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Depressed woman holding a cup of coffee and wearing a red sweater with grey shirt

Why Am I Depressed?

Depression is a condition in the brain. It is an illness, no different from any other physical illness. While there are lifestyle choices that help depression prevention, sometimes depression just happens because it is how the brain is wired. That is why it is possible to feel sad, to feel depressed, and not know why.
There are many questions to ask when you are feeling majorly depressed, slightly sad, or even just “blue.” Humans intake a wide array of depression triggers on a daily basis and it can often be confusing when we feel great one minute, and suddenly hit a wall, so-to-speak. We are constantly absorbing new information throughout the day, so negative feelings may build up and grow in our subconscious throughout the course of the day. Sorting through these feelings can get tricky, so here’s a helpful checklist to help you answer today’s big question, ‘why am I depressed?’. Sometimes all it might take is resolution of one of the following questions to get your mood back on the right track:

1) Are you having difficulty at work?

Challenges faced at work can increase an individual’s stress levels. Since humans spend so much time working, there’s ample opportunity for depression-inducing circumstances to regularly occur. Excessive stress can lead to depression. Whether you are experiencing tension with co-workers, feel over-worked, or a decreased appreciation for the work you are doing; occupational problems leading to depression is quite common. Try to identify the specific issue on your mind, and take small steps to dismantling the problem. Don’t place yourself next to a mountain: chip away at the work day stresses one rock at a time.

2) Have you not exercised lately?

Because our bodies are meant to be in motion and active, a sedentary lifestyle has been found to be linked to depression. Exercise directly effects mood and is a powerful tool to combat depression. Beyond the anti-depressive powers of a great workout or regular workout regime, exercise benefits are clear and abundant: improved blood pressure, cholesterol levels, circulation, weight, energy, and more. You don’t have to run a marathon or lift 200lbs to feel the fantastic effects of exercise; start small with a walk around the block, a few sit-ups, or even a good stretch.

3) Have you been sleeping poorly?

Sleep means mental and physical restoration. When sleep cycles are altered even slightly, that imperative restoration just simply ceases to work. Interrupted sleep leads to irritability, tension, lethargy, and even depression. Sleeping too much or too little can both be symptoms of depression. While sleep changes can be a sign of depression, poor sleep can also result in growing depression. Sleep disorders that can trigger or worsen depression include insomnia and sleep apnea. It is important to solve your sleeping issues, as lack of sleep can domino into other negatives, like decreased exercise and poor diet.

4) Do you have a poor diet?

Do you eat good mood food? There are both foods that can trigger depression and foods that can fend off depression. Poor diets full of carbs and sugar equals lethargy and a reduced capacity for serotonin production, not to mention a strong aversion to exercise. High caloric food choices rich in sugar can also disrupt your sensitive sleep schedules. There’s a long list of “anti-depressive” foods: ‘good’ carbohydrate foods like whole-grained breads, and high fiber fruits & vegetables; omega-3 rich meats like whitefish, dark-green leafy veggies, and flax seed; and foods rich in Vitamin-D, like milk, mushrooms, oily fish, eggs, and tofu.

What Else Could be Bothering Me?

Negative events happen in our lives that may build up over time. This can create a subtle ripple effect, where small depressive triggers you may choose to ignore or often don’t even realize, gradually build up in your subconscious. Answer the following questions if the broader items above don’t help you readily solve your lingering depression:

1) Are you drinking an excessive amount of alcohol?

Alcohol often can worsen symptoms of depression. Alcohol is a depressant and can negatively affect mood. Our heart rates also rapidly rise several hours after drinking. This poorly-timed surge in blood-flow can often jolt us from sleep. Not to mention excessive alcohol ingestion may often disrupt the following day in the form of a hangover. Simply, if a person is struggling with both depression and alcohol abuse, it is necessary to seek treatment for both.

2) Did you just go through a break up?

Big life changes, such as a break up, can trigger negative emotions and lead to depression. A few weeks of depression is not uncommon, but when the depression lingers and has no end in sight, seek out proper treatment. Speaking with a therapist or opening up to friends and family are great first steps to climbing out of your deep depression. Reference the other questions in this list to come up with a meaningful anti-depressive daily schedule.

3) Are you struggling financially?

Financial struggles can lead to stress. If you struggle regularly to pay for monthly bills, for example, you likely store impending anxiety in your brain as these deadlines approach. For many people these regular expectations can feel like being pushed slowly towards the edge of a cliff. Each dollar owed and desired mounts steadily as the days go on.

4) Did a loved one pass away recently?

Losing a family member or a close friend can result in depression. A life event like this can no doubt take a toll on mental wellness. It is important to remember that people often never “get over” their feelings of grief and loss for an especially beloved person or animal. Time will help you move past visceral grief and help you reach ultimate appreciation and undying respect for your lost loved one.

5) Did you lose something valuable recently?

The loss of something valuable can be emotionally painful, and depending on what that item was, it could result in extreme sadness and even depression. The loss of a wedding ring, for example, sends many into a hectic spiral of depression. Lost relics of the past, like old photographs, can also cause nostalgic grief. It is important to remember that you these are truly just items, and their loss does not take away from the moments that helped create that special feeling your attributed to them in the first place.

6) Are you a smoker?

It is questionable whether depression leads to smoking or smoking leads to depression but there is often a link between the two. Either way it is necessary to both quit smoking and find treatment options for depression.

7) Do you live in an area with little sunshine in the winter?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common cause of depression for those who are negatively affected by winter months. Many people find the sunny, summer months to be a mood enhancer and less sunny winter weather results in winter blues. There is also a relationship between Vitamin D levels, which we receive from the sun, and mood.

8) Do you live in a bustling city?

Living in a big city has been linked to an increase in a lot of different mental health conditions, including depression. While there are a lot of different factors that could lead to depression, there could be a connection with big city living.

9) Do you have symptoms of thyroid disease?

The purpose of the thyroid is to regulate hormones that are essential to the body. The thyroid hormones are often known for the effect they have on metabolism, but they also can have an effect on mood. An underactive thyroid can lead to feelings of sluggishness, fatigue, and depression. If an individual is showing symptoms of depression along with signs of an irregular thyroid, it is possible that depression is related to thyroid hormones.

10) Do you often compare yourself to others on social media?

While Facebook and Instagram can help us stay connected to friends near and far, social media can also promote a dangerous trend of comparing yourself to others. Comparing posts on social media to your life can result in feelings of jealousy and envy.

11) Did you just finish an engaging television show or book?

Ending a good TV show or book can feel like losing a friend. People have reported extreme sadness after connecting to characters and the story.

12) Do you feel like you have too many choices in your life?

While having choices can be a wonderful part of life, they can also trigger stress in a person’s life, leading to symptoms of depression. ‘Choice paralysis’ – as it’s commonly called—can cause fleeting sadness and sometimes longer stretches of depression. If you find yourself at a crossroads in your life, where you have no idea what first step to take, the mounting anxiety of making a choice can cause waves of depression. Break down your choices and, if all-else-fails, go with your gut feeling!

13) Are you on a prescription medication like birth control?

A new study did find there is potentially a small link between birth control and depression. If you are thinking you might have depression from birth control, it is best to work with a doctor to see if other factors or your medication is causing the symptoms.

14) Do you have a poor relationship with family or friends at the moment?

Our relationships can have a positive or negative effect on mood. If we are facing a challenging time with those close to us, it can be painful and stressful, resulting in extreme sadness and potentially depression.

15) Do you sit too much?

Because exercise has been found to help mood, the opposite of exercising, sitting has found to worsen mood. In recent years, sitting too long has been found to be one of the worst things a person can do for physical and mental health.

16) Do you eat enough fish?

Fish contains omega-3 which has been linked to decreasing depression. Adding fish to your diet is a healthy choice for body and mind. If you’re vegetarian, or just don’t have an appreciation for fish, try some other high omega-3 foods like flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. A regular consumption of omega-3-rich foods contributes to long term cognitive health, including reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Additional Resources
Depression (NIH)
Depression (MAYO Clinic)
Depression (NAMI)
Depression and Diet
Alcohol and Depression
Depression and Sleep
Depression, the Thyroid, and Hormones
How to avoid feeling depressed on Facebook

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