Stress Rewires the Brain:

Leads to Depression Cycle

Stress Rewires the Brain, Leads to Depression Cycle

(Sunday Gazette – Mail; Charleston, W.V.)
Nov 16th 2004

Join the battle Stress and depression are profoundly connected. There are things you can do to battle both. s Sleep and rest Essential for coping with hectic situations and recovering psychologically. * Healthy diet Processed and junk food can add to both stress and depression. * Avoiding alcohol It might seem to relieve stress, but it also acts as a depressant. * Avoiding caffeine It can play havoc with stress and disrupt your health and sleep. * Regular exercise A great reliever of stress and natural anti-depressant. * Social connections and diversions Taking time for more than work is important. * Taking work breaks Remember, your emotional and psychological health might be involved. * Getting therapy if you need it Anti-depressants might not be enough. Many people need both.

Knight Ridder Newspapers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Stress and depression – perhaps the two psychological states discussed most by Americans in recent years – are profoundly linked, top officials at the National Institute of Mental Health say.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have known for decades that stress can lead to depression. “A rat always chased by a cat doesn’t have much time to enjoy life,” said Philip Gold of the institute. Post-traumatic stress disorder also often involves depression.

But recent developments in brain imaging and other areas of neurology show that stress actually works to “rewire” the brain’s emotional circuits. So depression becomes not just an emotional and psychological result, but a physiological one.

Especially with victims of severe stress, depression can be caused by more than just chemical imbalance in the brain. A stressed- depressed brain alters its connections and actually operates differently.

“This is a systemic disorder,” Gold says. “It affects the circuits of the brain.”

Severe stress like growing up in poverty can reshape the brain, but so can ongoing work stress, experts say.

“Stressed-out” is a national buzzword, and more than 18 million Americans suffer from clinical depression each year. Many sufferers have a genetic tendency toward depression passed down from a family member. They are especially vulnerable to stress.

Millions of schoolkids are beginning stressful schedules far earlier in life than previous generations. So this stress- depression link presents both a major concern for the future, and new clues for researchers. Gold and others say this link could lead to important new medications and “a roadmap to treatment.”

The hope is that stress-mediators could work with anti- depressants to stop the cycle before it reshapes the “wiring” between the brain’s fear center in the amygdala and the emotional monitoring that goes on in the prefrontal cortex.

And there’s another reason for hope: The reshaping of the brain might be reversible. One of the key findings of recent brain imaging is that the brain is highly adaptable.

Nerve cell connections can be destroyed by depression, but perhaps they can also be rebuilt again. “The big news is the structural plasticity of the adult brain, the remodeling of neurons,” neurobiologist Bruce McEwen of Rockefeller University told Psychology Today.

The stress-depression connection could also lead to applications for our daily lives – especially if we know we’re at risk for depression.

For instance, if work is taking over your life at the expense of common pleasures, you need to make time in your daily routine to give your stressed-out brain a break.

Stress causes the “fear center” in the amygdala part of our brains to take over our emotions and affect our thinking. Some people are able to use that healthy fear to respond to a hectic or frightening situation. The stress response is supposed to shut down when the stressful event passes. Then most people can enjoy a full range of emotions again.

But if someone is clinically depressed, the chemical imbalance in his brain often keeps the stress system active. High-tech brain imaging scans show that victims of long-term stress actually fail to experience positive feelings in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain just behind the forehead that establishes and maintains emotions. In these brains rewired by stress, fear and dread then surge unchecked from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex.

And the stress response never rests, precipitating depression.

National Institute of Mental Health
Rockefeller University

reviewed by Forum Admin on 8-1-11

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