Posted by: jedwardswright | February 19, 2011

Stressed and Depressed

That stress and depression are linked shouldn’t be a surprise. Anyone who has experienced a major loss or traumatic event knows the incredible emotional pain caused by such ordeals.

Those who already suffer from depression are obviously ill-equipped to cope with additional troubles, and a serious episode of grief or rejection has the potential to drive us into a pit of despair. Day-to-day challenges are difficult enough!

Even people without depression have difficulty coping with the pressure of an unreasonable deadline or costly mistake. Is it any wonder that individuals with mental health issues may have panic attacks or increased depression when under similar stressors?

Scientific evidence increasingly suggests that not only does stress cause existing depression to worsen, but also that chronic stress may actually cause depression in vulnerable people. [i]

Tony LaMontagne, an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, is a researcher specializing in the relationship between work and health. He found that almost one-fifth of working women and one-eighth of working men with depression connected their condition to job-related stress. In addition, Dr. LaMontagne believes that because people in lesser positions of authority reported more depression, that the less control we feel over our circumstances the greater our risk of developing depression.[ii]

Most of us are familiar with the famous fight-or-flight response, when our bodies react to stimuli by preparing for combat or escape. When we are in crisis, a region at the base of our brains called the hypothalamus informs our adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, which provide power to functions essential for survival while reducing the demands of less immediate bodily systems.

This amazing ability to adjust is designed to meet short-term emergency needs. When instead, stress is constant, certain essential operations are disrupted continuously, putting our health at serious risk. Depression is one of a number of possible negative results.[iii]

Emerging evidence of the physical effects of stress now indicate a possible connection between a steady exposure to stress, the ability of neurons in the hippocampus region of our brains to regenerate, and the development of depression.[iv] The hippocampus is involved in long-term memory and spatial navigation, so it will be interesting to discover more about how it is related to stress and depression.

What does all this mean for people who have already developed depression?

  1. If we have a history of prolonged stress, whether personal or work-related, it has likely been a contributing factor in the growth of our depression. This may be an issue to consider in understanding our current condition, or to investigate further in therapy.
  2. Reducing unnecessary stress in our lives needs to be a priority now. Toxic relationships, negative influences and high-pressure working conditions need to be eliminated wherever possible. Get creative when considering solutions — think “How?” not “Can’t.”
  3. Reevaluating our priorities is crucial to our recovery. Saying “No” is not a luxury; it is a necessary part of our survival strategy. Becoming overloaded with obligations is a poisonous habit that needs to go!
  4. Relaxation techniques (meditation, prayer, soothing music, yoga, etc.) need to be part of our depression-fighting arsenal. Whether you choose to seek solutions in your faith, in recorded or on-line sources, or classes, there are a wide variety of resources out there to help you relax.
  5. As always, pursuing physical health is vital when pursuing mental health. Exercise is not only good for developing muscles and stamina; it is an excellent stress-reducer.  Eating well contributes to our bodies’ ability to deal with life’s pressures as well.

Medication is a wonderful, and usually necessary, tool in battling the demons of depression. However, by reducing the stress-induced demands on our minds and bodies, we can minimize our need for meds and maximize the effectiveness of the prescriptions that we already take.

 

[i] Hall-Flavin, Daniel K., M. D. “Can chronic stress cause depression?” MayoClinic.com, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/AN01286

 

[ii] “Work Stress Causing Depression: study.” ABC News, Mon Jun 2, 2008.

[iii] “Stress: Constant stress puts your health at risk.” MayoClinic.com, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/SR00001

 

[iv] Thomas, Rosanne M., Hotsenpiller, Gregory and Peterson, Daniel A. “Acute Psychosocial Stress Reduces Cell Survival in Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis without Altering Proliferation.” The Journal of Neuroscience, March 14, 2007, 27(11):2734-2743, http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/27/11/2734#B28

 


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Responses

  1. It’s so great to see things I can do to help alleviate stress. Not just ‘ideas’ but concrete activities. Switching meds has saved my life, but I need to engage in exercise, quiet time. Things for me again. Seeing it in print, so well written and researched, means that it’s real, you know? I guess it gives me ‘permission’ in a way. Thank you!

  2. You are ever so welcome!
    All the best in pursuing your personal peace.
    Thank you for making my day (in a totally non-Clint Eatwood kind of way)!
    Jodi


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