One of the definitions of depression in the dictionary is, “a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason.” This is comparable to the clinical definition of depression, with the key difference being that clinical depression is more severe and is not the same as depression caused by a loss or medical condition.
As you browse the internet, you will find multiple “types” of depression listed. Some of these types meet a level of clinical diagnostic criteria, while others do not. All types of depression include similar symptoms and can present themselves differently in everyone.
Common symptoms associated with depression include sadness, irritability, isolation, withdrawal, hopelessness, helplessness, loneliness, low energy, loss of interest in daily activities, sleep struggles, and more.
From my experience, I find this concept of depression to be highly misleading. First of all, I believe depressions is not the problem in itself, but rather a symptom of a greater problem. Secondly, due to the misconceptions and lack of understanding surrounding depression, it is often treated improperly.
Most people will experience some level of depression in their life, and there are multiple reasons why this may happen. My goal today is to go over the most common reasons people experience depression: suffering is human nature, loss, medical conditions, being stuck, and unresolved trauma or past issues. Then, I will provide tips to help alleviate symptoms for each area.
Suffering is human nature
To suffer is to be human. Sadness is an emotion that many people try to avoid because it is difficult to experience. However, avoiding this natural emotion actually creates more discomfort.
This is true with any symptom related to depression. Symptoms of depression are difficult and cause emotions that are tough to acknowledge and feel. The first instinct is to stop them immediately.
The truth is, without painful emotions you are not able to fully embrace and understand the depth of joy, happiness, fun, and vitality that living can bring. Rather than shutting out painful emotions, you can learn to use them to better understand yourself and the world around you. They become a map, guiding you through what is going on inside of yourself.
Loss, like suffering, is a part of life. There is no way to avoid it. Loss can be felt when someone you love or care about dies or leaves you. It can also be more ambiguous, like a job loss, losing a pet, a graduation, divorce or marriage. It can be a loss of who you believe you are, or missing out on a great opportunity. Loss can leave an emptiness in your heart that you are unsure you will ever fill again.
There are numerous medical conditions that can result in symptoms of depression. In fact, I would venture to say that just having a medical condition alone can induce symptoms of depression. Common conditions that result in depressive symptoms include vitamin and mineral deficiencies in general (vitamin D in particular), cancer, heart problems, underactive thyroid, autoimmune disorders, and many more.
Commonly, depression is considered a medical condition. I disagree with this. I believe wholeheartedly that all the symptoms of depression are real and painful, but I disagree on the origin of depression. This distinction is important in how health care providers will acknowledge and treat your condition.
The origin of the problem is generally what is treated. If depression is the origin then it will primarily be treated with medication, but if it is not the origin, it opens doors to multiple other treatment options.
There are many ways you may feel stuck in your life, and often you don’t even realize that you are stuck. Many people become dissatisfied with their lives and think, “It’s just the way it is.” When they begin to feel trapped in their situation, they then develop symptoms of depression.
For example, you may have a job that you don’t like, but you desperately need the money. Another example is that maybe you live somewhere that does not align with what you need, but don’t have the support to move to a new location.
There are many reasons that you may feel stuck in both your external world, as noted above, or from your internal world. Being stuck in your internal world may mean that you want to change something in your life, but you don’t because of internal barriers. These internal barriers can include being afraid of what other people may think, or feeling pressure to perform a certain way. It could also be there are chronic expectations put on you that feel overwhelming, but you don’t know how to change it.
Whether your struggle stems from internal or external barriers, the result is similar; symptoms of depression. These symptoms arise out of feelings of powerlessness and fear, and can keep you immobilized for extended periods of time.
Unresolved trauma or past issues
If you have had any trauma in your life, ongoing conflict with yourself or others, or past issues that have not been resolved, then you may experience symptoms of depression. It doesn’t matter how big or small you or others believe the issue to be, but rather how you have internalized the situation/s. If these situations have not been somatically processed (processing of emotions and feelings by feeling them and releasing them from your body), then it is likely they have manifested into depressive symptoms.
Unresolved trauma, conflict, or past issues can come out in symptoms that are difficult to connect with the original problems. Most people do not want to think about or feel pain from difficult issues, resulting in them avoiding it at all costs. Only in facing these difficulties and letting the body process them will the depressive symptoms be alleviated.
How to treat depression symptoms
- Comprehensive physical. This is more than your annual checkup, and your primary doctor might not be willing to do all the “extras”. Therefore, you might have to see a functional medicine practitioner to accommodate. This physical should include a full thyroid panel, vitamin D levels, and a full nutrient panel, along with your normal physical. Depending on your specific symptoms other tests may be recommended.
- Assess your life. If your comprehensive physical comes back good, then you may want to assess where everything is at in your life. Determine what your level of satisfaction is in all areas of your life and assess if any of those areas could be impacting how you feel. I have created a Wellness Assessment to assist you in this process.
Once you complete the assessment, acknowledge which areas in your life need to shift or change. Is the situation about unresolved issues or current situations? Are these internal struggles or external situations? How is your nutritional intake?
- Implement change strategy. There is a hierarchy of change strategies that I recommend. First would be to implement any necessary medical treatments as determined in your comprehensive physical. Treating a medical condition or deficiency might be all that is needed to alleviate the symptoms. For example, if you are deficient in vitamin D and your symptoms are sadness, low energy, and fatigue, increasing your vitamin D levels may be all you need to alleviate your symptoms.
Next, look at your overall health habits. Nutrition and sleep are highly correlated with your mood. If you are not getting proper nutrition and/or sleep, you can experience many symptoms of depression. Sugar, processed foods, and chemicals/toxins in your food can cause lethargy, fatigue, low energy and body pain. Eliminating these substances from your daily diet can increase energy, decrease fatigue, and virtually alleviate the symptoms of depression.
Sleep is the foundation of mental wellness. If you are not getting restful and restorative sleep, then you may be feeling multiple symptoms of depression. It is often hard to recognize the correlation between good nutrition and restful sleep with symptoms of mental health because it is usually a slow decline versus a rapid onset, and therefore it is overlooked.
I recommend eating a healthy diet of unprocessed food and eliminating sugar, alcohol, caffeine, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, white flour, and empty calorie beverages for the next three weeks. Then, see if you notice a difference in your symptoms.
If you are not sleeping 6-8 hours a night and aren’t waking up feeling rested, then try implementing sleep hygiene. An hour before bed, turn off all electronics and engage in a calming activity such as a hot bath, meditation, light reading, or anything else that is soothing to your system. Do this for a minimum of three weeks, and again, notice any differences in your symptoms.
Then, look at any current stuck points in your life. Whether the stuck point is internal or external, enlist help from a support person. If the stuck point is external, like needing a job change or wanting to move, strategize what you want to be different, how that could happen, and set a plan with a timeline to make it happen.
If the stuck point is internal, start strengthening your inner self. The only way to get through internal barriers is to get to know who you are and learn how to love yourself. Build your self-awareness and your connection with yourself. Find your voice and speak your truth. Finding your inner power is a process of development and it will set you free.
Having a deep level of self-connection allows you the ability to differentiate feelings of suffering or loss, and to work through any symptoms of depression. Inner awareness empowers you to be able to live the life you were meant to have and free yourself from any unnecessary burdens.
Finally, process any unresolved issues. If you have done all the steps above and you are still having symptoms of depression, then it is important to look at any unresolved trauma, conflict, or past issues. This step will likely involve getting assistance from a professional. A professional can help you identify what may be causing your symptoms and know how to help you process them somatically to release them from your body.
Working through unresolved issues will be a long process. It takes time to gain insight into how these issues have impacted your life and to work toward resolution. Be patient with yourself and practice self-compassion.
It is normal for people to experience symptoms of depression in a multitude of situations. When experiencing symptoms for an extended period, it can “qualify” as a clinical depression. Clinical depression is considered a medical condition and that classification become a barrier for treatment.
When depression is viewed as a symptom of a problem rather than the problem itself, there are opportunities to explore the origin. This opens things up to multiple treatment options. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, try the steps above to alleviate these symptoms, and don’t forget to enlist the help of a support person or professional.
I wish you wellness on your journey!
Dr. Barb Jochum
I am passionate about therapeutic wellness, holistic healing, and embracing our authentic selves. My occupational history for the past 20+ years has been in mental health as a licensed therapist, as well as 5 years in a management position. I completed my PhD at The Institute for Clinical Social Work in Chicago, IL. In my professional journey, I have seen multitudes of clients, as well as employees, that are stuck in their lives or circumstances which highly correlate with potential mental health concerns. This correlation has prompted a movement in myself to help people from a different angle; one of wellness. The combination of my personal and professional experiences has sparked a passion that continues to grow stronger each day. This passion led me to develop Functional Integrated Transformation (FIT) Coaching.