Causes of Depression
Depression is a complex condition. Our understanding of depression has evolved over time, and research suggests that there are multiple factors that contribute to the development of depression. One more recent theory explains depression as an epigenetic syndrome. Epigenetics is a relatively new scientific discovery proving that who we are is the product of the things that happen in our lives because they change how our genes operate. Your genes switch on or off depending on your life experiences.
No one is born depressed. A person is born with certain genes, and what happens throughout their life determines which genes get expressed and which genes don’t — especially in childhood. So, depression is reinforced and turned “on” by the perfect (or not-so-perfect, in this case) combination of events in your life.
There are multiple life ingredients that contribute to turning “on” genes and developing a depressive brain pattern.
A person’s childhood, life events, trauma, and chronic stress play a significant role in triggering depression. While genes supply the basic blueprint for young brains to develop, life experiences shape an individual’s unique brain circuitry. Young brains are in a critical window of development and are particularly sensitive to stress and trauma.
Stressful or traumatic events in childhood, called adverse childhood experiences, can influence the development of neural circuitry and neurochemical levels and change brain functioning. These effects can last into adulthood and make a person more at risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, and many other mental and physical health conditions.
Your thoughts affect your brain in very real ways. Negative thinking patterns, distorted beliefs about yourself or the world, and a tendency to ruminate on painful past experiences can contribute to the development and persistence of depressive brain patterns and symptoms. What you pay attention to, think, feel, and want, and how you react and behave repeatedly actually shape your brain’s physical form and function. This ability of your brain to change is called neuroplasticity.
In the article, What Stress Does to Your Brain, Jo Marchant, Ph.D. in genetics and medical microbiology and author, explains:
“Your brain reflects the way that you think throughout your life. You kind of shape it by your thoughts and your behaviors. If you play violin for eight hours a day, then the parts of the brain responsible for helping you to play the violin will get larger. If you’re thinking stressful thoughts for the whole day then those parts of the brain are going to get larger and other parts of the brain will deteriorate. ”
Humans are social beings who need each other and are meant to be around other people. Numerous studies have shown that close relationships and a strong support network protect against depression and that a lack of social support, isolation, and loneliness are associated with an increased risk of depression. A strong social network and positive social interactions can have a protective effect against depression.
In research, low self-rated social support was associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. In another study involving depressed college students, feeling unappreciated, unloved, and uninvolved with family and friends was one of the most powerful predictors of persistent suicidal thoughts.
Personality traits, genetic factors, and other underlying medical conditions can interact with these issues to contribute to developing depression. There is no single recipe and the path to developing a depressed brain is unique to each person. Different factors can combine to trigger depression in one person, and the same scenario may leave another person just fine.
Genetics does play a part. A person with a family history of depression may be at greater risk, but it’s not as straightforward as say cystic fibrosis. If your parent was depressed, it doesn’t mean you are destined to be also. And some of the family influence may be learned.
The Brainwaves of Depression
No one knows the precise combination of factors that will lead to depression in their brain. However, research does know that depressed brains tend to exhibit abnormal and identifiable brainwave patterns. For example, an EEG might show that a depressed brain has an excess of beta activity and that brainwaves on the left and right frontal lobes are not symmetrical.
It’s important to note that brainwave patterns in a depressed brain can vary significantly among individuals. Reading and interpreting brainwaves can get complicated. For this reason, you want a knowledgeable professional to interpret your EEG results. While brainwave irregularities are not the sole cause of depression, they reflect the underlying neural activity related to emotional processing, cognitive functioning, and regulation of mood and behaviors contributing to the condition.
And changing your brainwaves can be a big part of the cure for depression.
How to Alter Your Brainwaves to Ease Depression
Science has confirmed that altering a person’s brainwaves can ease depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Research tells us that there are many ways to do this.
Controlling the brainwaves in your head is possible and could help ease depressive symptoms. You can guide your own mind and tell it to “change the channel” to promote healthier and better-feeling brain activity. Some ways to do it yourself are:
Meditation and Mindfulness
Research confirms that regular meditation increases alpha waves, which are relaxing brain waves, and reduces beta waves, which are indicative of active thought and learning. That’s why meditation and mindfulness are commonly recommended for reducing stress. Deep breathing and closed-eye visualization, mindfulness practices commonly included in meditation, can also boost alpha waves.
Moving your body has a profound positive impact on your brain and brainwave activity. Exercise can lead to beneficial changes in brain function, neurochemicals, and mental states. Exercise has been shown to increase alpha wave activity, and induce a state of calm and focus. High-intensity aerobic workouts can especially produce this effect. Exercising also releases endorphins that give you that “high” feeling. After, your brain produces more alpha waves as you rest.
Neurofeedback is a way of teaching your brain to alter its brain waves directly. Research shows that neurofeedback can successfully train your brain to decrease depression and anxiety. For example, according to studies, alpha wave activity tends to be higher in the left prefrontal cortex of depressed people. Science links this pattern to negative emotions. By training individuals to increase alpha wave activity in the right prefrontal cortex, which is linked to positive emotions, neurofeedback can help improve mood and alleviate symptoms of depression.
One study of people with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) with major depressive disorder concluded:
“Despite the small sample size, these results suggest that neurofeedback treatment may be effective as an augmentation treatment, not only for depressive symptoms but also for functional recovery, in patients with TRD.”
What is neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a specialized form of biofeedback therapy, where people learn to influence their body’s autonomic nervous system at a subconscious level to permanently alter their own brainwaves. Neurofeedback has been around since the 1950s and is a reputable, scientifically proven modality practiced by trained practitioners.
In a neurofeedback session, a trained practitioner places EEG sensors on the scalp and ears to measure brain activity. A computer monitors brainwaves and provides real-time feedback to the trainee in the form of a positive reward, like music or video games. With consistent repetition, the brain learns to self-regulate and makes permanent physiological changes to function more optimally. The altered operation continues after the training session.
The more you know about how your body works, the better you can take care of yourself. And the more you know what is happening in your brain with depression, the better able you are to free yourself from the condition. Depression happens in your brain and can end there.
Neurofeedback can teach your brain to increase its production of calming brain waves permanently and relatively quickly compared to other available methods to treat depression. Neurofeedback successfully treats many other conditions, including anxiety, autism, ADD and ADHD, brain injuries, OCD, stroke recovery, PTSD, addictions, seizure disorders, migraines, chronic pain, dementia, and more. By fine-tuning the brain’s performance, neurofeedback can also improve focus and concentration. For example, neurofeedback training could improve a person’s performance at school, sports, or work.
A better, happier you is possible.
At Grey Matters of Carmel, we are passionate about helping people live their best lives. Give us a call at (317) 215-7208 or send a message today to talk about how we can help you.