Don't Worry, Depression Has Got Your Back
Why depression exists to help us, and why we shouldn't ignore it.
Posted January 1, 2021
Have you ever looked at your phone and noticed a prompt to switch to low power mode due to low battery? This is your phone's equivalent of depression.
When we think of depression, we typically think about the symptoms rather than the causes. We aim to medicate or "lift mood" rather than considering why the depression is there in the first place.
Depression is an evolutionary mechanism vital to our homeostasis, like inflammation, fever, or a cough.
These are all unpleasant states but are necessary for healing us. If we treated fever like we treat depression, we would be throwing sick people out into the cold to "lower their temperature," as if the fever is the cause of their problem.
Depression is a signal to us that we need to conserve energy. That is all it is.
Now the reason that we need to conserve energy can be varied.
Some common causes of depression:
1. Excess anxiety that drops us into a depressive state.
Anxiety burns up a lot of energy (having our cortex run overtime to try finding a solution to a problem that is often too complex to solve with logic alone). The anxious cycle never reaches a conclusion, and so the body drops into long-term depressive states to conserve energy so that we can divert resources to "solving" the problem(s) our minds are fixating on.
2. Physical exhaustion.
Not getting enough sleep will deplete our body's resources, hence depression. Pushing ourselves too hard, indulging in excessive sugar, caffeine, alcohol, substances can all trigger a depressive state.
3. Not getting enough sleep.
Especially in adolescents, lack of sleep has been correlated with depressive symptoms. Sleep deprivation limits our body's ability to recover, hence depression to conserve limited energy.
Some studies have suggested that getting excessive sleep can also trigger depressive symptoms. This may be a feedback loop issue, i.e., if we're sleeping a lot, our mind thinks that we must need sleep, so depression will conserve more energy, or it could be an error in research that may not account for other causes of depression.
4. Emotional exhaustion.
If there is a lot going on and sufficient time is not allotted to emotional processing, a depressive state can ensue.
5. Shifting of social structures.
When we have a fight with someone, part ways, or lose someone it can trigger a depressive state because the social structures need to be re-established, which will require energy.
It is important to note that depression exists in other animals as well. It isn't exclusive to humans. When a pack animal such as a chimpanzee or wolf dies, depression can be observed in the other pack members for weeks.
I hope that this article shifts the way you think about depression.
If you're feeling depressed, think about what may be causing it. Is there something significant that happened in your life recently? Are you burning the candle at both ends? Address these causes and see what happens to your depression.
Note: Identifying and treating the causes of depression can be complex. Sometimes it's a do it yourself job, but it may also require a professional (therapist). If your depression isn't lifting and you're in therapy, try another therapist. Not every therapist will match with every client. Do your due diligence to find one that's right for you. Some due diligence up front will save you time, energy, and money in the long run.
Andrews, P. W., & Thomson, J. A. (2010). Depression's evolutionary roots. Scientific American Mind, 20(7), 56-61.
Ojio, Y., Nishida, A., Shimodera, S., Togo, F., & Sasaki, T. (2016). Sleep duration associated with the lowest risk of depression/anxiety in adolescents. Sleep, 39(8), 1555-1562.
Zhai, L., Zhang, H., & Zhang, D. (2015). Sleep duration and depression among adults: A meta‐analysis of prospective studies. Depression and anxiety, 32(9), 664-670.