Fighting Depression: This Causes the Same Changes in the Brain as Antidepressants

When depression latches on, it settles in and rearranges you to get a better grip. You stop loving the things you loved. You stop looking forward to anything. You feel hopeless and you feel sad.

In the Western world, 1 in 10 people will suffer depression during the course of their life. It has more of an effect on physical health than diabetes or arthritis.

Traditionally, antidepressants have been a treatment of choice for depression but in the largest evidence based study ever, researchers have found that sport and physical activity trigger changes in the brain that could only otherwise be achieved through antidepressants.

At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland reported, ‘Studies comparing exercise with medication as a treatment for depression showed that the efficiency of antidepressant medication is comparable to the effects of elevated physical activity.’

An abundance of research has shown that sport and physical activity have a positive effect on depression but now we are closer to knowing why.

Exercise causes the same changes in the brain as antidepressants by:

  • influencing the brain’s capacity to absorb serotonin (a chemical in the brain thought to be responsible for, among other things, mood regulation);
  • reducing the activity of the stress hormones;
  • stimulating the growth of new cells in the brain;
  • preventing the death of nerve cells in the hippocampus which is otherwise caused by depression.

By its very nature, depression stifles the desire to be active. The more depressed a person is, the less likely he or she will feel like doing anything. However, there is overwhelming evidence that doing some sort of physical activity has the capacity to turn depression around.

As for how long or how often to exercise, the literature draws a very broad brush, but try for at least 20 to 30 minutes five times a week. If it can be done outside, even better. Research has found an association between depression and a lack of  Vitamin D (found in sunlight). (For more information see here).

If someone close to you has depression, simply telling them to exercise won’t work. It will be like telling someone with the flu to get excited about lunch. They won’t have it in them. Instead, let them know you’re going for a walk and you want them to come along too. Organise a catch up – a couple of times a week if you can – and do something active together. A 30 minute brisk walk will do. For more information on supporting someone with depression, see here.

The very nature of depression means that hopelessness settles in like a heavy fog and it can be difficult – sometimes it feels impossible – to see a way out. Don’t confuse the symptom of hopelessness for the reality that depression can be treated. It’s a physical illness and it’s treatable. For more severe depression, antidepressants may also be important but even when medication has been prescribed, incorporating exercise into a daily routine will make a difference.. Advances in understanding depression are being made all the time. Don’t be slow to seek help. It’s an illness like any other and sometimes it needs a push in the form of medication to move it along. 

The body and the mind don’thave to agree. They often won’t. If you’re depressed, the last thing you will probably feel like doing is exercising, but pushing through the resistance and doing some form of exercise each day will make a difference.

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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