Depressed? Try Reducing Your Stress!

Most stress comes and goes, but sometimes it sticks around instead. Unfortunately, unmanaged chronic stress can have a variety of negative health effects, including inducing or exacerbating depression.

The Depression-Stress Connection

Stress hormones can disrupt the function of other bodily systems. For example, they may interfere with the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects feelings of happiness. Although scientists do not yet fully understand the serotonin-depression connection, serotonin levels may play a role in depression.

In the American Psychological Association’s 2011 report Stress in America, survey participants with depression reported higher stress levels than the general population. Additionally, while 21 percent of the general population claimed that they don’t manage stress well, that figure jumped to 33 percent for those with depression.

Check Your Thoughts

A 2011 study from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that early personal loss or instances of depression can make people more susceptible to stress-induced depression later in life. This may be related to negative thought patterns that developed during those early events, through which the person may have developed a skewed view of the world or of himself.

The researchers observed that learning to think differently helps affected individuals tackle the stress-depression cycle. They recommended that people practice analyzing a situation objectively before reacting emotionally. This allows space for generating thoughts based in reality, rather than in negative self-talk. Breaking the cycle of negative thinking takes practice, but doing so can help reduce the effects of stress-related depression triggers.

Reduce Your Stress

In addition to practicing new thinking techniques, there are other steps that can help reduce stress, which will often help alleviate depression symptoms.

  • Establish a good sleep routine. Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but many don’t get that much. Unfortunately, stress and sleep can be a vicious cycle; stress makes it hard to sleep, and lack of sleep exacerbates stress. Establishing a routine can help break the cycle. Avoid the television and computer before bed, and keep the bedroom dark and quiet.

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise produces endorphins. Even a short walk can boost mood and promote relaxation. In fact, exercise is so important to stress and mood management that studies have shown that people who regularly participate in vigorous exercise are 25 percent less likely to develop a mood disorder. This may be because physical activity helps the brain regulate stress.

  • Reduce your commitments. A too-full schedule is a common source of stress. Removing some commitments is often a quick way to begin tackling stress. The trick is to establish priorities and cut out the non-essential commitments that don’t align with those priorities.

  • Keep a stress journal. Everyone’s stress triggers are different, but learning to recognize them is key to managing them. A journal is a place to record when stressful moments occur, the circumstances surrounding them, the feelings they caused and how they were handled. Patterns may begin to emerge that can suggest beneficial life adjustments to make, and the journal may also provide useful information for health care providers.

  • Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation does not always come naturally, but there are techniques that can help. Practicing yoga, meditation or deep breathing helps alleviate the symptoms of stress.

  • Ask for help. Sometimes stress management is too much of a challenge for someone to work through alone. Thankfully, mental health professionals are experienced at helping patients both manage stress and mood disorders. Also, stress support groups help their members learn to deal with stress and its effects together.