What causes depression?
The symptoms of depression are relatively universal: loss of interest in daily activities, difficulty sleeping or increased sleep, a sad or irritable mood, reduced or increased appetite, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, problems making decisions, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and thoughts of suicide or death. Many people also experience physical symptoms such as body aches or increased sensitivity to pain. While the symptoms of depression are easily identifiable, the causes of depression can vary greatly.
Depressive symptoms can be caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder, or by external chemicals including medications, illegal drugs and alcohol. Sometimes hormonal changes, including those that occur during the week prior to menstruation or after the birth of a child, can create symptoms of depression. Other times, depressive symptoms can be caused by environmental factors such as reduced exposure to light or inability to access important physical, social, or reproductive resources.
Finally, there are depressive symptoms typically viewed as being caused by a mental health disorder. However, as you will read below, what we call now call depression is influenced by many factors and is not necessarily the result of a genetic disorder. While some symptoms of depression may be caused by genetic factors, other types depression are created by thinking patterns, lifestyle patterns and social factors.
What we can change and what we cannot:
There is a great deal you can change about your mood and a great deal you cannot. You cannot change the genetics that underlie your biological tendencies towards positive or negative moods. You can, however, choose to modify the chemicals present in your brain by getting regular exercise, taking medication, changing your diet, and by avoiding harmful substances such as illegal drugs or alcohol. Although your biology is relatively static, you can also change the way you choose to view the world, the meaning you give to negative feelings, how you spend your time, and the way you choose to interact in your social environment. All of these factors contribute to your emotional state and research suggests that it is possible not only to reduce feelings of depression, but actually increase the amount of positive emotion that you experience.
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