Significantly more than a low mood
Is it genetic or not?
It is certainly the case that depression can run in families, giving an increased genetic risk that somebody ‘might’ develop depression. But, like heart disease and cancer, this genetic link does not mean that you ‘will’ get it, and even if you do it doesn’t mean that it is ‘just in your genes’ and that there is nothing you can do about it.
Whilst depression can sometimes seem like it comes out of the blue, for no particular reason at all, it can often be a delayed reaction to difficult life events such as bereavement, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the severe illness of a loved one, constant work or family pressure etc. Very often, a number of these difficult life events have occurred over a prolonged period of time, eventually resulting in a cumulative build-up of stress, anxiety and low mood, which then creates the onset of depression.
As overwhelming and distressing as it is, depression is a human experience which involves you as a person, someone who has a history, a temperament, memories, emotions. In my view, depression should never be treated in a ‘one size fits all’ approach – treatment must be deeply personal to you. In many respects, depression can be seen as an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is wrong. Depression creates a change in our thinking – the mind is constantly ruminating on the negative, which in-turn results in changes in behaviour; we stop being as active, spending less time socialising or engaging in hobbies and interests. This means less pleasure in life and little to look forward to on a day to day basis, which preserves the low feelings. As a result, you feel even more lethargic, making it even more difficult to escape this vicious circle. In a nutshell, when people are depressed, they have a negative way of looking at themselves, the world and the future, creating a negative outlook on life. When you think about it, that is one clever condition, because it takes away the energy, belief, motivation and hope that you need to fight back and beat it!
Taking a toll on the body
Because depression is so extremely debilitating, it often affects not only your mood, but appetite, sleep, energy level, weight, memory, self-esteem, concentration and sex drive. The affects take their toll on mind and body making you feel exhausted and without hope. Depression disturbs not only how we think, but our immune system and, crucially, our sleep pattern. The result of the above is a series of chemical changes in the brain and body which can, and often should, initially be managed through medication. However, medication is a singular approach and treats the body. Depression is not a singular illness, and therefore takes more that a singular approach to alleviate it and keep it at bay. Whilst anti-depressants are often an important part of overall treatment, they are palliative, not a cure and when prescribed, should become a temporary part of a multi-faceted approach.
Rapid eye movement sleep
When depressed, the constantly ruminating thoughts create chemical changes in your body, making you feel anxious, angry or helpless. The brain then seeks to process these pent-up emotionally charged patterns at night in your dreams when you enter rapid eye movement sleep (REM). Because of the amount of ruminating, worrying and negative thought patterns that have built-up, your dream periods will be extended for far greater periods than normal.
Whilst dream sleep is essential to our mental health, it is not restorative sleep. This means that because of the amount of REM sleep experienced, the physically-rejuvenating slow wave restorative sleep has been drastically reduced, so you wake up feeling exhausted with reduced immune system functioning and lacking in concentration and motivation.
The fight back
Depressive illness, as well as being complex, is highly individual, but one thing that is common with depressed people is that they think in remarkably similar ways. Understanding what these thinking styles are and why they form a pattern, is a major factor in fighting back and beating depression. When looking more closely at what stops us overcoming our depression, it becomes clear that our behaviour, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations all interact and combine to keep our depression going. When you improve your negative thinking pattern, this will mean less REM dream sleep, and more rejuvenating slow wave sleep. As a result of these better sleep patterns, you start the day more rested, with more energy and motivation to begin the fight back to beat the depression.
Using a combined approach incorporating Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy, Counselling and CBT, you can undo the mental blockages that are preventing you from lifting yourself up. Once these are released you will sleep more soundly and can feel in control, creating a new motivation and desire for life.
I am a full-time psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and counsellor who has been providing psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, hypnosis, CBT and counselling in Horsham and Crawley for over a decade