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Depressive Episodes: What Triggers Them & How to Help

The Symptoms

Often symptoms of depressive episodes include sadness with no specific cause, hopelessness, the physical sensation of heaviness, low-energy, brain fog, lack of clarity, vagueness, desire to withdraw, escapism, generalised negative thoughts and statements, difficulty in getting out of bed, oversleeping, etc.

The Triggers

Triggers vary greatly depending on the individual. Often they caused by deeply buried childhood experiences related to shame (even mild embarrassment can set it off for some people), hurting others or being hurt (this can be any aspect of mild-to-extreme physical, verbal or emotional abuse, including “light-hearted” bullying and other negative “humour”), loss of a loved one (including just people moving away, not necessarily dying), long-term loss of life direction, or indeed any trauma.

It can also just creep up slowly due to low-level stress, anxiety, overwhelm or sometimes, seemingly, for no reason at all.

However, these are only the “obvious” triggers that most psychologists and counsellors look for.

The typical approach to mental health completely overlooks what I believe are in fact equally important accumulative triggers — most of which relate to gut health and the microbiome.

Basically, since our microbiomes (friendly bacteria in our bodies) regulate and produce the vast majority of our neurochemicals, they are largely responsible for how we feel at any given moment.

Thus, if we literally feed our microbiome what it needs to thrive, we will also be capable of managing our emotional state with far greater ease. It’s like the story of the two inner wolves — one will help and one will harm you — and the one you feed will be in control. If you consistently feed your body garbage food, you will experience an increasingly challenging emotional state.

The Treatments

So this leads me to how to deal with a depressive episode…

Firstly, if there are any emotional memories arising in that moment, it’s important to get help from a CBT-trained or positive-psychology-trained counsellor/psychologist straight away. Because there’s something very important called “memory reconsolidation” that basically means when a memory is freshly revisited, we can re-frame it in a more positive way before it gets filtered back into our subconscious — which is a driving force for our behaviour, beliefs and emotional responses to life.

(I recently had an incredible experience that relates to this, which you can read about here).

Secondly, the simplest way to help manage a depressive episode (or possibly even avoid it in the first place) is to move to a whole-foods diet, predominantly eating vegetables as close to their natural state as possible, include probiotic foods like yoghurt and sauerkraut (and these probiotic supplements are highly recommended too), avoid all processed foods, avoid all alcohol (and any other drugs), cut down on caffiene and other stimulants and avoid all refined sugars. Drink lots of water to flush out toxins and get your body back to a healthy state.

Thirdly, if you feel dangerously low, take a natural St John’s Wort supplement daily for a few weeks until your mood noticeably lifts. (Incidentally, I previously used Microgenics Hypericalm—an excellent 3600mg dose St John’s Wort supplement—although that particular product doesn’t seem to be available anymore unfortunately).

Lastly, and probably least-important but still very worthwhile long-term, practice mindfulness. This helps reduce the mind’s tendency to revisit the past, be fearful of the future and mis-read the present — bringing in the much-needed “presence” that stills the mind, calms the emotions and gets you focussed on exactly what is really happening right now (which is typically nothing bad at all).

The Proof

There’s more to my own story and there are other more advanced helpful ideas like holding space, but in short, these four basic approaches have enabled me to completely change my own life (from severe manic depression to blissful wellbeing) and help others do the same — all without the need for ongoing medication.

If you’re struggling yourself, or know someone who is, I really hope this helps. I’ve also written a book detailing 13 ways to overcome depression. Please send me a private message if you would like any further information or ideas to support your wellbeing.

BTW, for more information on this topic, please also see this older post.

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