Everyone goes through periods of deep sadness and grief. For most, these feelings gradually fade away within a few days or weeks. However, prolonged periods of profound sadness that affects your ability to function, may be a sign of depression. There are different levels of severity and it can vary from person to person. 1 in 10 people experience depression in any given year, yet depression is widely misunderstood. Triggers for depression can be any negative experience or hardship. Triggers can be external, internal, or invisible.
Depression is associated with the number of stressors you are experiencing. The more stressors the greater the likelihood of being depressed. The most common triggers are:
- Loss – the loss of a loved one through death or divorce, the loss of a job, or the loss of health due to a chronic illness.
- Loneliness – this is most prevalent in the elderly but is not limited to this demographic. It is possible to be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. Not connecting with the right friends, lack of a community that accepts you, superficial connections, or friends that do not share the same value can all lead to feeling lonely.
There are silent, seemingly invisible triggers. What you believe about yourself, your basic beliefs about life, love, and work can be triggers for depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is highly effective at unearthing and exploring what can many times be problematic views.
These are the things that most of us think of when we think about depression. So today, I want to talk to you about 10 causes of depression that you may not always think about. After we talk about them, I will share some things you can do to combat their effects.
1. Feeling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Seasonal Affective Disorder is depression that some people feel due to the changes in the weather. Most often it affects people in areas with long winters, where they do not see the sun for long periods. The lack of vitamin D can cause them to feel depressed. What you may not realize is that this can affect you even if you do not live in a very cold climate. Why? For most, it is chronic allergies. As with a chronic illness, the stress of managing chronic allergies can make you feel drained, depleted, and depressed. Most depression stems from stressors in your life and prolonged allergies can be one.
2. The Butterfly Gland
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in your neck. If it does not produce enough thyroid hormone – a condition called hyperthyroidism – this can lead to depression. Why? Because while this hormone is multifunctional, one of its primary roles is as a neurotransmitter to regulate serotonin levels in the brain. If you experience new depression symptoms—particularly along with cold sensitivity, constipation, and fatigue—a thyroid test couldn’t hurt. Contact your healthcare provider.
3. Poor Sleep Habits
Most of us get cranky and irritable from time to time when we don’t get enough sleep. A prolonged pattern of this can lead to depression. Sleep is necessary. Sleep is the time at which you replenish your brain cells. When you do not get enough sleep, you short circuit this process, and your brain stops functioning as well.
In this digital day and age, this one is huge! Do you find yourself spending too much time scrolling on social media, Zoom chats, or going down the YouTube rabbit hole? You’re not alone. Studies now show that this behavior can lead to depression – mostly in teenagers and young adults, yes – but also in all of us that spend way too much time on the internet. Social media addicts may have an unrealistic view of the real world and struggle with real-world social interactions (also read the blog on Unrealistic Expectations Here ) Comparing oneself to someone else’s life on Facebook, being envious of someone else’s online clout (likes, followers, verified status), staying connected with exe’s and poor influences from the past – all of these cause you to look at your own life and become dissatisfied which leads to depression.
The end of something major – the end of a season, the end of a or marriage, a relocation, the end of raising children – major life events can lead to depression. It is the profound sense of loss that you feel that can lead to feeling depressed. Especially with something like marriage! In marriage, you invest the bulk of your time, energy, and effort into that person. You live together, dream about the future together, your finances are often intertwined together and when this, the most significant relationship in your life ends, the loss can be very traumatic. You undoubtedly will grieve the loss of the relationship. Depression is part of the grieving process, so you are not alone and it is completely normal. If you find your feelings of grief or depression overwhelming, be sure to reach out to your doctor or mental health provider. Support is so key after a major loss.
6. You live where?
There has always been debate about where the best place to live is. Be it a country, state, city, or even town vs country. Whichever your personal preference, studies have shown that those living in urban cities are significantly more prone to experiencing depression. Especially in disadvantaged communities within cities. There is generally more stress from traffic, people, and the pressure to keep and maintain a job, all while taking care of children and all kinds of other responsibilities. These higher levels of stress lead to low moods, emotional distress, and mental health issues of all kinds – including depression.
7. Decision Fatigue
Here is something most of us don’t think about: Decision fatigue can lead to depression.
Daily we are bombarded with choices – android or Apple and which exact model. Organic or GMO what is better and what organic brands are actually good for you. PC or Mac and once you pick that, you have to decide which make/model has the features you need.
Netflix or Hulu – which has the best shows and which will you enjoy the most?
Which cell phone provider is the best?
Which insurance company do I go with?
It may not seem obvious but day in and day out as we sort through these decisions we feel stress and pressure to make the right decision out of the thousands we are offered. Over time this stress leads to decision fatigue which can lead to depression. This is not a cause of depression we think about a lot but #FirstWorldProblems
8. Something is Fishy
Do you get enough Omega 3 fatty acids? There has been a lot of talk about these over the last 5 years. Omega 3 fatty acids can be found in Salmon and vegetable oils and they regulate neurotransmitters like Serotonin. A lack or imbalance of serotonin can lead to depression. Taking fish oil supplements or adding more fish to your diet is one way to beat the blues.
9. Unhealthy Relationships
We touched on it in the introduction to this blog post that poor or negative relationships can lead to depression. We all have a desire to feel needed, wanted, and accepted and we often look to get these feelings from the people closest to us – a close friend, family or our spouse/significant other. If we do not feel like we are supported and loved by the people that matter most to us, this can lead to depression. Prolonged tension in any relationship, such as abuse – verbal, emotional, physical, financial, or otherwise, reduces our self-esteem which in turn causes us to feel depressed.
10. What’s in your medicine cabinet
A lot of RX medications list depression as a possible side effect. Depression is a possible side effect for anxiety and insomnia drugs, including Valium and Xanax; Lopressor, prescribed to treat high blood pressure; cholesterol-lowering drugs including Lipitor; and Premarin for menopausal symptoms. Also, some acne medications list depression as a possible side effect. Be sure you are reading or asking your healthcare provider about the side effects of your medications.
Alright, so that is a list of 10 possible causes of depression. Did any of them jump out at you?
Next, I will give you some tips and strategies of things you can do to ease your depression symptoms.
1. Get a Medical Check-Up
Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. If your finances and/or your insurance allow it, I strongly recommend going to a Holistic or Naturopathic doctor. These doctors look at your health as a whole – mental, emotional, physical, lifestyle – and not just the symptoms you present with. They can run tests, make recommendations, and suggestions with the goal of overall health and wellbeing. They can assist with medical interventions – medicines and supplements, but also with lifestyle changes – sleep, exercise, and eating habits. They can determine if you have a hormonal imbalance, a vitamin deficiency, or some other underlying concerns.
Some of these changes you can begin making today:
- Start adding more nutrient rich, whole foods to your diet.
- Incorporate more fruits and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Get 8 hours of sleep at night.
- Exercise – walk, skate, play basketball, swim, throw a frisbee with friends or your kids, garden – find activities you enjoy that keep you moving.
2. Get Social
Find, grow, and nurture relationships that fulfill you. Connect with like-minded people that share the same interests and values as you. Find hobbies or group activities where you feel accepted for who you truly are not the fake persona you sometimes have to adapt to get through a workday. In this digital age it can be easy to find superficial connections online, so be discerning about who you talk to and what you share, but also, make some good friends and connections in the real world. This will keep you grounded in reality and keep you focused on all the good things you do have and stop looking at everyone else and focusing on what you think you don’t have.
Connect to your values and the things that are most important to you and then go about actively looking for meaningful, fulfilling, and rewarding relationships.
3. Be Mindful and Grateful
It’s easy to highlight what’s negative and lose sight of what is good in your life. So start practicing setting your intentions on tracking all the blessings. Make a list of all the good, great, and fabulous things you have going for you. Be intentional about looking for moments of gratitude sprinkled throughout your day. Write out your goals and map out a path to get there and learn to appreciate the journey along the way.
4. Deal with underlying trauma, negative experiences and beliefs.
You do not need to keep suffering and you can stop the replay of the past. Past negative experiences and trauma, unfortunately, cannot just be swept under the rug. Instead, find a safe, trusted person that you can talk through your thoughts and feelings about your experiences with. Mental health providers are trained to not only listen but to equip you with tools, exercises, and strategies to help you sort through your thoughts and feelings in a way that empowers you to keep moving forward. If you suppress the thoughts and feelings you have about past negative experiences, it can manifest in other unhealthy ways. Substance abuse, sabotaging relationships, weight changes, and even physical ailments. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective, research-based approach to dealing with your past. It can be difficult and challenging, so be sure to pick a therapist you can trust who is invested in your healing.
There are levels of severity of depression. Not all depression is clinical but all depression is real. While clinical depression refers to a prolonged, severe form of depression, things like loss, a chronic condition, relationship trouble, lack of connection, poor eating habits, society pressures, and stress can all lead to temporary bouts of depression.
Carmen Riley is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Virginia and the District of Columbia. She is the owner of Zion Restoration Counseling Services, a group practice in Fairfax Virginia that specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, relationship issues and trauma. To learn more or if you would like to make an appointment check her group website at ZRCounselingservices.com to schedule an appointment.