20 Mar 5 Factors That May Be Contributing to Your Depression
Chances are high that either you, or someone close to you, has struggled with depression at some point. It is one of the most common mental health issues today, which is why antidepressant medications are prescribed with staggering frequency.
Although popping a pill is the easiest, most convenient way to deal with whatever ails you, many people find that medication alone is ineffective when it comes to alleviating their depressive symptoms. Others find that antidepressants provide temporary relief at best (and often after a period of trial and error to find the best one). The symptoms often end up returning once the medication is discontinued.
So, why is that?
Well, one of the most likely reasons is that brain chemistry – which is what antidepressant medications target – is only one part of the picture. But depression, like most psychiatric disorders, develops for a variety of reasons – and most likely a complex combination of interacting factors.
While genetics and brain chemistry often do play a role, there are many other factors that may be contributing to your depression as well. These are the things that medication won’t help, but that can be changed – albeit with effort – once you identify them. That’s not to say change will be easy (is it ever?), but it is possible. Working with a skilled therapist is often ideal, but not always necessary.
Chronic or Severe Stress
Stress is a normal part of life, but when it’s chronic or severe, it can wreak havoc with depression. It can also play a role in triggering depression if you’re already prone to it. Major stressors that can quickly wear you down include marital problems, loss of a significant relationship (e.g. due to divorce, death, or a break up), job stress, extended period of unemployment, and financial woes.
While some stressors are unavoidable (e.g. a job lay-off ), the effects can often be mitigated by a proactive approach. Granted, in the throes of depression finding the strength and energy to be proactive isn’t easy. However, many people find that once they start taking positive steps to change a negative situation, their depression starts to lift. This is because being proactive is empowering and energizing, and it reinforces a sense of hope.
Regular exercise, yoga, relaxation techniques, and meditation are all very beneficial when it comes to managing stress and reducing the impact it has on your life.
Inadequate Support System
One of the potential symptoms of depression is the tendency to withdraw and isolate. But, being socially isolated or having a very limited social support system can also play a contributing role in depression.
The catch-22 is that, when you’re depressed, it’s especially difficult to pick yourself up off the couch and force yourself to interact with others socially. However, your relationships with others are what give you a sense of connection and belonging. They can also be a great source of emotional support.
If you’re currently isolated or pulling away, make it a point to meet with a friend or family member you enjoy at least once or twice a week. If you don’t have anyone, do something that will allow you to meet people, like getting involved in a “meet-up group” with people who have common interests, or doing volunteer work. One of the perks of volunteer work is that, when you help others in need, it buoys your spirit (by helping you feel valuable and useful), while keeping your mind – at least for a little while – off your own struggles.
Feeling helpless tends to foster hopelessness. If you feel you have no power to change a situation, it’s easy to get stuck in a sense of despair. Many people who struggle with depression have “learned” to perceive themselves as helpless, according to psychologist Martin Seligman. This learned helplessness makes it virtually impossible to feel motivated or optimistic.
Fortunately, what is learned can also be unlearned. As you learn to recognize the things in your life over which you do have some control, you’ll feel increasingly empowered and hopeful. This may take the help of a skilled therapist, but it will be time and money well spent.
Holding onto old (or recent) hurts, or harboring excessive guilt and self-loathing, only serves to fuel depressive symptoms. When you’re harboring a lot of anger, guilt, or resentment, it’s pretty difficult to feel good about anything, let alone see life in a remotely positive way. These powerful negative feelings are almost always accompanied by negative, angry self-talk, which only serves to fuel your depression. It’s impossible to feel worthy of anything good – including not being depressed – when you’re unwilling to forgive yourself or others.
Forgiveness is difficult for a lot of people, but doing so can relieve you of a tremendous emotional burden. Remember that forgiveness isn’t for the other person – it’s for you. When you forgive, you choose to let go of the pain, hurt and anger once and for all. Ultimately, you need to change the “story” you are telling yourself – the one that is keeping you stuck in the anger, guilt, and pain. Journaling and working with a therapist are two good ways to work through unresolved anger.
Irrational and Negative Thought Patterns
Dr. Aaron Beck, an American psychiatrist known for his pioneering work in cognitive therapy, noticed that people who are depressed typically think in very negative and irrational ways. These often deeply ingrained patterns –typically learned in childhood – constantly feed their depression.
Beck identified several “cognitive errors” that caused people to look at themselves, the world, and their future in a very negative – and distorted – way. Examples of errors include jumping to conclusions, all-or-nothing thinking, and catastrophizing.
Today, cognitive behavioral therapy is regarded as one of the most effective types of therapy for depression and anxiety. By learning to identify and change self-defeating patterns, depression can be alleviated and even overcome.
If you’re not able to work with a cognitive behavioral therapist, one of the things you can do is write down the negative thoughts that often cross your mind and then start to challenge those thoughts. For example, if you often find yourself saying “I always screw things up”, you would challenge that by writing down all the times you can recall that you didn’t screw up. At first you may think there aren’t any, but once you start digging, you’ll find them.
The five factors listed above are likely playing a role in your depression – at least to some degree. Unlike a genetic predisposition – which is something over which no one has any control – each of these factors is something you can change. Making changes will take work, effort, and time. A skilled therapist can certainly help you expedite the process, as well as give you guidance and valuable feedback along the way. But if therapy isn’t an option at this time, you can work on each of these areas on your own.
Depression doesn’t have to rob you of all the joys life has to offer. You deserve to be happy. Make a commitment to yourself to start making positive changes today, either on your own or with the help of a skilled mental health professional.
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