Ever felt really depressed and couldn’t work out why?
The problem arises when we wake up, feel depressed, and then our mind seeks a reason to justify the depression.
There are always reasons in our life to be depressed. Even if everything is going well, we may fear losing the happy state, or feel guilt over having achieved something others didn’t, or about an argument with someone recently. We feel something is bound to go wrong if it hasn’t already, and the downward spiral begins. Taking antidepressants may correct the chemical issue in the short term, but it fails to address the root cause. Pinpointing the original thought or emotion that is niggling us is the first step towards changing our mental state. Sometimes these emotions can be traced back to something someone said days or even weeks ago.
Rumination is now being shown to be one of the key causes of ageing and illness. If we fail to recognise wallowing for the health compromiser that it is, we are playing Russian roulette with our bodies. We must recognise that our thoughts are profoundly influenced by our mood, and that when we are depressed, this is not who we really are. Sad, defeatist thoughts are alien invaders, which we must wipe out if we value our health. In times of despair when we are too raw even to think, repetitive chants can sooth us into a gentler mental state. Countless studies have confirmed that chanting reverses depression. Chanting has been shown to block the release of stress hormones, normalise adrenalin and lower cholesterol, as well as filling the mind so it cannot focus on sad and depressing ideas. It is therefore not hocus-pocus but a tried and tested remedy against ill health.
There are many different chants but one easy one is Om shanti shanti shanti.
Depression is harmful to our health, and speeds up ageing. It can lead to weight gain, heart disease, insomnia, and aches and pains. Low levels of serotonin can lower our pain threshold, and stress hormones make us more susceptible to disease. Health problems associated with depression include diabetes, stroke, digestive issues, cancer, kidney disease, arthritis, autoimmune conditions such as lupus and Parkinson’s. Depression may start in the head, but the effects on the body are soon felt if it is not addressed. If we are tempted to wallow, the spectre of physical problems to add to our emotional ones should spur us on to change our mental landscape.
Sometimes an underlying medical disorder can trigger a chemical imbalance which leads to depression, but as depression also triggers chemical imbalances….well, could be chicken and egg. Morning depression is sometimes a hangover from sleep or Seasonal Affected Disorder, thought to be caused by the hibernation response left over from our biological ancestors. Lack of serotonin may play a role in SAD, but however little we feel like it, the symptoms can soon be overcome by engaging in physical activity or exposing ourselves to light.
Even if the cause of depression is hormonal, such as in premenstrual syndrome, MRI scans have now proven beyond doubt that changes in our thinking can change brain chemistry. This is a fantastic piece of news that gives us mastery over not only our lives but our bodies too.
Receptors are message receivers located on the surfaces of cells, which initiate a sequence of changes in our bodies : for example, changes in the use of energy, tissue growth or the perception of pleasure and pain. These receptors receive hormones and neurotransmitters, which lock onto the receptors and trigger the event. When there is an excess of a certain hormone, first receptor resistance occurs and then the number of receptors decreases. There is some evidence that obesity is in part caused by a deficit in dopamine receptors. This leads the obese to overeat to achieve the level of satiety that normal individuals reach with less food. Bingeing raises the level of dopamine even higher, which leads to resistance and a ‘down-regulation’ of dopamine receptors, only worsening the craving problem. Genes may cause the initial problem and poor diet exacerbates it. Low levels of dopamine receptors are also found in alcoholics and drug addicts. Cocaine, or heroine, bind to the receptor, causing dopamine to accumulate since it no longer can get in.
While dopamine receptors are located largely in the brain, serotonin receptors are to be found all over the body – 80% are in other organs. Depression has been linked to low dopamine and serotonin receptor levels. Antidepressants can therefore make things worse in the long run since they temporarily raise the amount of serotonin in the body but this saturation decreases the number of serotonin receptors. In all these cases – depression, obesity and addiction – receptors react to excessive levels of hormone by becoming less sensitive to them.
The good news is we can also increase the number of receptors – for serotonin, dopamine and in the case of diabetes for insulin – since diabetes is caused by low levels of insulin receptors. Intense exercise, particularly on an empty stomach, resensitises receptors, and increases their number. In this way satiety from food and pleasure from life is more easily achieved. Fasting works in the same way. A decline in dopamine receptors is associated with ageing, but once again here is evidence a symptom of ageing can be reversed.
If we have enough dopamine receptors life becomes more than merely bearable. It is not just worth living, it becomes a source of fascination and adventure. Dopamine receptors enable us to max out on pleasure. Biology is not destiny and the decline associated with ageing is not inevitable. There is no quick fix, but a sustained exercise programme and calorie restriction can work wonders.
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