Stress is good for you. It keeps you alert, motivated and primed to respond to danger. As anyone who has faced a work deadline or competed in a sport knows, stress mobilizes the body to respond, improving performance. Yet too much stress, or chronic stress may lead to major depression in susceptible people.
"Like email and email spam, a little stress is good but too much is bad; you'll need to shut down and reboot," says Esther Sternberg, MD, a leading stress researcher and the chief of neuroendocrine immunology and behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Even positive events, such as getting married or beginning a new job, can be stressful and may lead to an episode of major depression. Yet about 10% of people suffer from depression without the trigger of a stressful event.The Stress-Depression Connection
Stress -- whether chronic, such as taking care of a parent with Alzheimer's, or acute, such as losing a job or the death of a loved one -- can lead to major depression in susceptible people. Both types of stress lead to over activity of the body's stress-response mechanism.
Sustained or chronic stress, in particular, leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, the "stress hormone," and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, which has been linked to depression. When these chemical systems are working normally, they regulate biological processes like sleep, appetite, energy, and sex drive, and permit expression of normal moods and emotions.
When the stress response fails to shut off and reset after a difficult situation has passed, it can lead to depression in susceptible people.
No one in life escapes event-related stress, such as death of a loved one, a job loss, divorce, a natural disaster such as an earthquake, or even a dramatic dip in your 401(k). A layoff -- an acute stressor -- may lead to chronic stress if a job search is prolonged.
Loss of any type is a major risk factor for depression. Grieving is
considered a normal, healthy, response to loss, but if it goes on for
too long it can trigger a depression. A serious illness, including
depression itself, is considered a chronic stressor.
The connection between stress and depression is complex and circular. People who are stressed often neglect healthy lifestyle practices. They may smoke, drink more than normal, and neglect regular exercise. "Stress, or being stressed out, leads to behaviors and patterns that in turn can lead to a chronic stress burden and increase the risk of major depression," says Bruce McEwen, PhD, author of The End of Stress as We Know It.
Losing a job is not only a blow to self-esteem, but it results in the loss of social contacts that can buffer against depression.
Interestingly, many of the changes in the brain during an
episode of depression resemble the effects of severe, prolonged,
Once someone is in the grip of major depression, it's usually not the best time to make lifestyle changes. But you can guard against a reoccurrence of depression or help protect against a first episode of depression by adopting lifestyle changes that modify the body's stress response. Building resilience is particularly important if you are experiencing chronic stress, such as unemployment.
The following lifestyle changes can help reduce stress levels and boost your resilience, reducing the risk of depression:
Experts recommend a half-hour of moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming five days a week. "Running a marathon is not what you want to do," says Sternberg. Exercise produces chemicals in the body that boost your mood and stimulate hormones and neurotransmitters, including endorphins, that can help reduce stress.
2. Strong, supportive relationships
Isolation is a risk factor for depression, while community buffers people from the effects of adversity. Negative, critical relationships are harmful.
3. Yoga, meditation,
prayer, psychotherapy (*)
Studies have shown that these practices can be helpful, "retraining your brain circuits," says Sternberg. "They have a positive effect on the emotional brain circuits."
4. Eating well and not drinking too much
People who feel stressed may drink too much; alcohol is a known mood suppressor.
5. Making time for yourself
some downtime to
pursue creative pursuits or a hobby. Today's harried, multitasking life
is stressful. If possible, schedule mini-vacations; longer breaks of at
least 10 days have been shown to be more beneficial in reducing stress.
People who are working overtime, or juggling family and work, may not be getting eight hours of restful sleep.
For those who are experiencing depressive symptoms, the outlook may seem dim. You may feel lonely, isolated, hopeless or dejected. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help deal with your depression without having to resort to medication. Read on to learn about some simple steps you can take to start feeling better soon without taking any drugs.
If you are feeling depressed, you might be naturally gravitating away from people and spending more time alone. Make an effort to socialize, ensuring that you put yourself in the company of people you can trust and who are positive influences. This will prevent you from becoming too isolated and possibly pushing yourself further into depression.
Another bad habit you should try to kick if you're depressed is being lethargic or inactive. Although this is a common feeling among those who are depressed, numerous studies have shown that exercise has the ability to decrease depressive symptoms. Similarly, making sure you get at least eight hours of sleep a night can also have positive effects on your depression. You should also be careful not to sleep too much, which can become a common problem for an individual who is depressed.
If you still are struggling with your depressive symptoms, consider volunteering for a cause that is important to you, whether that is assisting the elderly, working for a political campaign or helping out at an animal shelter. Giving of your time and talents to a worthwhile cause can help you feel less alone and confused. Meanwhile, it will give you a sense of purpose and keep you connected to others socially.
Stress can be a major roadblock for treating depression. It's important to avoid stressful situations and to develop helpful techniques to deal with stress when it does occur. Meditation, getting a massage, or simply relaxing with a book are all good methods for dealing with stress. Recognize when you need a break from a stressful situation and make time for quiet, calming activities.
Another good way to deal with depression naturally is to alter your thinking towards positive thoughts. Focus on specific things that make you happy, and reward yourself for your accomplishments and good habits. You can also come up with goals - both for the short- and the long-term - which will give your positive things to work towards to help yourself get through your depression.
Don't underestimate the power of therapy when it comes to dealing with depression. Talking to a professional is one of the best ways to treat depression without the use of medication. If your depressive symptoms start to seriously interfere with your daily life, your next step should be to contact a counselor or psychologist. Talking about your experiences and feelings with these experts will help you figure out additional ways to ease your symptoms and get your life back on track.
In addition to talking to a professional, you can also join a support group. The opportunity to talk with others who are feeling the same way you do can be a great release for people feeling depressed. Check with local schools, churches and health centers for support groups in your area.
You may be surprised to see just how much of an impact a healthy diet can have on your depressive symptoms. Try to stick to natural foods whenever possible. Instead of refined sugars in candy and processed snacks, get sugar naturally from fresh fruits. Additionally, fresh fruit and veggies, along with lean meats, can provide B vitamins which are necessary to maintain a healthy nervous system. You'll also want to get plenty of essential fatty acids, carbohydrates and proteins in your diet as these are all critical for healthy brain function.
Many people also try supplements to help treat their depression.
St. John's wort, omega
3 fatty acids and s-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) are a few of
the most common supplements taken to deal with depression. While these
may have positive effects, it's a good idea to ask your doctor before
starting any supplement treatments.