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Coping with Depression

Coping with depression is a tricky business. People experience different combinations of the symptoms of depression, and there are also variables that contribute to depression.

Here are common symptoms of depression. Do any of these resonate with you?

1) Persistent depressed mood, feeling sad or empty

2) Tolerance to irritability is lowered

2) Loss of interest in activities that one previously found enjoyable

3) Unintentional weight loss or weight gain

4) Sleep difficulties - either sleeping too much or too little

5) Changes in your motor system - feeling like things are in "slow motion"/"walking through mud", and conversely, feeling like things are going too fast or an unusual increase in motor activity.

6) Fatigue, loss of energy, persistent feelings of being tired

7) Feelings of worthlessness or excessive/inappropriate guilt

8) Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

9) Repeated thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal thoughts without specific plans, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide

What contributes to depression, what makes someone depressed?

There is no one element that can fully lead to depression, but rather it is usually a combination of variables. Things to consider:

1) Genetics - Is there any family history of depression? Do you know any relatives that present with many of the depressive symptoms? If you remember a parent or grandparent that appeared depressed every now and then, it is possible that their genetics have passed down to you.

2) Situational - Many situations can trigger or aggravate depression. Being dumped from a relationship will lead to chemical imbalances in your brain. Dissatisfaction with one's occupation/career can lead to depression, especially if one feels they are trapped in the job track they are on. Other situations can clearly aggravate depression - grieving the loss of a person or pet, unforeseen distressful life circumstances, feeling lonely and lacking a reliable support system, etc.

3) Cultural dissonance - Ethnic minorities that are 2nd generation immigrants often feel cultural dissonance. The dissonance can be within their own family ("Why are my parents so different than me?"). Dissonance can occur within society ("Why am I so different than the rest of the people I am around?"). Feelings of being "different" or "disconnected" from institutions like family and society can lead folks into isolation or inappropriate guilt or shame.

4) Environmental - What is the environment like in the places you spend the most time? Are you sedentary most of the day? Are there windows/access to natural light? Is your space reflective of you? (Do you decorate your room to your liking? Are the walls empty or cluttered?). I am reminded of my time working in the prison system. Inmate/patients would often state, "This place is so depressing." Yes, it is. The environment of prison is naturally going to be depressing.

5) Societal - What is society? Society encompasses many different institutions of groups - institutions may include family, religion, education, government, mass media/pop culture, etc.

Society places unrealistic expectations of beauty, wealth, and success. Institutions define "acceptable" standards. Institutions also put down, isolate, or ignore others that do not fit the standards they define. Further, when we look at institutions, they are all lead by people. Human beings, by definition, are flawed and imperfect. Yet, there are elite persons out there that hand pick what consumers get to consume. There are also people in our families that "know what's best" despite not having any education or training on human behavior or mental health.

Bottom line, if one does not fit the rigid template that institutions define for us, one may feel they are lacking, that they aren't good enough, and that their self-worth is devalued. All are factors that can contribute to aggravating depression.

What's the good news? How can I deal with this?

Take care of your body and mind. Some of the most fundamental skills are often overlooked when one is depressed. This is understandable, as difficulty concentrating or making decisions is a contributing symptom of depression.

1) When was the last time you drank water? Have you eaten in the last three hours? Have you showered in the past day? How much sun are you getting? Human beings are like plants - we need water, food, and sun. If you're feeling depressed, check-in with yourself and see if you've taken care of these basic needs.

2) Have you stretched your legs or moved your body to music recently? If you don't have the energy for a workout or a trip to the gym, just go for a walk around the block. Listen to music at home and allow your body to feel the rhythm and express yourself. Physical movement helps create endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin - all healthy chemicals that regulate mood.

3) Have you talked to someone or been in the presence of someone lately? Identify a trusted friend or family member where you feel safe while being vulnerable. Let them know that you would appreciate a dedictated time and space for your to ventilate and express what you've been experiencing. But maybe you don't feel like talking, but yearn for company? Let a person know that you'd appreciate their company - it's perfectly okay to enjoy the simple presence of another being in the room with you while you're feeling down. "Please just be with me while I go through this."

This is just a brief rundown of a few of the many ways to address problems with depression. Therapeutic options can be helpful in that skilled professionals provide evidence-based methods of treating depression. Talk therapy has enormous benefits for sorting the thoughts in your mind and learning practical coping skills to deal with the problems of life. Psychotropic medications can help adjust the chemical imbalances in your brain to be more manageable. What other ways can you think of that could help cope with depression?

And a final thought... even if you've been through treatments, know plenty of skills to cope, and generally have an optimistic outlook on life... even if everything is fine around you, you can still be depressed, and that's ok. Luckily, like everything in life, depressive episodes are temporary and it won't always be the way it is.

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