Monday, 3 May 2010

Could depression be affecting your concentration?

Poor concentration can sometimes be a symptom of depression. A low level of the neurotransmitter dopamine, often found in those suffering bouts of depression, affects neuro-connectivity and contributes to poor concentration.

Understandably, too, if you are preoccupied by negative or anxious thoughts, suffer poor sleep, lose your appetite and experience feelings of hopelessness, all of which are symptoms of depression, your concentration levels are bound to be affected.

Winston Churchill referred to his depression as his “black dog” and 1 in 4 of us will experience it, too.

Sometimes depression is reactive – you have good reason to feel low if a close relative has died, you have been physically unwell, or have lost your job. It would be unusual not to feel temporarily depressed following events like these. However, it is the creeping, insidious depressions that come about, often for no immediate or obvious reason, that can be tricky – but not impossible – to handle.

Be aware of the early symptoms, and that these can be aggravated by chronic sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, overwork and lack of exercise. Low-grade physical exhaustion can precede mental depression. It has become identified as a curse of the have-it-all, do-it-all generation.

Take note and take action, because mild to moderate depression responds well to various self-help measures.

- Up your daily exercise, even just 20 minutes brisk walking can help, because it helps elevates levels of feel-good brain chemicals

- Make sure you get a daily dose of daylight – 20 minutes exercise in the daylight can make a big difference

- Breathing – sounds obvious, but consciously breathing deeply and calmly reduces feelings of anxiety

- Eat regular, nutritious meals – a see-sawing blood sugar level aggravates feelings of anxiety

- Keep regular hours and don’t get so chronically overtired that all your compensatory “awake” hormones kick in to keep you going, and then keep you awake when you need to sleep

- Supplement with omega3 essential fatty acid EPA: a gram a day of pharmaceutical grade EPA has been shown to be as effective as 20mg a day of Prozac

- Take time out from your work routine to relax and clear your brain: if you find this difficult, learn to meditate

But if none of this works for you, see your doctor. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) shows good results, and modern drugs have their place, too. Above all, seek help if you need it.

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