Disorders
Fact Checked

The Complete Depression Guide: How to Free Yourself

Micah Abraham, BSc
The Complete Depression Guide: How to Free Yourself

Depression is curable.

There is a heaviness to depression. A permanency. When a person  struggles with depression, it is as though the world around them is  trying to make that depression stick. Everyone, and everything, feels as  though it is targeting you – trying to make sure you continue to feel  the world as a difficult place.

There is a hopelessness to depression that is constant, nagging, and unforgiving.

But depression, despite how much of a struggle it is, is also  interesting. It’s a curable condition. There is hope. As much as  depression controls thoughts, emotions, and experiences, that control is  itself a symptom of depression. Feeling hopeless with your depression  is caused by depression, with symptoms that lead to a cycle of  experiences that all fuel depressive symptoms.

When one finds a way to break that cycle, one finds a way to beat depression.

Welcome to Our Depression Guide

Here at CalmClinic we know that anxiety and depression often go hand  in hand. We have compiled a free, in-depth guide to help make it easier  for those struggling with sadness and depression to find a better  understanding of the condition, and to know that they are not alone in  their experiences.

The more you understand depression, the more you will have the tools to beat it.

Throughout this guide, we’ll explore depression symptoms, depression  causes, depression treatments, depression science, and information that  relates specifically to better understanding how depression manifests  and what you can do to begin stopping it.

Sometimes, depression does take medication. Other times it takes  therapy. Sometimes it takes both, and even then there may be ups and  downs on the road to recovery. This guide is not a replacement for those  tools, nor is it implying that they are the only tools.

What we hope is that this guide will help you begin your journey  towards recovery, help you learn more about what you are experiencing,  and be a reference point to know that you’re not alone – that others  have come before you, experienced similar symptoms (and even similar  hopelessness), and were able to recover.

Depression is a curable condition. That sentence needs to be stated  as often as possible because when times are at their darkest and if or  when a treatment has failed, it’s easy to forget that a better life is  out there for you.

Depression also takes years to form. It shouldn’t be surprising that  it can sometimes take a long time to treat, or that there may be  setbacks along the way. Depression sometimes doesn’t go away without a  fight, but it is a fight that you can make.

Therapy, medicine, self-help, exercise, diet, friends – there are  many factors that go into curing depression. But it all starts with  knowledge. We hope this digital guide will help serve as a useful  reference that you can turn to when you want to learn more about your  depression and how to manage it.

So… What is Depression?

Depression is both a mental health condition and a term that people  use when they feel a deep level of sadness or emptiness. There are  actually several types of depression, known as “mood disorders,” that  we’ll discuss further in the “Types of Depression” section.

However, while the different types of depression do have very  specific variables in order to qualify for a diagnosis, the term  “depression” can also be used as a layman term to describe the current  state of a person’s emotions. Whether or not you have been diagnosed (or  qualify for a diagnosis), it is possible to feel “depressed,” which can  have many of the same symptoms.

Depression is not just sadness, however. The following may or may not be signs of depression:

A deep level of sadness is not necessarily depression. Indeed, if you  feel sad as a result of an action (for example, getting dumped), you  may not necessarily be depressed – you may simply be sad.

HOWEVER, DEPRESSION CAN BE THE RESULT OF A SAD EVENT.

For example, someone that gets dumped may feel sad, and that sadness  may not go away, and it may lead to chronic feelings of emptiness, etc.  That may still be depression. Someone that hates their job may  experience stress for so long that it eventually turns into depression.  Someone that fights with their partner may feel so deeply depressed that  they have suicidal thoughts that do not go away. That may also be  depression. Even the failures of a sports team could, in theory, lead to  depression.

Sadness may also not be a part of a person’s depression, as  depression doesn’t always cause sadness at all. Some people find that  their depression manifests as an absence of positive feelings (called  “anhedonia”). They may have highs and lows that rapidly shift. They may  have a low level of emptiness that never goes away. All of those are  depression as well.

As you can see, there are complexities to depression which add to the  difficulty that some people have when they try to define it.

What You Will Find in the CalmClinic Depression Guide

This is our depression guide, here at CalmClinic. This guide is  specifically written for anyone that feels depressed, whether or not  they have a diagnosable mental health condition, because we know that  not everyone is able to easily define what they’re experiencing.

This guide is meant to provide you with as much information as possible about depression and its symptoms. Like our anxiety guide  this guide will take you through the different parts of depression,  starting broadly and allowing you to click onward to read more specific  pages that relate to whatever it is that interests you.

With this online guide, we strongly encourage you to see what you’d  like to learn more about and click onward to review more information.  This is also a “living article,” which means that we’ll continue to add  more in-depth information as time goes on. We encourage you to bookmark  this page and come back any time you need more information.

Our goal is to eventually cover every topic, from Anhedonia to Zinc, in as much detail as possible.

Why This Information is Important

There exists, of course, the question of why you should want to learn  as much as you can about depression and its symptoms. Why do you need  to read an online guide? In today’s busy world, why waste time learning  about a condition you wish you did not have?

But in the word of psychology, knowledge is power.

Depression is a curable condition. It is common. It is able to be  controlled over time. It also changes how you think, making situations  and experiences seem worse, leading to feelings of helplessness, poor  decision making, and more.

These are things that are far too easy to forget.

Depression is a condition that changes your thoughts. Knowledge is  the most powerful tool you have for reminding yourself that those  thoughts, feelings, and emotions may be wrong. They may be the result of  depression, and not the truth about it.

Thus, the time you spend reading about depression – not only here,  but in other books and media as well – the more power you have to  address it.

What To Do If You Need Help Right Now

If you are in a situation right now where you feel that you need  immediate help that a long worded guide cannot provide, here are several  resources to contact:

These resources are available if you need someone soon. There may  also be local crisis hotlines and help centers. Please do not hesitate  to contact someone immediately if you require some type of assistance  right away.

For the rest of you, the remainder of this part of the guide will be  overviews of different topics within the world of depression. If at any  time you would like to learn more about a topic of interest, make sure  that you click on the image or links associated with that information.

An Introduction to the History and Science of Depression

Human beings are the result of millions of years of evolution.  Evolution explains why we have our skin tone (to adapt to the sun in the  environments of our ancestors), our brains (to help us solve complex  problems of survival), our immune system (to fight off disease), and  more.

Why, with all of the evolutionary strengths that human beings have, does depression still exist?

It’s not entirely clear, but some theorize that the reason depression  exists is that there is a small part of it that is actually good for  survival.

That can be hard to believe. How could there be anything “good” about a condition as terrible as depression?

Yet to understand this, we can look at another mental health  condition that sometimes goes hand in hand with depression: anxiety.

When faced with a danger – for example, a giant hungry sabretooth tiger – our early ancestors basically had three choices:

The people that chose to stay and do nothing are all gone. They were eaten.

So we’re left with the people that ran away or stayed to fight. Over  time, this developed into a system, known as the “fight or flight  response.” When we’re faced with a danger, our bodies leap into action.  They get a rush of adrenaline to give them strength and stamina if they  need to run or fight. They sweat so their body stays cool. Their pupils  dilate so they can respond faster to any attacks.

In other words, the fight or flight system is the reason that you’re  here today. Your ancestors survived by running and screaming away. Our  fight or flight system is the reason we are able to break in time to  avoid a car accident, or why we don’t go into dark alleys, or how we  make sure that spiders do not eat our brains.

Our fight or flight system is a good thing. It keeps us alive.

Anxiety is what happens when the fight or flight system malfunctions,  and tells us we’re facing danger even when no danger is found.

Anxiety is an awful condition, but it is based on something we  actually need – the fight or flight system. As bad as anxiety is, there  is a part of it that is still important for survival.

Evolutionary theorists believe the same thing about depression.  They’re just not entirely sure what the adaptation is and whether or not  it is malfunctioning.

Some researchers believe that the system that causes depression is  the same system that helps people focus on problems and use logic to  solve for answers. Some of the evidence of this includes:

These are some of many examples that support the theory that  depression is supposed to be a tool to help you navigate complex  decisions, and then perhaps for some people, the tool is misfiring just  like the anxiety example.

Another theory relates to pain. Both depression and physical  pain are closely related. Why do we experience physical pain? Usually,  it’s to tell us we need to be careful or something needs to change.  Perhaps depression is also telling us that something needs to change,  and we live in a world where changing is hard.

Another theory has to do with the withdrawal effects of  depression. It is believed that, when faced with something that causes  us distress, depression makes us withdrawal in order to make sure we are  safe.

In the time of early man, distress may have been caused by dangers or  the deaths of family members due to illness, where withdrawal could  have kept us safer. But now that we are faced with different stressors,  like breakups, that withdrawal may not be as helpful.

Similarly, one of the symptoms of the flu is depression. Why?  Possibly because withdrawal keeps others from catching the flu too,  which in early man used to be a more deadly condition.

Regardless, the point is that as much of a struggle as it is to live  with depression, it is possible that some part of depression was  supposed to help us in some way. These are all just theories, but they  go back to the primary purpose of this guide – depression is curable,  because evolutionarily it was never meant to be permanent.

Of course, evolution may not be the only reason for depression.  Stress itself is like a disease on the body. It damages organs, it  affects digestion, and it may even cause changes to a person’s DNA.

Stress also appears to alter the neurochemicals in the brain that affect mood, thought, and energy.

When a person experiences either chronic stress or severe stress,  that stress may alter the serotonin, dopamine, and other hormones and  neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that affect mood. This, in turn, may  cause depression to develop – because the chemicals in the brain are  not functioning as they were supposed to.

Once the chemicals have changed, they may not go back to how they  were prior without some type of treatment – just like catching an  infection needs to be treated with antibiotics, so too does depression  need to find a treatment that helps the neurotransmitters get back to  normal.

Whatever theory you subscribe to with depression, the most important  takeaway is that it was never meant to be a permanent state of mind.  It’s something that was meant to be temporary, and unfortunately, some  people got stuck and are in need of a way out.

Types of Depression

There are those who simply feel depressed, and there are those that  suffer from a diagnosable form of depression. The Diagnostic and  Statistics Manual (DSM-V) used by psychologists to understand mental  health disorders is used as a guideline for diagnoses and treatments of  different types of depression. It is helpful to understand these types,  as it may help you recognize your own depressive symptoms.

That’s because depression is not actually one condition. Some types  of depression are very different than other types of depression. Knowing  what the different types are is important for recognizing what you may  be experiencing.

At CalmClinic, we continue to want to emphasize that if you feel that  you’re feeling “depressed,” it’s okay to seek help even if you do not  fall under any of these official categories. These are the types of  depression that can be diagnosed by a therapist or psychiatrist, but  powerful sadness is still damaging to a person’s life.

NOTE: It’s not always a good idea to diagnose yourself. These are for  reference to help you potentially understand more about your symptoms,  but only a trained psychologist can provide you with a true diagnosis.

ALSO NOTE: Below, we have some example experiences, but not everyone  with these conditions experiences it the same way. There are many ways  to experience these different depression conditions.

FINAL NOTE: Because “depression” doesn’t necessarily imply that a  person has a depression disorder, not everyone with depression will  qualify for any condition, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what they  struggle with is any less severe or problematic.

Without further delay, the following are several of the most common types of depression:

What This Looks Like: Sometimes you find yourself struggling  to leave the bed, feeling tired during the day and night no matter how  much or how little you sleep. You feel worthless and empty, and cannot  really imagine the idea of going out and doing fun things. The idea of  “fun” feels almost distant. At its worst, you may have a hard time  feeling as though there is any reason to live.

What This Looks Like: “Meh.” You just feel down every day.  You don’t feel people like you. You don’t really enjoy many activities  so you tend to keep mostly to yourself, doing very little. You may feel  sad but not really know why. There doesn’t seem to be much to make you  happy, as you are going through the motions and getting by because  that’s what people do.

What This Looks Like: For several days at a time, you  struggle to even leave your bed. You sleep 17 hours, you feel worthless,  irritable, and extremely sad. Then one day, you suddenly feel  outstanding. You may feel energized to finish all sorts of interesting  projects, or you may feel almost overwhelming aroused, or you may simply  have so many thoughts on your mind that you fly through them in  conversation. At some point, however, you feel low again, and the  sadness comes back.

What This Looks Like: Summer was great. Spent time with  friends, tanned a little, and you were the most productive you’ve been  at work in months. But it’s starting to get colder and you feel… down.  It’s hard to describe, but it keeps getting worse. By the time December  hits, you’re as empty as you’ve been in a long time and barely want to  get out of bed. By spring though, things seem to be getting better.

What This Looks Like: It should be the happiest time of your  life. But you have never felt so helpless, unequipped, and empty. Your  baby is there crying and it doesn’t feel like yours. You don’t feel like  you have the tools and sometimes even the desire to care for it. You  just want to be alone, and while your friends and family try to tell you  it’s normal, you “know” that it’s not. You feel in your heart you’re  not meant to be a parent.

What This Looks Like: You are deeply depressed, showing all  the symptoms of major depressive disorder or having extremely sad,  hopeless thoughts. But a friend tells a joke, and you’re able to laugh.  Or you visit Disneyland, and you have a great time, even though the next  day you feel as depressed as you did prior. Or maybe you struggle with  anxiety, and you experience depression after every panic attack that  eventually goes away if you are able to avoid future attacks. Because  atypical depression is, by definition, “Atypical,” a person’s experience  may be different.

You may feel depressed but find that none of these encompass it.  That’s okay too. A person can feel depressed and benefit from taking  care of it even if they do not have the qualifiers above.

Symptoms of Depression

Even those without depression get a glimpse of what it feels like  during moments of significant sadness. These symptoms are common across  the different types of depression, even though different people may  experience these feelings in different ways. For example:

Depression is much more than sadness, and some people with depression  do not even feel “sad,” but our emotions and our bodies are linked, and  during times of sadness most people have a basic idea of what  depression can do.

But that glimpse does not encapsulate all of the many depression  symptoms that exist. Indeed, the number of POTENTIAL symptoms can be  substantial, for reasons that include:

This doesn’t even encapsulate all of the different effects of long  term depression, which is why it’s no wonder that many people experience  symptoms that are not typically linked to depression. It is even more  confusing if you also suffer from concurrent conditions, like anxiety.

With that in mind, the following are some of the more common physical  and mental depression symptoms. If you’d like to explore the symptoms  of depression even further, be sure and review our symptoms of  depression page.

Mental Symptoms of Depression

As a mental health disorder, many of the symptoms of depression are  mental. This means that they affect your thoughts, emotions, logic, and  more. Some of the more common mental symptoms of depression include:

As we mentioned earlier, there are different forms of depression and  different ways of reacting to it, so this is in no way a comprehensive  list.

For example, those with bipolar disorder may experience feelings of  contentment, arousal, or rapid thoughts during manic periods. Those with  event-based depression may find themselves overthinking a single  experience (for example, a breakup), and their negative emotions are  highly focused on that one event.

But the symptoms above are the ones that are more consistent between those with depression, regardless of type or severity.

Physical Symptoms of Depression

Depression is also a physical condition.

Some mental symptoms do have a physical component. One could argue  that sleep issues are physical in their own way. Anhedonia, which means  you feel as though you cannot feel good feelings, is the type of mental  symptom that can make you feel like a warmth or energy is taken out of  your body. These are all examples of how mental symptoms have a physical  component.

But depression also has physical symptoms of its own; symptoms that  are felt independent of mental components. Some of the more common  physical symptoms include:

You may also have issues like eye pain, loss of libido, anxiety  symptoms, skin changes, and more. Because stress (and anxiety) also  contribute to a huge list of different, sometimes even strange symptoms,  the list of depression symptoms can be quite long.

These symptoms are also real. They’re not imagined or in-your-head.  The power that the mind has over the body, and the way that stress and  depression change how your body operates means that these symptoms are  all being experienced by you as if they were any other type of injury.

It’s also important to remember that all pain – emotional pain and  the pain of an injury, like a paper cut – comes from your brain. Pain is  a signal your brain uses to tell you that something is in danger and  needs to change. Depression makes the mind more sensitive, which in turn  means that less severe pains become more severe in someone with  depressive symptoms.

In other words, something like a paper cut is genuinely more painful  to someone with depression than someone without, because the pain  processors of the brain are working harder and stronger.

There are many depression symptoms. But the good news is that because  depression is treatable, none of the symptoms are permanent.

For more information about all of the many symptoms of depression, see our overview page.

Causes of Depression

Not all depression has a clear cause. For some, it forms over time.  For others, it is more instantaneous. Depression can also have a genetic  component, but it’s important to remember that even if there is a  genetic component, depression can still be treated.

What are the causes of depression?

Anything that causes sadness or stress can theoretically lead to depression. But some of the most common reasons include:

In some cases, the reason may not even be clear. Excessive phone and  computer use may cause depression, for example, and while some of that  can be blamed on the news or the social media (envy over the public  shares of others), sometimes there is no clear explanation at all.

Treatments for Depression

Depression is treatable. We’ve been saying this since the beginning  of this long page, but it is perhaps no more relevant than this section,  where we talk about depression treatments.

But it is important to note that depression is also fickle. When you  have an infection, you take antibiotics. When you want to improve your  heart health, you exercise. When you want to get a cut, you put on a  Band-Aid.

When you have depression, you may:

And even then, you may still need some combination. Maybe you need  SSRIs and exercise, while someone else needs SNRIs, therapy, and a new  career.

Then there are other considerations like dosage, types of therapy  (CBT, positive psychology, and more), types of supplements, different  dietary changes, different exercises… the list goes on.

For those that have tried and failed to cure their depression, it’s  so obvious why so many people – individuals that ALREADY feel helpless  as a symptom of depression – often give up hope. Because it does take  time to find the right combination, and even then, that combination may  change someday.

But the good news is that there are many treatments out there, and  more are developed each year. As hard as it may be to stay optimistic  sometimes, there is a combination that will improve quality of life.

Some of the most common depression treatments include:

It helps to do whatever it takes to remind yourself that even though  it takes time, a better life is not far away. It is a process to find  out what treatments work best, and there may even be setbacks, but the  right treatment is out there.

Visit our depression treatment page for more information on what is available.

Find Your Strategy to Overcome Depression

Depression can so often be an overwhelming condition. But the feeling  that depression is life, or that the pain of depression is difficult to  manage, is itself a symptom of depression.

It takes time to find a way to break that cycle. Depression takes  years to form. Even a solution that works well may take a while to work  effectively enough to regain that hope for the future.

But hopefully this depression handbook gives you some of the  information you need to get started. We at CalmClinic strongly encourage  you to explore further. The more knowledge you gain, and the more you  understand yourself and your depression, the more you’ll be able to  overcome it and find the courage you need to keep moving forward.

Bookmark this page to come back to it when you need help. We will  continue to add to it over time, making it more in depth and helpful.  Soon, you’ll find that you’re the expert at depression, and you’ll be  able to find the strategies you need to help yourself and those around  you.

Share Rate this article:
We’d like your feedback
Was this article helpful?
Yes No