If you feel depressed, you aren't alone. In any given year, 6.7 percent of the U.S. population lives with Major Depressive Disorder, the leading cause of working-age disability in the U.S. And 1.5 percent of the U.S. population experiences Persistent Depressive Disorder, which lasts more than two years. To top that off, almost one-half of people who have diagnosable depression also have an anxiety disorder.
Despite these staggering statistics, nobody wants to talk about depression. Among the general population, depression itself is a stigma, carrying with it a myriad of negative connotations. People who are depressed are often portrayed as lazy, sad, and apathetic-as if they have chosen to be depressed. But depression is not something that anyone would choose; it has a biological basis and can cause a wide range of debilitating symptoms, including psychosomatic disorders like unexplained physical pain. In short, if you wonder what depression feels like, it feels completely horrible — physically and mentally.
1. Physical and Emotional Numbness: While people with anxiety feel overstimulated and experience sensory overload, people with depression feel physically and emotionally numb. Very little excites them. Most people with depression have come to expect bad things to happen, so it doesn't surprise them when bad things do happen. They tend to feel worthless. They have "turned off" their physical and emotional sensors to protect themselves from future pain.
2. Apathy: Because people with depression have subconsciously turned off physical and emotional sensors, they become apathetic. They know the world continues to turn without them, and they expect nothing less, becoming passive, marginalized members of society. Their apparent lack of concern can baffle family and friends, who want them to simply "snap out of it." But it's not possible to just snap out of depression; depression is a serious disorder caused by a biological imbalance.
3. Intense Brain Fog: People with depression often speak slowly, passionlessly, and with many pauses because their brain function is less than optimal. Brain fog is a level of consciousness that is milder than delirium, but still very noticeable. It is an all-too-common byproduct of our fast-paced lifestyle. It contributes to a lack of focus, memory, and mental clarity.
4. Emptiness and Worthlessness: People with depression lack motivation and don't set goals because they feel as though their lives are empty and worthless. Depression is a vicious cycle, because without motivation and goals, it is virtually impossible to overcome depression. According to Elizabeth Wurtzel in Prozac Nation, "A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to ever see the end." Be sure to remember this feeling depressed quote the next time you feel down.
5. Fatigue and Insomnia: No matter how much people with depression sleep, they continue to feel lethargic. And because they are so troubled by feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, and anxiety, they may not be able to sleep in the first place. A frustrating cycle of insomnia and fatigue is characteristic of depression.
6. Painful: Chronic depression is often responsible for mysterious physical symptoms, such as chronic pain. In fact, the painful condition of Fibromyalgia, which as of yet has no clear-cut cause, often accompanies depression.
7. Anger/Irritability: Depression itself is extremely frustrating and challenging to overcome-not to mention that life situations surrounding depression can be stressful and anger-inducing. So it is no surprise that anger and irritability-in the form of mood swings-commonly accompany depression. In severe cases, these "mood swings" are actually the two poles of bipolar depression-mania and depression.
What causes depression?
So why exactly do you feel depressed? That is, what triggers depression? What can cause you to experience a "depression attack"? If you feel depressed, there is a plethora of lifestyle, biological, and genetic factors that may be at work, including:
1. Past Trauma/Abuse: According to Psychopharmacologist Candace Pert, humans store unresolved trauma in their very cells and tissue-causing physical and mental imbalances. Childhood trauma is especially pernicious because children's brains are not fully developed. Studies have shown that adults who experienced trauma during the "sensitive period" of childhood have higher levels of bodily inflammation and a greater risk of depression than their peers who did not experience childhood trauma.
2. Negative Self-Talk: Humans tend to be more critical of themselves than they are of their friends. Whereas you might forgive your friend for showing up ten minutes late to an important meeting, you beat yourself up for the same mistake. But over time, all of this negative self-talk has extreme consequences, including depression. Studies show that 1 negative thought weighs the same as 5.6 positive thoughts. That is, you must pay yourself 5.6 compliments to overcome one critique. People who learn to be their own best friend are much more physically and mentally healthy.
3. Disconnection/Isolation: People who are disconnected from themselves, others, the environment, or a Higher Power are more likely to experience depression. On the other hand, people who have a strong support system are able to maintain a healthy outlook through thick and thin.
4. Grief/Bereavement: If you face issues of life and death on your own, you may become depressed. Instead, seek professional help (i.e., an online counselor) when you or a loved one is facing the prospect of death.
5. Genetics: Although researchers have not yet isolated a specific "depression" gene or combination of genes, there is likely a complex phenotype that underlies depression susceptibility. But even people who have this genetic predisposition are not doomed to depression. An interplay of genetic and environmental factors triggers the onset of depression.
6. Hormonal Imbalance: Hormonal imbalance, particularly a chronic lack of dopamine or a constant flood of stress hormones, can cause depression because hormones communicate with both the brain and body.
7. Neurotransmitter Imbalance: Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers within the brain. Dopamine and serotonin, the "feel good" chemicals, are considered to be both neurotransmitters and hormones (or neurohormones). Imbalances cause depression.
8. Medications: All supplements and medications, whether natural or synthetic, affect metabolic processes. Particularly the combination of medicines can have unintended physical and mental consequences. Be sure to consult with your doctor about potential side effects of medication.
9. Stress: Being overwhelmed by environmental stressors (or even imagined anxieties) can eventually lead to depression. If you feel like you can never get a handle on stress despite your best efforts, you may become apathetic and depressed.
10. Microbiome: Researchers have found that the gut-brain axis, and in particular the balance between good and bad bacteria in your intestines, is linked to the incidence of depression. This is why good nutrition is so important to both physical and mental health.
1. Develop Emotional Intelligence: To overcome depression, you must connect with others on a deep level and build your support system. To do this, work to develop Emotional Intelligence or the ability to identify and control your own emotions and recognize and respond to the emotions of others.
2. Find the Silver Lining: Life is full of little surprises. The next time you are surprised by life, try to focus on the potential positives rather than the looming negatives. The most resilient people know how to perform mental gyrations to flip the bad into something good.
3. Get Outside: Vitamin D from the sun does wonders for your mental health-not to mention the boost it provides your immune system. And, you will reap the psychological benefits of breathing in the fresh air and grounding yourself in your environment.
4. Exercise, Eat Well, and Practice Self-Care: Just 20 minutes of exercise reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. And you don't even have to go to the gym to exercise; you can just walk out your front door. A regular self-care regimen that includes exercise, nutrition, and stress-reduction techniques is vital to mental health.
5. Practice Mindfulness; Stop Ruminating: Instead of dwelling in the past or future, spend time in the present. Fully engaging in the present moment reduces feelings of depression and increases overall life satisfaction.
6. Take Back Control of Your Mind: Don't let negative thoughts control your life; take control of your mental environment by intentionally praising yourself and celebrating positives.
7. Combat Evolutionary Psychology Tendencies: The human mind tends to resist change. This tendency has an evolutionary basis. But it isn't set in stone. You can take steps to increase adaptability and respond openly to life's challenges. For instance, keep a journal of life's challenges and how you eventually overcome them. Moving forward, you can always reference this record to boost your confidence and positivity.
8. Visit a Doctor or Psychiatrist: When you are feeling depressed, visit a doctor or psychiatrist to be sure that the culprit is not your current medication(s). Pharmaceuticals and supplements can have unpredictable mental and physical side effects, especially when combined.
9. Adopt a Furry Friend: The simple act of petting a dog or cat reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. There's a reason why dogs are called man's best friend!
10. Schedule an Appointment with an Online Counselor: If you are wondering what to do when you feel depressed, your first priority should be to see an online counselor. That's right-you can seek professional help from the comfort of your own home. So when you feel depressed and don't feel like leaving the house, let an online counselor teach you how to stop being depressed. They will understand how depression feels, and will empathetically listen to your struggle. With the help of online therapy, you can overcome feelings of depression!