Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that depression manifests much differently in men than it does in women. Because males are taught not to cry, when a man gets depressed he’ll often become angry – even threatening. A woman may become so sad she just wants to stay in bed all day. Most importantly, the researchers also reveal effective treatment strategies that work for both sexes.
Gender differences in depressive symptoms appear in adolescence. Teenage girls experience dissatisfaction with their body image, guilt feelings, a sense of failure, difficulty concentrating and sadness. Adolescent boys tend to lose interest in their usual activities, and are particularly downcast and tired in the morning.
As adults, depressed women are likely to suffer from increased stress, sadness and sleep problems. Adult males who are depressed tend to demonstrate irritability and impulsive anger. While depressed women have more suicidal thoughts, men are 4 times more likely to actually commit suicide. The differing suicide rate is due in large part to the fact that women are far more likely to seek help.
In looking at effective treatments, the Hopkins researchers analyzed 47 clinical trials and found that participating in a meditation program reduced depression as well as taking antidepressant medication. Mindfulness meditation was most effective, they concluded, because it enabled people to have more awareness of the present moment, thereby decreasing worries about the past or future.
In particular, the researchers found that dwelling on stressful situations arising from the job or relationships was the biggest risk for becoming depressed. The more someone’s mind churned on what’s gone wrong and speculated on how much worse it could become, the more depressed they became. Rumination produced a cascade of depressive symptoms. Mindfulness meditation effectively stopped this downward spiral.
Practicing meditation is simple: find a comfortable place to sit, pay attention to your breathing, and return your focus to your breathing every time your attention wanders. Your goal is to improve your ability to direct your mind away from distressing thoughts and toward the peaceful feeling that comes with deep, rhythmic breathing. The concept is simple to understand, but not necessarily easy to do.
When meditating you’ll need to learn how to stop obsessing over your worries and judging yourself for having done so. Simply return to following the pattern of your breathing. Some people find it helpful to count to 4 each time they breathe in, hold their breath, breathe out, and finally while exhaling.
In the beginning set aside just 5-10 minutes to practice, eventually building up to 20-30 minutes or more. Set a timer to ring so you don’t have to think about when time’s up. It’s best to sit rather than lay down as you don’t want to fall asleep.
The Hopkins researchers also found that it’s important, especially for people with a history or family history of depression, to take action to prevent depressive episodes. Their number one recommendation is: exercise. Numerous studies have found that 30 minutes of exercise 5-6 times per week is essential for reducing stress. In addition, it helps control weight, thereby improving body image. Recent research has found that regular exercise enhances an individual’s confidence. Having a sense of accomplishment provides a big boost to someone trying to fight through their dark moods, lack of energy, and loss of joy because it generates the feeling “I can do this.”
Another research recommendation for escaping depression is to maintain a balanced lifestyle. When work, family or health issues spiral out of control, people become vulnerable to depression. If one area of your life becomes challenging, keep the other parts of your life functioning well. For example, don’t let work stress contaminate your home life. In fact, turn to your loved ones for encouragement. Express abundant appreciation for your family’s support.
Another effective strategy when feeling overwhelmed is to write down what’s most important to you. Then schedule time every day to do a little something for that part of your life. You’ll probably have various relationships at the top of your list given love is the most powerful positive emotion. Make time in your schedule to talk to your wife, mom, kids, and friends. And there are other feel good activities in which you can engage: writing, painting, playing with your dog, etc.
Finally, volunteer to help others, Studies show that when you make a meaningful difference in another person’s life, you feel terrific. Schedule time to engage in an activity that will give your life a sense of purpose.