Thinking about depression, you probably have an idea of what that condition entails. Intense sadness, loss of interest in your favorite things, and poor sleep habits come to mind when thinking of symptoms of depression. But did you know that your brain is physically affected by depression as well?
Depression is not only a mental condition that affects how you feel, but it also physically impacts your brain. If you are interested in learning how our brains adapt to depression, then keep reading.
Why is your brain altered by depression?
Mental health conditions like depression are caused by a change in brain chemistry which can actually make changes to your brain. This has to do with neuroscience and the physical chemistry of the brain.
When you are going through a bout of depression, your brain activity is lower than average. This is usually what causes the difference in your physical brain. In addition to this, your brain loses gray matter volume, which is a material that makes up a large part of your brain.
How the brain is physically affected
Although depression is a cognitive condition that influences your mood and thoughts, sometimes we forget that it is caused by ineffective neurotransmitters. On top of this, researchers have found multiple ways that the brain is physically affected by depression.
Rather than detailing all the minute ways your brain is impacted, let’s break down the changes into three main categories.
A common way your physical brain adapts to depression is via shrinkage, especially in the hippocampus and frontal and prefrontal cortex. The severity and amount of shrinkage is dependent on how long and severe the depressive episode lasts for. This is caused by increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Although many parts of the brain shrink, the amygdala enlarges. This is the part of your brain responsible for regulating your emotions and is responsible for many of the emotional aspects of depression, such as mood swings.
While dealing with depression and some parts of the brain decrease in size, other parts increase through inflammation. However, researchers are unsure if depression causes inflammation or vice versa.
The inflammation grows more pronounced the longer a depressive episode lasts. This can lead to many more complications, such as reduced cognitive function when dealing with depression.
Lack of oxygen
In addition to shrinkage of the brain, depression has also been linked to decreased oxygen in the blood. This results in less oxygen making its way to your brain.
A conclusive link between oxygen intake and depression has not yet been found, but researchers have been looking into it for years. This lack of oxygen makes it even more important to focus on breathing and breathwork while coping with depression.
Reversing the changes
Much like treating the emotional symptoms of a mental health concern, medication and forms of talk therapy are great ways to reduce the inflammation your brain may be experiencing while going through depression. This may also help in re-linking the neurotransmitters in your brain that are the root chemical cause of depression.
Above all else, do not panic about the changes that your brain may or may not have gone through if you have been dealing with depression. At the end of the day, you are still you, regardless of how your brain may have adapted to your depression.
If this knowledge has caused you some anxiety or you have more questions on how your brain may have been changed by depression, talking to a trained therapist is always a great option. Feel free to reach out to me today to learn more.