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Depression Health Center

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Stress and Depression

Can stress cause depression? WebMD looks at the link that exists between the two and helps you de-clutter your life to improve your stress level.

Stress and Depression: Lifestyle Factors

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 behaviors and patterns that in turn can lead to a chronic stress burden and increase the risk of major depression," says Bruce McEwen, PhD, author of The End of Stress as We Know It.

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 and Depression: Building Resilience

Once someone is in the grip of major depression, it’s usually not the best time to make lifestyle changes. But you can guard against a reoccurrence of depression or help protect against a first episode of depression by adopting lifestyle changes that modify the body's stress response. Building resilience is particularly important if you are experiencing chronic stress, such as unemployment.

The following lifestyle changes can help reduce stress levels and boost your resilience, reducing the risk of depression:

1. 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," says Sternberg. Exercise produces chemicals in the body that boost your mood and stimulate hormones and neurotransmitters, including endorphins, that can help reduce stress.

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

3. Yoga, meditation, prayer, psychotherapy: Studies have shown that these practices can be helpful, "retraining your brain circuits," says Sternberg. "They have a positive effect on the emotional brain circuits."

4. Eating well and not drinking too much alcohol. People who feel stressed may drink too much; alcohol is a known mood suppressor.

5. Making time for yourself. Schedule some downtime to pursue creative pursuits or a hobby. Today's harried, multitasking life is stressful. If possible, schedule mini-vacations; longer breaks of at least 10 days have been shown to be more beneficial in reducing stress.

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