Depression is a common mental health disorder that negatively impacts the way you feel, how you act, or what you think. It can range in severity and cause a number of side effects to develop that can negatively impact a person’s overall quality of life. In addition to losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, depression can leave people struggling with a myriad of symptoms including:
- Feeling sad or empty
- Loss of energy
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in eating habits
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling suicidal or having suicidal thoughts
Symptoms of depression can overlap with feelings of sadness, making it difficult for some to tell the difference. In general, the difference between depression and sadness lies in the duration of symptoms. Symptoms that persist longer than two weeks may indicate that depression is present. With a medical exam and diagnosis, identifying the presence of this mental health disorder is the first step in treating it.
Is it Depression or Sadness?
Everyone experiences moments that leave them feeling sad or grieving. It is a natural response to major life events, like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. These experiences are unique to everyone and many people will struggle with symptoms that may resemble depression. It is normal for these symptoms to endure, but there are significant differences between the two.
- Unlike feeling sadness or experiencing grief, depression can persist for a significant period of time and lead to a number of physical and emotional problems.
- Grief and sadness can come and go in waves and these feelings often experienced with some positive thoughts as well.
- Self-worth and confidence typically do not decline with feelings of sadness or grief. In depression, self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness are common.
Depression does not discriminate and can affect anyone, but there are a number of risk factors that can increase the likelihood of its development. These include:
- Genetics: Mental health conditions can run in families. Having blood relatives who struggle with depression can make you more likely to develop the condition as well.
- Brain chemistry: Chemical imbalances in the brain may increase the risk of development.
- Personality traits: Some personality traits can make a person more likely to develop depression. Being pessimistic, easily overwhelmed by stress, or having low self-esteem can increase the risk of depression developing.
- Environmental factors: Some environmental factors can increase the likelihood of depression developing. Experiencing neglect, abuse, or poverty can all play a role.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Depression
Depression is one of the most treatable mental health conditions with a variety of treatment options available. While there is not necessarily a cure for the disorder, many people are able to achieve varying degrees of relief from symptoms. Everyone responds differently to treatment, but in general, many people benefit from a combination of therapy and medication. In addition to this, lifestyle changes can also improve outcomes.
One of the most recommended methods of managing depression is exercising. Exercise is by no means a cure for depression, but it can be a valuable tool in managing symptoms. Even if those with genetic predispositions, higher levels of activity helped reduce the overall risk for the development of depression. Both high-intensity activities, such as dancing and aerobics, and low-intensity activities, such as yoga and stretching, were found to be impactful and could play a role in neutralizing symptoms in even the most high-risk people.
When struggling with depression, exercise may be the furthest thing from a person’s mind, but once activity begins, the benefits can be found soon after. Regular exercise can improve a number of health problems and provides numerous psychological and emotional benefits as well. Some of the known benefits of regular exercise include:
- Providing a healthy coping mechanism: Managing difficult emotions can be hard and it is easy to turn to substance abuse or other negative behaviors as a form of self-medication. Exercising is a positive outlet that can help you cope with difficult emotions rather than allowing them to worsen.
- Increased social interactions: Depression can leave many people feeling isolated or alone. Exercising provides an opportunity to get out and meet new people. Spending time with others who share similar interests can reduce feelings of loneliness and improve mood.
- Improved confidence and self-worth: Exercising regularly will have a positive impact on your physical health as well. Setting goals or challenges for yourself can be great motivator while getting in shape. Feeling better about your physical health and appearance can reduce feelings of depression.
In addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, improving sleep, and lowering blood pressure, exercise is known to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are naturally-occurring in the body and can boost mood. Over time, the release of endorphins can encourage the development of new nerve cells and connections in the brain. This overall improvement in brain function improves the brain’s ability to regulate mood, thereby relieving symptoms of depression.
Staying Motivated to Exercise
For many people, the term “exercise” makes them think of lifting weights, running laps, or spending time in the gym; however, exercise can take many forms. While these exercises will certainly have benefits, there are a number of activities that can provide the same physical and mental benefits. Dancing, going for walks, swimming, and any other activity that get you up and moving can help you feel better.
For many, staying motivated to exercise long-term can be difficult and attempting to do too much early on can deter some from sticking with it. Instead of trying to take on too much too soon, focusing on slowly integrating activity throughout your day can make the transition easier. Some ways you can help motivate yourself include:
- Find things you enjoy: Maintaining a routine long-term can be hard, especially if you do not particularly enjoy what you are doing. Try to find physical activities you enjoy to increase your motivation. This can make exercise feel less like a chore and more like a fun outlet with some additional benefits.
- Set goals: Everyone’s journey is different and setting reasonable goals for yourself can help you stay on track. Set small, obtainable goals early on and continue expanding on them as you figure out what works for you and what does not. These achievements can motivate you to continue moving forward. Setting unrealistic goals will discourage you and may make it difficult to stay on track.
- Spend some time reflecting: Being introspective and honest with yourself can help you make progress. Identifying what your challenges or barriers are can help you think realistically about what you can do to overcome them. Common barriers many people struggle with is feeling self-conscious or unmotivated to work out. You may consider ways to address these challenges like working out at home or find a workout buddy to keep you on track.
- Be realistic: Life can challenge us and there is always the possibility of setbacks or obstacles getting in our way. Be prepared for these and understand that a minor setback does not equal failure. If you are unable to stick to your routine, do not take it as a sign to give up. Instead, readjust and find what works for you. It is important to not give up at the first sign of trouble.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, allow Nexus Recovery to help. In some cases, depression has turned into self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. We’re here to provide you with depression and substance abuse treatment to help you recover. Contact us today for a consultation and to learn more.