Depression and anxiety

By our Consultant Dietician and Nutritionist Ro Huntriss

What is depression and anxiety? 

Many people go through periods of feeling up or down throughout their life however having a consistently low mood that lasts for weeks or months which starts to affect daily life, may mean that you are suffering from depression. Having a consistent feeling of hopelessness, low self-esteem and not getting pleasure from things you would usually enjoy are also indicators of depression.

Depression and anxiety can often occur at the same time. Most people have experienced feeling anxious, for example before an exam or a job interview. However, chronic anxiety is the feeling of unease and worry that are constant, are hard to control and that affect daily life. 

The symptoms of anxiety and depression can often overlap and include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, racing heart, muscle tension, difficulties sleeping, digestive problems and restlessness. Severe depression can even lead to people feeling that life is no longer worth living. 

It is important to understand that depression and anxiety are not signs of weakness and are not due to anything you have done. It is however important to know that help is available and you can get better. 

Why does our mood drop? 

There are many reasons as to why our moods can change or drop, significant life events such as loss of a loved one, chronic stress at home or at work, having an unhealthy lifestyle or an unhealthy diet, as well as lack of sleep can play a role in the development of depression and anxiety. 

Depression has been related to physical changes in the structure of the brain, early emotional trauma and losses can lead to subtle changes in brain function that account for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some people on the other hand have genes that can make them more vulnerable to low moods. 

Our hormones can also play a role in our mood. Teenagers going through puberty for example can experience mood swings which are associated with rapid rises in sex hormones. Mood changes can be part of a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle where levels of reproductive hormones are fluctuating. Women faced with the menopausal transition and those going through menopause where there are significant changes in hormone levels are more susceptible to experiencing depression and anxiety. 

Why do we see a lower mood when going through the menopause?

When we go through the menopause the balance of the body’s sex hormones is changed. It is these hormonal fluctuations that lead to symptoms such as hot flashes, disrupted sleep, temporary brain fog and memory loss which can significantly affect day to day life as well as quality of life for many women. These changes can unfortunately lead to women feeling isolated or frustrated. Partners, children or friends who haven’t been through this may not understand what they are going through. 

The drop in oestrogen levels that occurs as women transition through menopause can mean that women find it harder to lose weight, they may also find that their body shape starts to change from what they are used to, this can lead to a loss of identity, low self-esteem and low body confidence all of which have been linked to depression. 

All of these changes can increase stress levels. We know that there are links between stress and depression, stress and weight gain and depression and weight gain. The combination of these can potentate feelings of low mood and the risk of developing depression and anxiety.  

What can we do to manage depression and anxiety? 

Traditionally treatment for depression and anxiety involves a mix of antidepressant medications and talking therapies. Alongside this however there are many things we can do ourselves to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. 

Having strategies in place to deal with changes that occur in our lives can help us to navigate through difficult parts of our lives.

  • Exercising regularly helps to release endorphins which can boost mood and reduce stress. For women experiencing the menopause resistance exercise in particular can result in beneficial results on body composition. Yoga and Pilates can build strength as well as reduce stresses associated with menopause. Acupuncture may be beneficial for some people to reduce mood swings and depression.  
  • Some people suffering with depression or anxiety may self-medicate by using drugs, alcohol or smoking. This may help you to feel better in the short term however, however in the long run these can make you feel worse. If you need to, you can seek help to stop these behaviours.  
  • Practicing self-care is very important for our mental health. Looking after ourselves and prioritising healthy eating, can reduce the risk of having deficiencies in certain nutrients such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D which can be related to depression. Getting enough sleep is important. Set up a soothing routine, such as winding down and removing all blue/artificial light an hour before you go to sleep. 
  • Surround yourself with a supportive network of people who understand what you are going through. If this isn’t possible with friends or family, look to join a group or talk to people going through similar experiences. 
  • Other ways to manage stress can include practicing mindfulness or journaling. Learning to say no to things in both personal and professional life can help you to feel less overwhelmed reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety it is important to seek help and support from a healthcare professional in order to get the right treatment and support. 

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