Chronic stress and depression are related. The link between the two is in a hormone, in a small peptide that originates a whole series of brain changes when we go through a certain time with the shadow of stress as a passenger co-pilot. Factors such as the constant worry and the lack of physical and mental rest, lead us to this type of states that wear so much.
This evidence shows us a very striking fact. Our brain has incredible plasticity; what surrounds us, the way we interpret it, what we feel and what obsesses us to the point of taking away our sleep, in turn generates a whole cascade of neurochemical alterations. Little by little, we stop releasing dopamine and there is discouragement, blockage, lack of vitality and, finally, depression.
Stress that we do not control can lead to a depressive disorder. There is no doubt, we are told by recent studies of which we will now speak. However, are we facing a direct relationship? That is to say, any person who is right now going through a period of stress maintained over time will have psychological problems in a few months? The answer is no, not all.
This is where another remarkable aspect opens up. There are people more resistant than others. Our genetics, added to other variables, places a kind of protective filter so that psychological wear does not get worse. Despite this, it should be noted that, as indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 10% of the population derives from a depressive disorder by going through a stress situation first. Let’s see more data below.
“Your emotions should not be paralyzing. They should not defend themselves. They should not prevent you from being everything you can be.”
-Wayne W. Dyer-
Chronic stress and depression, a relationship orchestrated by a ‘defenseless’ brain
Michio Kaku, the well-known American physicist and disseminator of technological science, points out that we have on our shoulders the most complex artifact of the universe. Our brain. Those hundred billion connected neurons create their own anatomy based on what we do every day. In this way, every practice, every thought, personal approach and competence molds this sensational organ in a unique and exclusive way.
However, not everything we experience or do goes in our favor. An example, we are that society that has completely normalized stress, and we do it without being aware of how this dimension comes to alter this brain architecture. Thus, studies as illuminating as the one carried out in the University of Beinjin, China, show us that chronic stress is one of the biggest enemies of the brain.
Structures such as the hippocampus or the prefrontal cortex lose volume. Hence the difficulty in making decisions, concentrating or remembering certain daily data. Furthermore, a clearly significant relationship between chronic stress and depression has also been discovered.
The center of the brain’s ‘I’, an overactive area
This data is interesting to understand that link between chronic stress and depression. There is a group of neurons located in the medial prefrontal cortex that are determinant to identify the presence of any depressive disorder. It should be noted that this area is known as ‘the center of the self’ because it is here where, so to speak, the mind comes to think about oneself.
In this brain corner our plans, concerns, the imprint of what we have already done, what we should do and everything related to our figure of ‘I’ are inscribed. Well, when we go through a time marked by stress, this area is very active. The reason? Because we do not stop ruminating, of worrying, of feeding the nervousness.
If this stress is not adequately managed, it is likely that, after three or six months, catastrophic ideas and the first brushstrokes of depression will emerge. Thus, something that could be seen by magnetic resonance, is that patients with a depressive disorder evidence hyperactivity in that area of the medial prefrontal cortex.
The self is caught in a maze of suffering and constant worry.
Chronic stress and depression: the key is in the dopamine
The molecular mechanism by which chronic stress and depression have such a significant link lies in a very specific peptide: the hormone corticotropin (CRH). To understand it better, it is enough to understand this sequence:
In states of stress the brain releases this hormone, which favors the production of dopamine.
Dopamine reaches the nucleus accumbens, a region that mediates motivational behavior and that energy that allows us to achieve goals on a day-to-day basis.
Now, in case that stress is maintained over time, the thing changes. So much so, that dopamine stops being released. In this way, when our brain begins to suffer a deficit of this important neurotransmitter, our mental focus loses motivation, there is discouragement, bad mood, negativity and apathy.
Now, as we pointed out at the beginning, not all people suffering from chronic stress derive in a depression. Certain genetic factors and even a more resilient attitude, allows them not to fall into that black hole. Even so, we must not forget that stress generates organic changes that can damage our health.
Punctual stress, controlled and limited in time is always a great ally. Let us try therefore not to stay too long in us, try to channel it and use it in our favor so that it does not take us, at any time, to destinations inhabited by suffering.