Why Stress Triggers Depression in Some People and Resilience in Others
Stress can have different effects on different people. For some people, stress can be incredibly motivating. These people tend to thrive on the pressure of a tight deadline or a difficult problem that needs to be solved. There are other people, however, for whom stress is the worst thing in the world and the slightest hint of pressure can send them spiraling into a depression and make them feel utterly hopeless. For many people, stress triggers depression and it can be confusing to understand why.
The reactions we have to stress are often incredibly unique. We may even react differently under pressure to those we share our genetic make-up with. This has been a conundrum that has baffled and challenged scientists and psychologists for some time now.
While there is still not a concrete answer as to why stress triggers depression in some people and not in others, there has been some research done that may hold some of the answers.
Scientists believe that depression may be strongly linked to activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is a group of neurons that are in the front of your brain. This part of the brain helps to regulate your emotions and the way that you behave. This area is thought to become overactive among people who are suffering from depression.
The medial prefrontal cortex is also commonly referred to as the “me-center” of the brain. This part of your brain becomes the most active when you are thinking about your future or any worries or concerns that you may have. It is also always active, which is why it can play such a big role in depression. When you are doing nothing, this part of your mind remains active and your thoughts begin to wander.
How does this all link to stress though? Well, a team of scientists from Cold Spring Harbour ran an experiment on some mice to determine whether or not stress had an active part to play in depression.
For the experiment, they shocked the mice’s paws in order to make them feel more stressed. They did this without offering the mice any way out of the situation. Later on, when they did offer the mice a way out, around 20% of them did not take it. This is known as “learned helplessness” and is often exhibited in people who suffer from depression, as well. Basically, many of us just give up hope in certain situations. When faced with stress or pressure, especially repeatedly, they just give in straight away and accept the difficulties of the situation. This is heavily linked with depression and is a trait that is often shared by those who suffer from it.
The study showed that the mice who had become depressed also had much more activity going on in their medial prefrontal cortex, while those who had not become depressed and left the situation did not have quite as much activity going on.
The experiment went a step further. The scientists used a scientific method to engineer activity in the medial prefrontal cortex of some of the mice who were not depressed. The results were very interesting. These mice, who had previously been incredibly resilient and had withstood the pressure, caved in and became depressed.
These findings are important when it comes to working out what causes people to be depressed and why, under certain circumstances, some people will become triggered and, in turn, depressed. It also suggests that depression may be more biological than we think and we may be able to isolate its causes in the future.
While these findings may offer an insight into what causes depression, it remains to be seen what kind of practical help they will be able to offer. Some people believe that these discoveries mean that we may be able to target certain parts of the brain and perform deep brain stimulation in order to help those with depression.
This research also means that scientists and chemists may be able to manufacture drugs and anti-depressants that specifically target this part of the brain. They may also be able to work out other techniques that are not medical in nature to aid those who suffer from depression.
While this research is useful, it is important to remember that it has been performed on mice and may not apply to humans. If it does though, then it could go a long way towards explaining why, for some people, stress triggers depression and others become resilient and tackle issues in a different way.
There are many ways to reduce activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. Mindfulness techniques such as meditation and breathing can calm neurons and help you feel less depressed and worried. Studies suggest that practicing meditation regularly may be able to help reduce the activity in this part of the brain and that it can be a great way to deal with issues like depression or anxiety.
Another way to deal with overthinking is simply to talk about it. Sharing stress can unburden you and, in turn, make you feel less depressed and anxious. If you are looking for a professional to talk to in the MetroWest area, then you can always reach out to our team and book an appointment. If you find that stress triggers depression for you, then sharing your stress and having an outlet for it could be a serious step in the right direction for your own mental health and well-being.