How interlinked are stress and depression? Research suggested that they are more closely linked than once thought. However, it’s possible to be stressed without being depressed.
Stress is the brain’s natural in-built response to danger but also stimulation. A limited amount of stress is a good thing, keeping us alert and focused, mobilizing the body, and often improving performance. However, it’s a balancing act; too much stress or chronic stress can be a depression trigger for some individuals over an extended period.
Depression is common after a sudden or life-changing event such as marriage, moving house, death in the family, or starting a new job. Stress is the common factor in these and other life events, and sometimes there is a knock-on effect, even from happy stress. It’s also said that 10% of all individuals will suffer from depression without any specific trigger or stressful event.
Stress-Depression Connection in Detail
Physically the stress-depression connection locates itself in the brain because stress leads to the activity of the body’s natural stress response mechanism. In real terms, this means the effect of elevated hormones such as cortisol (stress hormone) and reduced serotonin (mood-stabilizing hormone) on the neurotransmitters in the brain. In turn, the natural feel-good hormone dopamine drops away, and these factors combined have been linked to depression.
When the body’s chemical systems are healthy and working effectively, these hormones regulate biological processes like energy, sleep, appetite, and sex drive and express regular moods and emotions. When a stress response fails to turn off and reset after a stressful period has passed, it can lead to depression for those who have depressive tendencies.
No one can escape the effects of stressful periods completely; unexpected events such as the death of a family member, redundancy, divorce, and other situations we don’t have control over add to our chances of suffering from chronic stress and are a significant risk factor for depression.
While grieving is considered a normal and healthy response to loss but when it goes on for an extended time, it can lead to depression. Interestingly, changes in the brain during an episode of depression resemble the effects of severe, prolonged stress and vice versa, proving the link once again.
Lifestyle Factors – Stress and Depression Linked
Complex and circular issues link stress and depression. People who can’t manage stress often have an unhealthy lifestyle. Smoking and drinking more than usual and neglecting regular exercise can exhaust normal behaviors and patterns.
Combine those factors with unforeseen events. This combination can lead to a chronic stress burden and increase the risk of major depression, leading to unpredictable outcomes that create a cycle that is difficult to break once an individual is experiencing.
Stress and depression brought on by destructive behaviors such as drug or substance abuse will prolong the cycles of depression and anxiety, making a recovery difficult and treatment more urgent. There are various treatment options available and many facilities that give you the best chance of recovery.
You can even make use of a treatment navigator, such as addictionrehabtreatment.com, or other navigators to find the best treatment center for your needs. The sooner the sufferer starts treatment, the better. A healthcare professional will consider all factors, including lifestyle, before a course of corrective treatment is recommended.
Building Resilience to Cope with Stress and Depression
Building resilience is crucial if you are experiencing chronic stress, such as unemployment or bereavement.
Once a person is in the grip of major depression, it’s challenging to make positive lifestyle changes and make them stick. It is, however, possible to guard against a recurrence of depression by adopting lifestyle changes that modify the body’s future stress response.
The following lifestyle changes can boost resilience and reduce the risk of depression by combating stressful situations as and when they happen.
- Exercise – the best lifestyle tactic to reduce stress and ward off depression – 30 minutes of exercise a day can stave off stressful situations.
- Mindfulness, yoga, and contemplation through prayer or psychotherapy are valuable tools to retrain your brain from thinking clearly.
- Time out – Some scheduled downtime for creative pursuits or a hobby is shown to reduce stress. If possible, Sufferers should take vacations or mini-breaks regularly; optimum time away for stress relief purposes is a minimum of 10 days.
- Strong relationships – Solid, uplifting social relationships that ward off isolation are the best way to limit stress. However, poor relationships can have a toxic effect or negative effect that can reverse any positive results gained from treatment.
- Healthy eating and not drinking too much alcohol are essential. Individuals who feel stressed may self-medicate with alcohol, but alcohol is a known mood suppressant.
- 7-8 hours of sleep a night is required by most adults. Stress reduces the body’s ability to sleep well. A lack of sleep mixed with too much junk food and alcohol is a toxic cocktail that may trigger a depressive episode.
- Positive reinforcement – when you’re depressed, the brain is stuck in a negative mode. Using positive reinforcement can actually change the way a person thinks about themselves and their situation. Regular reinforcement should become a habit that everyone uses.
It is evident that when several factors or triggers are present, an individual may suffer from stress-induced depression. If left untreated, the brain can experience irreversible change from the effects of chronic stress, leading to more prolonged and more severe episodes over time.
Sufferers must treat these symptoms of chronic stress or depression quickly and effectively. Always consult a healthcare expert or doctor before embarking on a form of treatment; even exercise or a diet change may need a professional opinion to ensure the best possible outcome.
Take time to consider the basics, like eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly (30 minutes a day), and talking to friends and family about seeking the correct treatment for you. The most important thing to know is that it is possible to get better, break the cycle of stress and depression and go on to enjoy a healthy and positive life.