Wow, it feels like yesterday that I looked at the calender and we were headed into February and my thought then was “wow, cant believe we are entering the 2nd month of the year already!” Its now 7 months down the line, I wipe my eyes and have to look again to realise there are only two and a half months left of this year! Its incredible how fast time flies by.
On the other hand I am also encountering more and more people who feel they have literally dragged themselves through the year, or are finding it increasingly difficult to get motivated and struggle to feel the end of year excitement the way many of us do. Common complaints are feeling demotivated, feeling sluggish, not in the mood to be around people, sleeping poorly and feeling tired all day as well as the occasional feeling of tearfulness. A general dissatisfaction with the way things are and an inability to find the joy in daily activities that used to be enjoyable.
Well my friends – that’s why they call it the blues, and it sounds a whole lot like Major Depression to me. In chatting with many of these people there seems to be a resistance to admitting they may be facing depression, or a resistance to getting the necessary treatment. So I figured I’d spend some time on the issue here and hopefully clear up some misunderstandings.
Let’s first look at the symptoms of depression:
- Feeling tearful or “down” more often than not
- Disturbances in sleep – particularly waking up in the early hours and unable to fall asleep again
- Disturbances in appetite – either over-eating, or a lack of appetite (sometimes weight gain and weight loss)
- Decrease in energy – feeling sluggish and fatigued
- Social withdrawal and a preference to be alone
- Inability to find joy in previously pleasurable activities
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Thoughts of suicide (more present in severe depression)
- Loss of concentration and inability to sustain attention
- Low libido
Now, if you’ve been feeling most of these symptoms for a month or more, it is more than probable that you are actually struggling with a major depressive episode (that’s the fancy psychiatric name for depression). The really important thing to remember here is that depression is as much a physical illness as pneumonia, or diabetes is and deserves the right treatment too.
What actually happens when you are depressed (“depressed” in the sense of experiencing a major depressive episode – not “depressed” in the general term used when feeling sad)?
Well, to put it briefly and simply – our brains send messages from transmitting neurons to receiving neurons via chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Amongst the 30 odd neurotransmitters found in the brain, serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine have been associated with emotional regulation, reactions to stress, and the physical drives of sleep, appetite, and sexuality. As a result, anti-depressants function to regulate the amount of a specific neurotransmitters in the brain – some anti-depressants such as SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) work with serotonin only, while others affect the dopamine levels.
While there does appear to be a very strong relationship between neurotransmitter levels and clinical depression, and that anti-depressants are highly effective for the majority of people, we can still not be 100% certain of the actual relationship between neurotransmitters and depression.
As a result, psychotherapy and a variety of other management techniques are also effective in the treatment of depressive episodes. – Here are a few really important aspects in managing and treating your depression:
- EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE: Despite that lethargic, de-motivated, and energy-less feeling you have, the irony of it is that dragging your bum to the gym, or going for a walk actually increases your energy levels, allows for the release of some endorphins and generally gets you feeling better. Besides the health benefits of exercise – its a great way to feel good about yourself when you have actually accomplished something
- SLEEP! again, despite the lethargic feeling, try not to stay in bed past your waking up time, try not to have afternoon naps. Get 6-8 hours of sleep per night – no more and no less. Sleep regulation with an exercise programme will do wonders for your mood.
- DIET: Its easy to get into the comfort eating mode, wanting “feel good foods” like ice cream, cakes and chocolate. Believe me, engaging in healthy foods is going to help your blood-sugar levels, regulate your energy and generally assist in feeling better about yourself. Make sure you are getting enough vitamin B’s (the full range are excellent in managing depression)
- SELF CARE: you deserve to take care of yourself and do nice things for yourself. If you had flu, you would take time out and rest. So, if you feel like you need some time out – take it, but don’t get caught in a loop of self-pity and wallowing – rather take the time to get active in gym, eat healthy and tackle that old hobby you had put aside ages ago.
- FIND SUPPORT: talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling and let them take you out occasionally. Don’t shy away from social interaction – isolation and loneliness only feeds the depression
- And if all else fails – visit a psychologist! 🙂
Oh yes, and with summer fast approaching (well here in South Africa) don’t be afraid of getting a little sun – it really does energise and gets your lust for life going!
“Happiness and sadness run parallel to each other. When one takes a rest, the other one tends to take up the slack.” ~Hazelmarie Elliott (“Mattie”)