Many people have moments when everything seems complicated and useless. It turns out that such sensations are just a by-product of the interaction of the components of the body’s neural network. For most, they pass quickly, like a breath of breeze. But the neurophysiology of each person is unique, so for some of us, depressive moments develop into long and difficult states.
Neurophysiologist, Ph.D. and author of the new “Ascending Spiral” Alex Korb knows how neurophysiology helps to cope with depression, negative thoughts and conditions that “attack” us from time to time. Today we will talk about the symptoms of depression, what a “downward spiral” is and how to cheer yourself up even on the gloomiest day.
Depression is a downward spiral
We all know what it means to get into the downward spiral of life. For example, one Friday evening you are invited to a party, but you suddenly decide: “It seems to me that it will not be fun” – and do not go. Instead, you lie on the couch and watch TV until late. Sleep long the next day, and when you wake up, you feel overwhelmed. Nobody calls, you feel lonely, and even more so you don’t want to communicate with anyone. Nothing is interesting, and here you are already lying on the couch all weekend.
The feeling of discomfort and loneliness intensifies, and you no longer know what to do with it. Either solution seems terrible. This is the beginning of a state that is usually called depressive.
Downward spirals occur because the events around you and the decisions you make change the way your brain works. If the direction of thoughts changes for the worse, you begin to lose control over the situation, the brain switches to the negative, which grows like a snowball.
Fortunately, in most people, the activity of various neural groups “reverses” in time and stops the brain from going into a tailspin. But many are not so lucky.
What does depression really look like?
A common misconception is that being depressed is just being sad all the time. In fact, everything is much more serious. In reality, a depressed person is not just sad – he is unemotional. He has a void inside. The person feels insecure. He has no hope. Those things that once liked are no longer pleasing: no food, no friends, no hobbies. The energy is going somewhere.
Everything seems very difficult, fears appear, but it is not possible to find an explanation for this. Nothing seems worthy of the effort it takes. It is difficult for a person to fall asleep and it is difficult to sleep. Pains and indispositions respond in all body more sharply, than before. It is impossible to concentrate on something, anxiety, shame and loneliness are constantly oppressing.
The problem with the downward spiral of depression is that it doesn’t just push the person deeper into that state, it keeps them there.
Life changes that can overcome depression seem difficult to implement. Healthy sleep would help out, but insomnia takes power. The joy of communicating with friends would help a lot, but there is no desire for contact and no desire to disturb anyone. The brain “loops”.
How Depression Occurs: A Neurophysiologist’s Perspective
Depression is caused by a malfunction in the interaction of neural circuits with each other and with the outside world. Imagine the simplest pair of neurons as a microphone and a speaker.
If you arrange them in a certain way, there is an unpleasant echo effect that scratches your hearing. Position the microphone and speaker a little differently and the problem will disappear. But it arose not because of the microphone or speaker – individually, they work fine. This is a matter of adjusting the system and its individual parts.
The downward spiral of depression is vaguely similar to this example: it is fueled by the special tuning of your neural circuits.
At its core, depression is associated with the problem of “breakage” of neural groups responsible for thinking and feeling. Although our brain is divided into dozens of regions, the neural circuits that cause depression are concentrated in just a few of them.
Two parts of the brain can be blamed for causing depression in people: the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. To put it simply, the prefrontal area is responsible for thinking, and the limbic part is for sensations. In depression, something goes wrong in the normal mode of interaction between these two areas.
The rational prefrontal cortex is supposed to help the limbic system, but in depression, something in this connection goes wrong.
3 ways to cheer yourself up
And now – a little practice. If you are depressed, frustrated and do not want anything, try (even forcefully!) These tricks. You’ll see, it will be easier for you.
- If you feel that your mood is rapidly deteriorating, try go to places where there will be people around, such as a library or a cafe. You don’t even need to contact anyone. Simply being with other people in the same physical space will help.
- Thinking about different versions of the same event activates the mid- prefrontal cortex, and this increases control over how the limbic system controls the emotional state. As a result, it improves.
- The brain, as a result of versatile activity, leaves a lot of “garbage”, primarily in the form of decomposed neurochemical substances. Just like in your kitchen, these residues must be removed from the body, otherwise they will begin to accumulate and harm. In a dream, a similar “cleaning” plan takes place, which is extremely important for the normal functioning of the brain. So sleeping is a great idea.
In general, there is always hope. Scientific research has shown how small changes in lifestyle and human behavior can change the work and the neurochemical component of the activity of certain sets of neurons. And as the brain and the neurochemicals it produces change, so does the course of depression.
You cannot always change your location, but you can change the direction of your movement. What if, instead of diving, your life went into an upward spiral? Try it.
Warning: if you suspect that you have a depressive disorder, consult a doctor! The recommendations in the book can help, but should by no means be the only way out of the current situation. Be healthy!