Of the various mood disorders, depression is the most common, afflicting more than 20 million Americans from all ethnic groups, ages, and backgrounds each year.
While ups and downs in mood are part of our daily experience, depression is different: it reflects a disturbance in mood and emotion over a period of time, interfering with a person’s outlook and ability to carry on with their usual lifestyle.
Both men and women experience depression, though women are more likely to report it and men are more likely to ignore it. Thankfully, there are an increasing number of people, including men, in the world of sports who are speaking out about their depression. Terry Bradshaw, owner of four Super Bowl rings, is one of them.
Depression can include the following symptoms:
- Uncontrolled anger or violent behavior
- Increased use of alcohol / tobacco / reckless behavior
- Changes in usual eating and sleeping habits
- Increased complaints of headaches, physical pain or tension
- Problems at work or school
- Feeling unrelenting pressure, even when simple requests are made
- Changes in how they think and feel about themselves and life
- Changes in desire for social interaction, relationships, and sex
There isn’t a single cause of depression. Biological, psychological, and social factors all play a part, as do lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping skills. Depression can be triggered by situations that create feelings of helplessness, anger or stress, such as:
-Overwhelming responsibilities at work, school, or with family
-Not reaching important goals
-Unanticipated changes in job or military status
-Unrelenting financial problems
-Chronic illness, injury, disability that alters lifestyle and independence
-Death of a loved one
Unfortunately, most doctors won’t ask–and aren’t necessarily trained to ask–about these types of underlying factors; they’re more likely to offer an anti-depressant as a one-stop solution. This could be why approximately 1 in 10 Americans today uses an anti-depressant.
A pharmaceutical approach isn’t always wrong, but it isn’t always right either. Taking into consideration the potential triggers for mood changes and addressing them, when possible, can be paramount to improving overall wellbeing. You might also consider lifestyle interventions that have been associated with improved mood and outlook.
Simple Healthy-Living Approaches
Depending on the situation and the severity of the depression, it’s extremely important to seek help from a professional. The following suggestions, however, can help you manage the symptoms of depression while working on the cause with your physician or psychotherapist.
Seek Affection. Hugs, a gentle hand on the back, and other non-sexual touch reduces stress, heart rate and blood pressure. It also increases the “affection hormone,” oxytocin, which plays a role in our desire for social and romantic bonding. Platonic touch is necessary for emotional wellbeing for men and women.
Socialize In Person. Stepping away from online social networks for an in-person meet-up can boost your emotional wellness. People who maintain social ties – over a cup of coffee, lunch, dinner, or a game of tennis – live longer, have lower risk for depression and other health problems, and report having happier lives despite the usual ups and downs.
Eat Well. The production and levels of brain chemical (neurotransmitters) are influenced by the quality of the food you eat. Whole foods provide richer sources of the vitamins and minerals that are important to brain chemistry and overall health. Nutrition supplements can support a healthy mood, including the B vitamins, certain herbs, and fish oil. In REFUEL, I wrote a lot about how men can be strategic in producing improved well-being and better health by eating to improve hormone balance (i.e. less estrogen, more testosterone).
Walk a Dog. Walking is great exercise for mind and body. When you’re out with a dog, it’s an easy way to meet people and get a boost of Vitamin D. Plus, the company of dogs can help ease stress and depression. Don’t have your own dog? Volunteer to walk dogs for animal rescue groups. Don’t like dogs? OK, then just get out there and take a stroll!