Stress causes the same inflammatory response in the brain as an infection. Based on what we experience, our mind/brain and nervous system interact with the immune system in the gut and liver in a continuous connection. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the study of the bi-directional pathway between the brain, the body and the immune system.
Indeed, what we experience – how safe we feel, what we eat and how we move – has much more to do with our mental wellbeing than previously thought. Genetics is no longer solely or even likely to be responsible for depression
Most of us have experienced an upset stomach before an interview. Our mind conveys distress in the body in the same way it would if we were about to be attacked by a lion. After the interview (or threat) is over, feeling drained, fragile and mentally foggy is similar to how it feels to have depression. Meditation, yoga and other mindful activities that regulate breathing can often restore the feeling of wellbeing.
Depressed or simply a normal human response to an experience?
Feeling incredibly sad is a completely reasonable response to a negative experience – and it sucks. Understandably, you could feel depressed if, for example, you are grieving the loss of someone close to you, have failed to achieve a career objective or ended a relationship. Misery creeps with a wet blanket, black cloud and bitter pill for any occasion.
Surviving disappointing even devastating life events requires time and emotional support. These tools help with the recovery from feelings of distress, loss or fragility so we can get on with the business of living. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a holiday, a big night out or some retail therapy will be the quick fix you need to make you feel better. Improvement may be slow – patience and self-care will help then slowly we begin to heal.
Alternatively, some problems may become overwhelming as more negative situations continue to occur. Some signs not to be ignored are:
- having no motivation to get better
- not knowing where to start
- not being able to remember what it’s like to be happy
- not caring about things that were previously important to you
These are symptoms of clinical depression, so if this sounds true for you it’s important that you seek advice from a mental health professional or your GP.
In many cases, however, you can manage your misery by doing things that help you feel better sooner, and they cost little or nothing. Consider your physical condition and the level of stress you are experiencing before you or your health professional decide medication is necessary. A serious review of your diet and lifestyle may be a safer, effective solution. This may take some preparation and commitment but carries with it rewards you might never have even thought of! We can’t always control what happens around us, but we can choose to exercise, eat well, meditate or keep a journal. This enables us to become empowered and take control of our physical and mental health.
So next time you find yourself on the couch with the flu, a box of tissues, watching sad movies, remember your immune system is not only working hard so you can recover but it is also adjusting your brain chemistry so that you have no choice but to rest.
To learn more on this topic, I suggest reading this article from The Age, to get an improved understanding of depression; how to avoid it and simple things you can do to manage the symptoms.
***If you are currently taking medication please consult your doctor before you consider any changes.