Why You May Be Feeling Depressed

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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If you feel depressed, you aren't alone. In any given year, 6.7% of the U.S. population lives with Major Depressive Disorder, the leading cause of working-age disability in the U.S., And 1.5% 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 seems to want 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 could or would choose; it has a biological basis and can cause a wide range of debilitating symptoms, including psychosomatic disorders like unexplained physical pain. 

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Struggling with symptoms of depression?

What depression feels like

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 happen. They tend to feel worthless

Because people with depression have subconsciously turned off physical and emotional sensors, they may also become apathetic. Their apparent lack of concern can baffle family and friends, who want them to "snap out of it." But it's impossible to snap out of depression; depression is a severe disorder caused by a biological imbalance. 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 milder than delirium but still very noticeable. It is an all-too-common by-product of our fast-paced lifestyle. It contributes to a lack of focus, memory, and mental clarity.

They may also experience a lack of motivation and stop setting goals because they sense that their lives are empty and worthless. Depression is a vicious cycle because, without cause and purpose, 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 compounds daily that it's impossible to see the end." It might be helpful to remember this quote the next time you or a loved one feels down.

No matter how much people with depression sleep, they may feel lethargic. And because they are so troubled by 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. Chronic depression is often also responsible for mysterious physical symptoms, such as chronic pain. The painful condition of fibromyalgia, which has no clear-cut cause, often accompanies depression.

Depression itself is highly 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 the two poles of bipolar disorder—mania and depression.

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Causes of 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 the following.

Past trauma and abuse

According to Psychopharmacologist Candace Pert, humans store unresolved trauma in their 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.

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 one negative thought weighs the same as more than five positive thoughts. That is, you must pay yourself 5.6 compliments to overcome one critique. People who learn to be their best friends are much more physically and mentally healthy.

Disconnection and 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 robust support system can maintain a healthy outlook through thick and thin.

Grief and bereavement

If you face life and death alone, you may become depressed. Instead, seek professional help (i.e., an online counselor) when you or a loved one is facing the end of life.

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.

Physical imbalances

Hormonal imbalance, particularly a chronic lack of dopamine or a constant flood of stress hormones, can cause depression because hormones communicate with the brain and body.

Neurotransmitters may also play a role. These are chemical messengers within the brain. Dopamine and serotonin, the "feel good" chemicals, are neurotransmitters and hormones (or neurohormones). Imbalances cause depression.

Researchers have also found that the gut-brain axis, particularly the balance between good and bad bacteria in your intestines, is linked to depression. This is why good nutrition is so crucial to both physical and mental health.

Medications

All supplements and medications, whether natural or synthetic, affect metabolic processes. Combinations of medicines can have unintended physical and mental consequences. Be sure to consult with your doctor about the potential side effects of medication.

Stress

Being overwhelmed by environmental stressors (or even imagined anxieties) can lead to depression. If you perceive that you can never handle stress despite your best efforts, you may become apathetic and depressed.

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Struggling with symptoms of depression?

How to recover from depression

While recovery from the symptoms of depression can take a significant amount of time and dedication, it is possible. Here are some of the elements of recovery from depression that you may consider.

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.

Exercise, eat well, and practice self-care

Just 20 minutes of exercise reduces feelings of anxiety and depression. You don't even have to go to the gym to exercise; you can walk out your front door. A regular self-care regimen that includes exercise, nutrition, and stress-reduction techniques is vital to mental health.

Practice mindfulness

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. Don't let negative thoughts control your life; take control of your mental environment by intentionally praising yourself and celebrating the positives.

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 increase adaptability and respond openly to life's challenges. For instance, keep a journal of your challenges and how you overcame them. Moving forward, you can always reference this record to boost your confidence and positivity.

Visit a doctor or psychiatrist

It's important to seek help when depression feels normal, as it can lead to a dangerous cycle of negative thoughts and behaviors. When you are depressed, visit a doctor or psychiatrist to ensure the culprit is not your current medication(s). Pharmaceuticals and supplements can have unpredictable mental and physical side effects, especially combined.

Visit a therapist

If you are wondering what to do when you feel depressed, your priority should be to see a counselor, perhaps online. You can seek professional help from the comfort of your own home through online therapy, which has been proven to be successful in treating depression. 

Online therapy can be a cost-effective solution to mental health treatment. A therapist can help you understand how depression feels and will empathetically listen to you to help you overcome these feelings.

Takeaway

Depression is a complex and life-altering condition that can arise from a wide array of sources from the physical to the emotional, and can be debilitating. But depression is not incurable and it is not hopeless; there are things you can do to regain control of your mental health and live a happy, fulfilling life. With the methods outlined above and the help of online therapy, you can overcome depression and get back to living your life.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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