Depression is a serious condition that affects approximately 19 million Americans. That’s 9.5% of the population. IT professionals are far from exempt from this sometimes crippling condition. Between long hours alone at a desk, and sometimes impossible due dates, some IT professionals can easily start to feel overwhelmed.

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

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by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb may have some insights that can swing the momentum from a downward spiral into an upward climb.

Here are 4 habits you can implement in your life to help with depression:

Ask Yourself What You’re Grateful For

The Science:The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine… [Additionally,] trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” – The Upward Spiral

The antidepressant Wellbutrin boosts dopamine, and Prozac (also an antidepressant) is taken to boost the neurotransmitter serotonin. If simply starting a gratitude journal can also help with dopamine and serotonin, why not try? Of course we don’t recommend quitting any of your prescriptions, but starting a gratitude journal, or just taking a little time out of your day to think about what you’re grateful for, can go a long way.

Determine, Concretely, the Emotion You’re Feeling

The Science: “…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled “Putting Feelings into Words” participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.” – The Upward Spiral

This shows that rather than suppressing the emotions you are feeling, you should seek to describe them. The act of determining what emotion your feeling can actually help to reduce that particular emotion.

Make a Decision

The Science: Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system… [Additionally] actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity.” – The Upward Spiral

So, if you’re stressing yourself out over something, making the decision to do something about it can actually help to put your mind at rest. But don’t make a decision to do something that is too far out of your reach, doing too much at once can actually cause more stress and inevitably led to failure.

Make more Physical Connections with The People in Your Life

The Science: “One of the primary ways to release oxytocin is through touching. Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you’re close with, make more of an effort to touch more often… A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.” – The Upward Spiral

As they mention in The Upward Spiral, you don’t want to start touching everyone you encounter indiscriminately, but increasing the amount of physical contact you have with others in your life can help to improve your mood.

Whether you’re stressed, anxious, depressed, blue, or none of the above, give these four exercises a try to see if they help to improve your mood.

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