Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance, a well-known fact in the medical and therapeutic community.
But there are some surprising reasons for depression that you might not be aware of.
I certainly wasn’t until I found myself feeling depressed some months ago and didn’t know why.
Suddenly it felt like I just lost the spark in my life. Like someone had just put out my fire. And I had no idea why.
I sat with a friend and suddenly it all started to make sense. I had met someone I liked but he didn’t feel the same way about me. At the same time, work was extremely hectic. On top of my normal day job, I had published my book and was burning the candle at all ends trying to market it.
Then I took a trip to South Africa to visit my folks and I think when my body felt the sun, it just collapsed into the sun chair and told me not to get up again.
I slept a lot. I needed it.
If you ask me, I don’t work nearly as hard as many people I know. And whilst I love to ride my bicycle, I don’t exactly kill myself to do it.
I have friends who run businesses. And marathons. And have kids. All at the same time.
So when I compare myself to them, I just think what’s wrong with you?
But comparison is the thief of joy. And it definitely doesn’t help you when you’re not feeling on top of your game.
Back to my sun deck, I turned to chocolate and all my favourite pastries to keep my spirits up. Little did I know that it was probably doing the opposite.
When a few weeks later I still wasn’t feeling any better, I decided to do a little research into my own un-wellbeing. Here’s what I found.
And PS for the record I’m no medical expert nor a qualified mental health professional. I simply narrowed down what was happening at the time.
The 3 surprising causes of depression
You don’t have to search for a study to understand this one. Burnout is composed into three dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of professional efficacy. This may result in a lack of self-esteem which begins to affect personal wellbeing on a prolonged level.
Lack of movement
Exercise helps take the edge off and provides an outlet for us to release negative emotions, explains psychologist Yvonne Thomas, PhD.
But did you know exercise can also maintain mitochondrial function, which is important to your brain’s neurons, since mitochondria make about a third of the energy your brain uses, and it can improve neuroplasticity, the ability of your neurons to grow and reconnect.
A new study, by researchers from the University of South Australia, found that exercise, particularly high-intensity exercise, was more effective at managing symptoms of depression and anxiety than standard treatments.
And if you’ve ever ridden a bicycle or done a zumba class or gone to boxing, you’ll know exercise is one of the biggest antidotes to depression.
“Exercise is one of the most transformative things that humans can do for their own physical and mental well-being. Regular physical activity is associated with a multitude of health benefits, from the prevention and the management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) to reducing the risk of developing several cancers and reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety.” – International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
35 minutes a day of physical activity may protect against depression, even in the genetically vulnerable according to Harvard.
The kind of food you eat
You know those people who eat because they need to live? That’s not me.
I love food! I love the whole experience of eating. So it never once occurred to me that it could be the cause of my depression. Or anyone else’s for that matter.
That was until I read “Ultra Processed Food” by Chris Van Tulleken. Ironically I read it during the week lying by the pool in South Africa.
It began to make sense. As I had been working all hours and travelling, sandwiches and pizza had made up a large part of my diet. Not to mention chocolate and pastries.
As it turns out, the worst ultra-processed food options include fizzy drinks; packaged snacks; sweets and chocolate; ice-cream; biscuits, cakes and pastries; sausages and burgers; packaged pies and pizzas; and chicken nuggets.
Bottom line? Eating ultra-processed food is linked to higher risk of depression.
And social media!
I love Instagram. If you follow me you know I love a good story but the weeks of sitting by the pool watching either posts about war or about everyone living their best life did zero for my mental health.
Social media offers us a glimpse into someone’s life, often presented through a positively skewed lens that fails to capture the complexities of their reality. We then decide it’s the reality.
Despite this, individuals such as myself may unconsciously engage in a process known as “social comparison,” wherein they measure their own lives against the seemingly idealized versions showcased on Instagram and other social media platforms. This subconscious tendency, as revealed in studies is correlated to a decline in mental health.
How to heal depression?
As I mentioned before I’m not a medical professional nor a professional mental health expert. If you’ve been suffering from depression for some time, I would suggest you seek out a professional.
I can however give you 5 surefire ways that will not harm you and if anything will at the vert least have you feeling better.
- Moving – walk, go to the gym, get boxing or go to yoga but get that body moving.
- (Clean) eating – you’ll thank me for it later but toss out the chocolates, pasta, bread, pastries and anything else that could live in your freezer for more than 6 months. Get rid of the artificial sweetener.
- OFF social media. Even for just a day. I promise you will not miss a thing.
- Outside! Nature has a way of working miracles. Go for a walk or even just sit outside for a while each day. Think of it as your pill for the day.
- Talking! It’s hard to be vulnerable but sometimes you may need some support. Call a friend, call a therapist but whatever you do get talking and give yourself the support you deserve.
You may feel pressured to keep performing at your normal levels but you’ve got to prioritize self-care and self-compassion.
Depression can be very scary. Especially since it’s often not a quick fix but you’re going to be okay. This too shall pass and you’ll look back and it’ll all make sense.
Be kind to you. You’ve got this.