Depression Chapter 17

Managing Stress and Making Choices


The Stress Response

Stress can be a major factor in depression and anxiety, which frequently occur together. If you have depression it makes sense to alleviate stress as much as possible.

Physiological stress is brought on by the action of your sympathetic nervous system. When you feel threatened or are in a dangerous situation, the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response takes over. This happens primarily through adrenergic stimulation, which involves the neurotransmitters epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and others. Activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis produces the “stress hormone,” cortisol. READ MORE

The stress response is vital for survival because it allows you to respond quickly to a perceived threat. Your heart rate goes up and your breathing becomes shallow. Digestion slows, senses become more acute, and muscle tension increases. Sugars and fats are released into your bloodstream for energy. All these and many other physiological responses are very useful when you have to move fast to confront or flee from a dangerous situation. And under normal conditions, when the threat is gone, your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and brings your functioning back to normal. LESS


Chronic Stress

Problems start when you have chronic, unmanaged stress—the sort you may feel day in, day out, if you have a job you don’t like, for instance, or have to commute through heavy traffic. Chronic stress takes a serious toll on your cardiovascular system. It can keep your blood pressure elevated and create irregular heart rhythms, damage your arteries, raise LDL cholesterol levels, and weaken your immune system. Plus, when you’re stressed you’re more to likely to overeat, use drugs, drink too much alcohol, and smoke.


Getting a Handle on Stress

Stress-reduction treatments encourage the actions of the parasympathetic nervous system: lowering cortisol and adrenaline levels, normalizing blood pressure, slowing heartbeat and respiration.

There are many ways you can relieve stress. Yoga, t’ai chi, aerobic exercise, biofeedback, and meditation are all effective stress-busters and may relieve depression as well.


Yoga for Stress

As Dr. Timothy McCall points out in his book, Yoga as Medicine, from a yogic perspective there is a connection between your posture and your mood. Yoga students who have depression may be told to stand with their armpits open so their lungs are lifted and they are able to breathe more freely. They may perform “heart-opening” postures that elongate their thoracic spine. Yoga practitioners are encouraged to notice what’s going on in their bodies and to release any tension they may be holding in any part of it—in the abdomen or shoulders, for example. Slow, deep breathing is also an important part of a yoga practice. READ MORE

Yogis believe that changing your posture, releasing muscular tension, and consciously deepening your breathing may alleviate stress and depression. These actions may well prove effective because communication between your brain and your body is a two-way street. Just as your brain may instruct your body that it is in peril and activate the stress response, so actions of your body—such as smiling, deep and slow breathing, and muscular relaxation—may signal your brain that the threat is removed and it’s okay to relax.

If you are new to yoga, you should practice under the guidance of an experienced teacher. When practiced incorrectly, doing yoga may cause sprains or pulled muscles, which can be painful. You should consult your doctor before doing yoga if you have a serious heart, lung, or bone condition, are pregnant, or have problems with your back. Many professionals feel that people with severe depression should avoid doing yoga until other treatments have moderated their symptoms. LESS


Meditation for Stress


Getting a Handle on Stress

Studies have shown that meditation can be a useful treatment for both stress and mild-to-moderate depression.

Mindfulness meditation is designed to focus the meditator’s attention on the present moment and cultivate awareness as well as feelings of compassion. Thoughts and feelings are observed, but not judged or acted upon. One study measured electrical activity in the brain during mindfulness meditation. The researchers found increased activity in the left frontal lobe, associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state. Later, they tested the meditators and also a group that hadn’t meditated for immune function by measuring the level of antibodies they produced in response to a flu vaccine. The meditators had a significantly greater reaction, indicating better immune function. READ MORE

In another study, people with recurrent depression practiced mindfulness meditation over a period of 60 weeks. People who had had three or more previous episodes of depression (three quarters of the people in the group) significantly reduced their risk of relapse through meditation.

If you’re thinking of beginning a meditation practice, it’s a good idea to go to a class or meditation group to get started. As with yoga, some professionals believe that people with severe depression should avoid meditating until other treatments have moderated their symptoms. LESS

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.