Guest Post by Dr. Kathreen Tadrous
We all experience a normal range of healthy emotions and we all respond to our environment and to others with a variety of normal and healthy human emotions. What better example than our Lord, Himself, when He expressed these normal ranges of human emotions. He was happy to celebrate the wedding of Cana, was angry in the temple, saddened to hear about the death of Lazerus, and expressed His empathy towards his grieving sisters. At times, in today’s world, we have difficulty tolerating or sitting with heavy emotions, though still, it may be within normal range. It seems like everywhere you go nowadays, the term depression is thrown around loosely (along with anxiety), but let’s take a moment to understand clinical depression.
What is Depression?
Depression is a clinical state in which your body functions at a depressed or low state of functioning. Clinically, Major Depressive Disorder is diagnosed when 5 of these symptoms, referred to as neurovegetative symptoms, linger for more than 2 weeks together. These symptoms can be a depressed or irritable mood, agitation or restlessness, slowed thinking and mentation, depressed or poor appetite, concentration and/or energy, loss of interest in activities that previously were enjoyable, low self-esteem or poor self-worth, excessive guilt and/or blame on oneself, disturbances in sleep, such as difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, and in severe cases, may result in suicidal thoughts. Often, one’s function is impaired; having low energy and motivation can lead to difficulty getting out of bed in the morning and tending to usual life activities and responsibilities.
While there are many causes of depression (trauma, conflicts, genetics, lack of boundaries), it is a psychiatric disorder that results in low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in your brain and gut. It can also occur as a side effect of some medications or medical conditions. Medical examinations are, therefore, important to rule out any underlying causes.
Depression differs from sadness, which is a normal and appropriate response to sad situations and is not usually associated with other symptoms noted. We can experience sadness and grief throughout our life and it's healthy to do so, however, if accompanied by these other symptoms and exceeds the 2 week duration, it's worth investigating.It is worth noting that many of life’s circumstances may result in depressive symptoms, which may be part of adjusting. However, a condition becomes a disorder when it takes over multiple settings and aspects of our life, and when we are no longer in control of our emotions, but rather, the emotions are in control of us.
Depression can be described as wearing negative lenses and wearing a heavy backpack as you walk uphill. It becomes very difficult and exhausting to tend to everyday activities. It also tends to make individuals focus on the negatives, resulting in a negative feedback loop in our minds. One negative thought can lead to a cycle of events that lead to negative feelings, which in turn lead to depressive and negative actions. One can start to make conclusions and generalizations about an incident that can lead to catastrophic events. For example, “Becky didn’t say hi to me today, she must be upset with me, I am the worst friend in the world, I will never have any friends'', when perhaps, Becky may not have even seen me.
A negative state of mind and attitude can also lead to self-sabotaging behaviors, for example, “I failed my math test and will fail the semester, and I will never be an engineer” can lead to that very behavior of not trying our best to pass the semester and result in failing the term and so on. Therapy helps realign and challenges these thoughts, and of course, for more severe symptoms, medications are helpful.
Depression & Social Media
How often are we waking up to our phone, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, etc.? As we scroll down social media for news and updates on everyone’s life, perhaps without even knowing, it can have a profound effect on our day and mood. Several studies have linked the rise in depression to the use of smartphones and social media. We are spending less time in person with our peers and more time spent virtually, which had an exponential effect in this pandemic. We are not able to disconnect from social stressors to allow time to reset and recharge, as was the case prior to the era of smartphones and social media. We are in a world where we can have different conversations with the same person, simultaneously, on several platforms all while tweeting about something else entirely and studying or working at the same time! This “multitasking” is surely stimulating our brain and development, impacting our mood, concentration, and energy, leaving individuals prone and vulnerable to depression and anxiety.
There is also another factor that may be at play. As one scrolls down their feed, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing someone else’s life to our own. We start to view our life as boring, not as successful or exciting as that of others, and it may all be a facade! Scroll down your profile, look at your achievements and memories and thank God, be grateful and if you must boast, boast in Him and what He has done for you, as St. Paul reminds us and as St. Mary proclaimed “For He who is mighty has done great things with me.” (Luke 1:48)
Treatment for Depression
There are several other ways, aside from therapy and medications, to treat depression and the best results are when we consider the mind, body, and soul. Doctors refer to this as diet and lifestyle changes.
It is a well-known fact that practicing gratitude can change our attitude! Use a journal or a jar and fill it with at least one positive thought per day. Positive thinking leads to positive feelings and thus positive actions and positive changes. This positive feedback loop is important in healing. As you start to see your list growing or jar filling, we are focused on what we have, rather than what we don’t, which stimulates our reward pathways, making us inherently more joyful, hopeful, and at peace despite what goes on around us (or what we see scrolling through social media).
It is also important to eat and drink properly. Make sure to eat healthy foods rich in vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids (salmon, olive oil) as they reduce inflammation from gut bacteria that lead to mood disorders. Hydrating properly allows us to flush out those toxins that lead to inflammatory markers of depression and. Of course, it would be remiss if I don’t mention the importance of exercise; joining a gym is not necessary. As little as walking 30 minutes a day can discharge negative energy and emotions. Bonus points if you walk during the sunlight hours and absorb some Vitamin D (sunlight being the best source).
Have you ever had a good day and then one negative thing ruins the entire day? This may be a sign of poor or lack of healthy boundaries. Know and understand your triggers! If you surround yourself with toxic relationships, it is likely going to impact you. Do your best to limit those interactions. Work on healthy and appropriate boundaries. A good book to read is Boundaries by Dr. Cloud & Dr. Townsend.
Read your Bible daily and make quiet time with God a habit. I was once given advice by Bishop Abakeir, who happened to be a doctor by training, to read the Psalms like taking medicine: “take two psalms twice a day.” In them, you can relate to the anxiety, despair, and even depression that seems to resolve with the hope in Christ our Good Savior and Wonderful Counselor, who has conquered the world and is in control.
Confess your sins that keep you down, the ones that whisper to you that you aren’t good enough, that you can’t be redeemed, that you need to hide from others, just as the Samaritan woman did. Do you want to be healed? Then pick up your bed! As Jesus instructed the crippled man, who was paralyzed not only physically but was emotionally and mentally stunted. Staying still and in despair is a choice! Choose to get up and be proactive today. An empty mind is a devil’s playground, so keep active with healthy habits, but not restless.
Put effort into repairing your mental health, the same way you would if you had a physical injury. Do your part in seeking treatment and let Him do the rest. We all have a cross to bear. Carry your cross to Golgotha, take it to the tomb, lay your burdens on Him, spend time with Him, and know that your glory is coming and that He will lift you as he lifted Lazerus from the dead!
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, contacting your medical doctor can be a good place to start. Primary care physicians can assess and treat, and in many cases refer you as necessary to mental health professionals. It is important to keep in mind that we are created as social beings; since Adam, God knew that it was “not good for man to be alone.” Be careful not to isolate yourself from others and try to push yourself to be more proactive in doing the things you enjoy. If you have a friend who is struggling with depression, reach out to them and try to engage them to come out, check on them, be patient and encourage them to seek help. Always remember to look for progress, not perfection!
Christos Anesti! Happy Easter to you all. May the joy and hope of the Resurrection bless you throughout the year.
Dr. Kathreen Tadrous is double Board certified in Adult Psychiatry & Neurology and Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and is serving in Hampton Roads, VA. Prior to her move to VA, she was a New Jersey local for 11 years. Dr. Tadrous has a passion for college mental health and is the on-campus psychiatrist at Old Dominion University. She also runs Magnolia Psychiatric and Wellness clinic, where she focuses on helping others thrive despite their mental health challenges and is licensed in VA and NJ. If you’d like to reach out to her with any questions or professional service inquiries you can contact her office at 757-799-1050.