But antidepressants led to side effects such as sexual dysfunction, whereas treating with saffron is not accompanied by after-effects.
The only catch is that the spice costs more than twice as much as the drug. But even scenting the saffron was associated with a significant drop in stress hormones. Significant improvements in anxiety symptoms were observed among women who sniffed the spice for twenty minutes compared to those who sniffed a placebo.
How to keep depression away? Let’s sum up
Different life experiences may make us fall into the abyss of stress, anxiety and even depression. In order to prevent our life from falling apart, we all have to maintain well-being and happiness through the healthy lifestyle choices we disclose here. People starting out happier do indeed end up healthier and vice versa.
Not enough? Here are some more from our colleagues
If you want to learn more about depression, we recommend you read the book ‘How not to die’ by Michael Greger. Not only does it provides insight into preventing and dealing with depression and other severe conditions but also offers tips on having a healthy lifestyle that can protect you from diseases and premature death. The very article is inspired by this book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking to improve their overall health and longevity.
Dig deeper into the topic of depression by listening to a podcast full of insights about depression by Andrew Huberman – a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of medicine.
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