Positive stress can be good for you- the temporary pressure you put yourself under to complete a task, the focus required to finish a job to a high standard etc. but when stress becomes long term, enduring and chronic (long-term) and does not go away, it can cause some chemical changes in the body-mind that could eventually develop into depression in some people. Everybody will experience some stressful events throughout the course of their life: maybe provoked by losing a loved one, a job loss, getting divorced, moving house or being involved in something unexpected.
Even positive stress such as getting married (will they say ‘I do’ at the alter), having a baby (will everything be okay, will we be prepared, will make a good mum/dad), buying a new house (will it complete on the date specified or what if it falls through), or going away on vacation (will we get through this traffic to catch the plane) can have negative repercussions potentially leading to an episode of depression. Some people are more resilient than others and perhaps do not have the coping mechanisms in place to prevent stress depression from developing.
It’s important to understand the mechanisms that prolonged stress can trigger and then to know what to do to prevent the onset of depression from occurring.
Acute stress relates to the primitive instinct known as the fear, flight fight response. When something makes us anxious or fearful, our bodies produce cortisol, a stress hormone. This helps us feel alert, and ready for action. Yet when the stress is ongoing, cortisol can make us feel anxious, and it can lower dopamine and serotonin levels. Both these hormones are involved in helping us feel happy and relaxed.
Part of the problem lies in unhealthy coping mechanisms that many people use to get through a stressful time. For example, because they do not feel so great, they no longer wish to go out and socialise. That makes them feel isolated. To cope with the isolation they may watch too much TV or may start drinking or smoking too much.
Then they feel badly about themselves and the negative thoughts they are having about themselves make them feel even worse. So they drink, or eat, or smoke even more. The downward spiral towards major depression has begun and the snowball effect is set in motion.
Recognising when you are starting to drop your healthy coping habits and starting to use unhealthy habits to manage your stress is key in preventing a depressive episode from occurring.
Here are some things to watch for:
• Comfort eating
• Finding excuses not to go out, or exercise
• Turning to drugs,alcohol or cigarettes as a crutch to help you manage uncomfortable feelings
• Your sleep is disrupted
• You feel irritable
• You find it hard to concentrate
Before things spiral down even more, now is the time to build yourself up.
• Make an extra effort to reach out to friends and connect with others. Make it a goal to contact and catch up with one friend a night. Feeling socially connected can help elevate your mood. This might even be sending a message on social media
• Avoid junk foods and fizzy sugary drinks. You will keep your mood stable and help build immunity by avoiding sugars and carbohydrates.
• Identify Your Stress – It is very important to understand your own stress responses, this means understanding how exactly stress affects you and also what causes you stress. Use this information to tailor your life to avoid stress as much as possible. Keeping a journal is a good way to identify what stresses you out, and remember that these things can vary based on other criteria like your fatigue level. When you learn to manage stress, you will greatly improve your mental health and arm yourself against depression.
• Manage Your Time – Time manage is a skill that eludes many as we are caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Becoming overwhelmed without any structure or direction can easily lead to a lack of time for relaxation and self-care, which can lead to depression. Take the time to consider this in order to better manage stress and reduce your risks for depression.
• Think Positively – Reward yourself when you are successful and try not to dwell on failures. Accept that everyone, including you, has limits and cannot succeed at everything. Instead of allowing your mind to be consumed by the things you struggle with, focus on the things you do well.
• Cut out drugs,alcohol and cigarettes completely if you can. You will live longer and feel better!
• Send yourself love and compassion. Be very gentle with yourself and treat yourself to some healthy feel-good activity like getting a massage or going to a yoga class.
• Make sure you are exercising and getting plenty of fresh air.
• A walk in nature can be very beneficial.
• Having a therapist and regular counselling sessions can be very helpful, too.
• Meditation and relaxation are important
• Getting daily hugs, finding something to laugh about, practicing gratitude, and focusing on positive thoughts have all been found to be beneficial in maintaining a positive outlook, staying happy, reducing stress, and preventing depression.
At Citizen Counselling and Coaching a number of our counsellors and coaches can provide support around depression and low mood. This can include identifying the obstacles overcoming depression, creating practical plans and advice through sharing techniques and models that have worked for others.
Our ‘My Overcoming Depression Coach’ online programme and Coaching were designed for time poor busy people looking to increase their confidence and make a positive change in their lives.
Our Overcoming Depression page can explain more.