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Ask Dr Maymunah: How To Deal With Depression


Good day, Dr Maymunah.

I have a sister battling depression and we believe this is due to work-related stress, though our mother has been managed for depression for the past five years. Please, what’s the link between stress and depression? Also, can you talk about lifestyle changes that can help her and assist us to help her? Is there any hope for her to heal?

– Uchenna, Port Harcourt.

Photo credit: Huffington Post


Good day, Uchenna and thank you for the care and support towards your sister’s wellbeing. The connection between stress and depression is complex and circular. People who are stressed often neglect healthy lifestyle practices. They may smoke, drink more than normal, and neglect regular exercise. “Stress, or being stressed out, leads to behaviours and patterns that in turn can lead to a chronic stress burden and increase the risk of major depression. Losing a job is not only a blow to self-esteem, but it results in the loss of social contacts that can buffer against depression. Interestingly, many of the changes in the brain during an episode of depression resemble the effects of severe, prolonged, stress.

Stress, as we all know is good for us. It keeps us alert, motivated and primed to respond to danger. As anyone who has faced a work deadline or competed in a sport knows, stress mobilises the body to respond, improving performance. Yet, too much stress or chronic stress may lead to major depression in susceptible people. Only about ten percent of people suffer from depression without the trigger of a stressful event.

Some ways she can help herself and also you encourage her are as follows. These changes can help reduce stress levels and boost her resilience:

Exercise: Experts recommend a half-hour of moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming five days a week. Running a marathon is not what you want to do. Exercise produces chemicals in the body that boost your mood and stimulate hormones and neurotransmitters, including endorphin (happy hormones).

Strong, supportive relationship: Isolation is a risk factor for depression, while community buffers people from the effects of adversity. Negative, critical relationships are harmful.

Yoga, meditation, prayer: Studies have shown that these practices can be helpful. They have a positive effect on the emotional brain circuits.

Eating well and reduction of alcohol consumption: People who feel stressed may drink too much; alcohol is a known mood suppressor.

Making time for herself: Schedule some downtime to pursue creative pursuits or a hobby. Today’s harried, multitasking life is stressful. If possible, schedule mini-vacations. Working overtime, or juggling family and work, may not get her eight hours of restful sleep.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This type of therapy helps people reframe events in a more positive fashion. Negative attitudes and the tendency to worry can amplify the impact of stress.

It’s important that people suffering from depression not blame themselves. It’s partly her genetic makeup as in this case and the current environment. Since she is depressed, please help her seek help from the right places, right people and this is the right time. Seeing a psychiatrist or a psychologist is a good way to start. She can’t beat it on her own and thank you for helping her find healing in her pathway to recovery.

Uchenna, do remember in all of these challenges, please find time to rest, allow people to help you if they want to, find time to have fun, schedule some me-time because of the burden of care which could affect your own quality of life.
All the best.

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