What we learned about drinking we can apply to emotions. We can see depression, for example, as a habitual response of seeking relief through withdrawal–a bad habit! Because we find life difficult, we avoid troublesome emotions or situations by a retreat from life. This affects our thoughts about ourself: we create negative self-talk. That, in turn, further erodes our perception of our competence to handle distress. We then start to ruminate.
At this point, we have good reason to feel helpless. By this time people not prone to depression have gone into action to change their focus, or circumstances. People with serious and chronic depression, however, evidence changes in the brain. The anterior cingulate gyrus monitors the effect of our responses to provide feedback: “it’s working, keep it up”; or “it’s not working, try something else.” In chronic depression, that area fails to trigger a change in strategy. That makes us even less able to respond appropriately to stress.
While our anterior cingulate increases in volume in early major depressive episodes, it decreases in volume in later episodes. Also, although early episodes reflect a response to stress, later ones appear more spontaneous. If we intervene in early depressive episodes with medication and therapy, we can prevent later episodes of depression.
Sources: Brian E. King, Ph.D. Presentation on “How the Brain Forms New Habits,” Institute for Brain Potential, Clackamas, OR 2/1/12. Caroline Helwick, “Cingulate Cortex Volume Varies with Severity of Major Depressive Disorder,” http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/727869 Accessed 3/15/12 7:16 p.m.