Depression: what is normal and what is not?

Author
Dr. Carel-Piet van Eeden
Published:
September 17, 2020

Depression is without a doubt one of the most debilitating things that a person can face. We cannot expect to be chipper all of the time. This is especially true when we are going through challenging times like the present.

So what does depression look like? What is the difference between just feeling blue and being depressed? What can I do to take control of it, and when is it time to reach out for help?

There are many causes of depression and many ways in which depression presents.

Let's take a look at some of the most common

What does depression look like?

While everyone goes through some degree of sadness, it usually fades away over time. If extreme sadness continues for more than two weeks and is affecting your daily life, you might be suffering from depression.

We know that each of us is unique. While some people may only show a few symptoms, others will show more. This can be confusing and lead to the idea that people can just “think” themselves out of it.

With this in mind, here are some of the most common symptoms of depression that people experience:

  • Extreme sadness, often without reason
  • Dark moods
  • Thoughts of death and hurting oneself
  • Changes in appetite
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Difficulty in finding joy in life
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Low self-esteem
  • Finding it difficult getting through normal activities
  • Low levels of energy

Before you see yourself in all of these, remember again that we all go through these emotions in varying degrees in life. Continued feelings are the ones to look out for.

5 Common types of depression

One can easily get bogged down in classifications and types of depression and forget to deal with the problem at hand. It is important, however, because the treatment regime will change according to the type of depression experienced.

Let’s take a look at 5 common types of depression.

Persistent depression

If you have symptoms of depression for more than two years, it can usually be classified as persistent depression. The feelings are not as intense as major depression (in a clinical sense).

That being said, it can still have a very direct impact on your life.

Major depression

This type is characterized by an intense experience of symptoms throughout the day. In reality, it doesn’t matter what is happening around you. You just cannot seem to get out of the dark hole no matter how much love, success or happiness the outside world sees.

Most people go through major depression at some stage in their lives. Some only once, whilst others for their whole lives. This can completely disrupt daily life and many people struggle with this unnecessarily.

Situational depression

Occasionally, a situation acts as the trigger for the depressive period. Naturally, one will go through a period of sadness. To emphasize, when these feelings are constant and do not change for over two weeks, one needs to start watching oneself.

Some of the triggers include:

  • The death of a loved one
  • A traumatic event or serious illness
  • A near-death experience
  • Divorce
  • Financial issues
  • Legal challenges
  • Abusive relationships

Bipolar disorder (manic depression)

This challenge is characterised by uncontrolled jumps between two emotional extremes.

In order to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you need to have experienced a manic or hypomania episode for at least seven consecutive days.

Seasonal depression

As can be seen from the name, seasonal depression follows a pattern according to the seasons. Most people start feeling the effects thereof as the days grow shorter and colder.

When is it really depression?

To make life more challenging for us, there are a couple of things that look similar to depression. Although there are overlapping symptoms, the way in which we approach each of these similar situations differs.

Anxiety

Anxiety and depression are oftentimes mixed up. True, they do share some characteristics and the effect on your life can perhaps be the same. Nevertheless, the expression or symptoms are different. Correspondingly their treatment regimes will not be the same.

To begin with, four signs of anxiety include:

  • Worrying about the future
  • Racing thoughts about things that might be wrong
  • Avoiding situations that can cause anxiety
  • Focusing on death due to perceiving danger from many avenues.

In contrast, four signs of depression include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Not feeling that anything is worth trying because of the perceived hopelessness
  • Feelings of uselessness because the person feels that they are not valuable
  • Concentration on death due to the belief that one is a burden to others or that life is not worth living.

Burnout and adrenal fatigue

We’ve spoken about adrenal fatigue in the past. It is important to remember that adrenal fatigue can lead to depression and should be considered when one looks its cause.

When is it time to reach out for help?

Obviously, there is no easy answer to this question. If you answer yes to any of these questions or similar ones, it is important to reach out for professional help.

  • Have I been feeling like this for more than two weeks?
  • Is this affecting my ability to perform in my daily life?
  • Am I starting to consider death as a way out?

Professional help can be a doctor, counsellor, psychologist or any other person who is experienced and licensed to treat depression. Diagnosis is important to make sure that the treatment is done properly and does not make the problem worse.

What can I do to take control of depression?

We have spoken about the ways in which you can cope with stress in a previous article. Let us add to our toolbox with some more ideas that specifically target depression.

It is important to clarify this section is not intended as a cure. It is instead intended to illustrate some simple activities that may alleviate some of the effects of depression.

Sunlight

How much time do you spend in the sun? How much of that time are you covering your body so as not burn?

Natural sunlight is supposed to be our main way of creating Vitamin D for the body. Vitamin D, however, is actually a hormone.

Exercise

How many times have you heard the advice that a good workout will make you feel better?

It is true. A study published in the British Medical Journal showed that people who did an hour worth of aerobic exercise three times a week recorded a significant elevation in mood over and above the health benefits

This is not a miracle or stand-alone cure, but can definitely be of great benefit.

Power Posing

power posing for mood improvement
Power Pose

One of my professional idols, Prof Amy Cuddy, has done fascinating work on how the body and mind influence each other. As much as we slump when feeling bad, we also start feeling bad if we slump for a long time.

What if we can hack into this program then? This is exactly what Prof Cuddy and her team researched. One of the easiest things that you can do in order to naturally feel better is to do a power pose.

Your body recognises the pose as being an expression of power and releases the corresponding hormones. Find your favourite superhero pose and stand like that three minutes a day and before challenging situations.

You will be surprised at the positive effect this has on you!

Let food be thy medicine to happiness

No. I'm not prescribing comfort food as a cure for depression. That will merely delay the feelings for a short while. But, there is a multitude of scrumptious foods that can help to naturally boost your serotonin levels. (Serotonin is often described as the happiness hormone because of its effect on wellbeing and overall mood.)

6 Mood Lifter Foods

  • Mushrooms
    Shiitake, Cordyceps, Reishi, Lion's Mane
  • Fermented foods
    Kombucha, Saurkraut, Kimchi, Kefir
  • Dark Leafy greens
    Spinach, Kale, Swiss Chard
  • Dark chocolate
  • Berries
    Blueberries, Raspberries, Strawberries
  • Vitamin C rich foods
    Oranges, Red Peppers, Broccoli, Tomatoes

Mood-boosting Shiitake Salad

shiitaki mushroom recipe for depression
Shiitake Mushroom

This recipe is, without a doubt, one of my favourite meals to help boost my feel-good hormones naturally. The earthy taste of these mushrooms already puts me in a good mood, but there is more. The greens and the seeds altogether form a powerful mood-enhancing natural meal.

Ingredients:

  • 250 mg fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 4 chopped green onions
  • 2 cups salad greens
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh carrots
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

Method:

Place the mushrooms in a small bowl; drizzle with the olive oil and toss to coat.

Put them in on a baking tray and grill uncovered for six to eight minutes or until tender. Remember to stir frequently.

In a large bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, keeping the pumpkin seeds for last. Cover with your favourite vinaigrette and toss to coat. Add the mushrooms on top with some more vinaigrette and finally top off with the toasted pumpkin seeds.

Add a bit of the below kimchi for a spicy boost.

Vegan Kimchi Recipe

kimchi to fight depression
Kimchi Recipe

This vegetarian take on the traditional fermented Korean dish is one that my family adores.

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of Napa cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger root, grated
  • ¼ red onion, minced
  • a small daikon radish, shredded
  • 1 red chilli pepper, seeded and very finely chopped
  • a tsp Himalayan crystal salt
  • 1 tsp garlic, crushed
  • dash cayenne

Method:

Put the cabbage in a glass bowl with the salt and massage. This releases the fluid in the cabbage. Continue until the cabbage is covered in brine.

Now mix all the other ingredients into the brine cabbage mix. Don’t be afraid to use your hands!

Put the mixture with all the juice into a large glass jar. Press it all in firmly.

It is important that the mixture remains submerged in the brine the whole time that it ferments. I put a smaller jar with water on it to stop anything from floating to the top.

Cover the bottle with a clean cloth and place in a warm place, away from direct sunlight.

Of course, depending on where you find yourself in the year, the kimchi will take anything from 2 to 10 days to reach the right tartness for you.

Once you have found the spot of heaven on your tongue, close the container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to a month.

Which supplements can I take to help me deal with depression?

Because of the nature of depression, it is important to build your supplement regime with the assistance of a trained doctor or another suitable healthcare provider. Indeed, this is a combined effort where you, together with your team, choose what is right for you.

Ten supplements that can help alleviate depression:

  1. 5-HTP
  2. Vitamin D
  3. Ashwagandha
  4. SAMe
  5. Phosphatidylserine
  6. Omega 3
  7. Magnesium
  8. Curcumin
  9. Vitamin B (especially 6 and 12)
  10. Vitamin C

The message that I hope you take from this is that there is hope.

Most important is that you can take control of depression and, with some guidance from a professional, continue on to live the happy and fulfilling life you deserve.

Dr CP Van Eeden
About The Author

Dr CP Van Eeden

Dr van Eeden completed his Ph.D and qualified in Holistic Life Counselling in December 2012 through the University of Sedona.  He is currently pursuing an MBAM through the same University.

After experiencing the trauma of cancer first-hand, Carel-Piet decided to leave his corporate position as legal business analyst and focus on the field of integrative medicine.  Together with Dr. Craige Golding, he works in the Golding Institute to provide evidence based integrative solutions and training for healthcare providers and patients alike.

As a practitioner, Dr. van Eeden focuses on a wide array of challenges people face.  Because of his diverse training, the challenges addressed in sessions are many and include:

  • Lifestyle management
  • Genetic testing
  • Emotional counseling
  • Mindfulness
  • Life Coaching