What is mild depression?
Sufferers of mild depression experience many of the same depression symptoms as those who experience major depression episodes, but the symptoms in mild depression are not as severe, and do not persist as long. Mild depression is extremely common, affecting nearly everyone at some point in their lives.
Mild depression symptoms
The symptoms of mild depression may be mistaken for normal mood swings; the difference between a bad or gloomy mood and mild depression is the duration of the symptoms. Mild depression symptoms may last for a week or more; if your symptoms last for longer than two to four weeks, you may have more severe depression.
Here are some of the warning signs of mild depression:
- Lack of energy
- Lack of interest in social interaction
- Changes in appetite (either loss of appetite, or excessive cravings)
- Discontinuing formerly enjoyable activities
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Low estimate of your self-worth, often accompanied by self-anger
- Increased alcohol consumption
- Frequent mild illness
- Sleep habit changes – either significantly more or less sleep than is normal
- Decreased performance and engagement at work
- Reduced physical activity
- Changes in financial habits
- Frequent anger or irritability
- Apathy or lethargy
Treating mild depression
Antidepressant medication is generally not effective for mild depression (and is of debatable utility in alleviating the symptoms of major depression as well). In addition to consulting with your physician, you should thoroughly research any depression medication you’re considering. It’s generally best to attempt holistic treatment of depression symptoms for 60 days before resorting to medication. Effective results are frequently achieved by a combination of the following treatment methods:
- Get plenty of sleep. Fatigue contributes dramatically to mild depression.
- Exercise regularly. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes per day, exercise facilitates chemical changes that remove stress and depression hormones and replace them with the “well-being” hormones, endorphins.
- Eat healthy foods. Avoid starches and sugars for their hyperinsulin effects. Eat balanced, fresh, non-processed foods. Avoid fast food.
- Moderate caffeine intake. Caffeine may be helpful in small doses, but contributes to irritability and malaise in larger doses. And caffeine interrupts healthy sleep patterns.
- Engage in creative activity. Writing, painting, playing music, and other creative activities recruit nonverbal parts of the brain, which has been shown to re-center the emotional state.
- Make the changes you’ve been putting off. Often we make binding arrangements that come to suit us poorly over time. We feel that we can’t change them (which is false), and the feeling of powerlessness can lead to depression. Have the courage to make the relationship, professional, or other personal change you’ve been avoiding.
- Stop alcohol and drug consumption. Depressants and other drugs wreak havoc on your emotional system and brain chemistry, and dramatically degrade sleep quality. Avoid them altogether.
- Begin a guided meditation practice. Depression is a mental, physical, and biochemical disorder, and treating all aspects of the disorder is an important part of conquering its symptoms. Because your thoughts create chemical and hormonal responses, recovering from depression is aided dramatically by positive mental imagery exercises.
When to seek professional help
While many people experience symptom relief through the steps mentioned above, it’s important to recognize when you should seek professional help with your depression symptoms. You should call your medical provider if you experience any of the following:
- You have frequent thoughts of suicide
- You have three or more depression symptoms, and they have persisted for longer than two to four weeks
- You feel a medication you are taking might be responsible for your depression symptoms. (Note: DO NOT stop taking your medications without first consulting your doctor.)
- You feel you should cut back on your drinking, a family member has asked you to reduce your alcohol consumption, or you drink alcohol first thing in the morning.
- You feel you might be a danger to yourself or someone else.
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Other Forms of Depression
- Postpartum depression (PPD) strikes a surprising number of women every year. Roughly half of all new mothers report feeling mild to moderate postpartum depression, with up to 8% experiencing more severe symptoms. Often described using the somewhat dismissive term “baby blues,” the disorder has begun to receive the proper medical attention it deserves.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of mild to moderate depression that arises as a result of the relationship between sunlight levels and the brain’s production of stress and happiness hormones. As long summer daylight hours and warm weather give way to shorter, colder, darker days change the way the pineal gland regulates the body’s balance of melatonin, serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters. Increased sunlight exposure during these times can be helpful.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) strikes women around one week prior to menstruation, and abates after menstruation completes.
Causes of Mild Depression
Depression can arise as a result of a number of factors. Because mild and severe depression result from complex interplay of emotions, mental state, and physical/hormonal activity, a number of situations can contribute to, or be precursors for, your depression symptoms:
- A major change in life circumstances, whether those major changes might be considered positive or negative.
- An abusive or troubled relationship.
- Alcohol or drug use, especially daily.
- Medical conditions, especially those requiring extensive treatment or with a potential life-shortening consequence (such as cancer treatment)
- Lack of sleep
- Financial difficulty
- Loss of a job or career
- Lack of exercise
- Isolation, a particularly common form of depression for elderly people separated from friends and family
- Sudden change in a family situation, such as when grown children leave the home
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