What Happens In Your Brain When You’re Depressed?

Psychiatric Newspaper | Specialist Kyungsoo Woo, Department of Psychiatry

Photo_ freepik

One day I looked up at the sky, The clouds are rising and the sun is hanging over the blue sky in a beautiful glow, but have you ever frowned as if a storm was about to rage in the gray sky?

Probably, many of you have had the experience of being in a low mood from time to time. The problem is that the feeling of depression does not go away as the weather changes every day, and it goes into a long rainy season. The fact that there seems to be no promise when this rain will stop or if it will stop makes my heart heavier.

Unlike in the past, many people now have the misconception that depression is only a matter of willpower or that negative thoughts are the cause. On the one hand, I feel fortunate that the public’s understanding of depression is deepening. However, a growing understanding of depression does not solve everything. Depression still haunts us and makes our hearts hard. Even if you seem to have taken one step out of the quagmire of depression, if you look at it again, you are walking in its place. But what is clear is that one day we will be able to break out of that quagmire without fail.

When depression turns our lives grey, it can be useful to know more about what is happening in our brain and what their brain is like at the moment. Our brains have ‘attentional circuits’ which determine what to pay attention to and what to ignore.There are. The emotion circuit influences this attention circuit, and the attention circuit also influences the emotion circuit. In a word, they influence each other.

Unfortunately, our emotional circuits are designed to be more easily activated by negative than positive. among them Some people’s brains focus much more on the negative than the average person, which puts these people at greater risk of depression. And in a depressed state, the brain’s negative bias makes us perceive things as even more negative than they really are. It has also been found that when you are in a bad mood, the negative bias of your brain worsens, known as ‘Mood Congruent Attentional Bias’. The reason for this bias is said to be that the amygdala becomes more reactive when you are in a bad mood.

Depressed people tend to pay more attention to negative events and emotions, as well as find sadness among many, many world events.also stands out. also Feeling more pain with the same stimulusit appeared as Because mood influences the perception of painthan see. In addition, it was observed that the associated brain activity increased not only when the pain was actually felt, but also when the pain was expected. In other words, depressed patients reacted more physically and emotionally to the possibility of pain than non-depressed people, and had a higher percentage of thinking that it would come true.

Furthermore, when real pain stimuli were presented, their amygdala activity increased significantly compared to normal people. Less activity in parts of the brain stem that produce endorphins to relieve painI did it. In short, it has been scientifically proven that people with depression feel more pain than people without depression even with the same stimulus.

also When faced with an unpredictable or uncertain situation, the brain of a depressed person distorts its response, similar to what it sees as something negative.In other words, in an uncertain situation, it showed increased worry activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and self-focused emotional processing in the medial prefrontal cortex, and the ‘unknown situation’ was accepted as a ‘bad situation’.

As such, it can be seen in the brains of those who have been suffering from depression for a long time or who have a hard time with depression, a vicious circle mechanism where it is increasingly difficult to get out of depression is. activated almost automatically. How can I get out of this mire of depression?

Photo_ freepik
Photo_ freepik

Two Neurotransmitters Play a Key Role in Alleviating Negativity Bias During Depressionthere are serotonin and norepinephrinethan see. Studies examining the effectiveness of drugs that stimulate these two neurotransmitters found that there was no significant increase in overall happiness after a week of taking them, but both drugs increased attention to positive events and decreased attention to negative events. in other words, As the secretion of both hormones increases, the negative bias decreases and the brain is biased towards recognizing positive events.can know.

And naturally, ways to increase the secretion of these two hormones include exercise, getting a good night’s sleep, meditation and deep breathing. These methods are also commonly called methods that help us overcome depression in our lives.

Unfortunately, there is still no way to directly control the brain’s systems that respond spontaneously without our awareness. But us You can find out what biases you have by noticing how you react in certain situations. If you think about it objectively, it’s not really anything to worry about, but if you feel overly upset or in a bad mood, ask yourself, ‘Why in such a bad mood?’ You can experience some relief just by being aware of it. Because emotions and perceptions are mediated by different regions of the brain, This is because when you recognize your emotions or reactions, the prefrontal cortex is activated and it becomes possible to silence the amygdala again.than see.

To go one step further and overcome the negative bias, It is important to strengthen the brain circuits responsible for optimismdo. among them Firstly To think often that good things can happen in the future.itself can help. The reason for this is that if you repeat a positive image, the anterior ventral cingulate cortex of the brain is activated and it helps control the negative bias in the brain by helping to regulate the amygdala.

The second is not only imagining positive events, but also expecting them to happen.It’s a way to strengthen the optimism circuit by activating the prefrontal region that helps control the amygdala while doing it.

Of course, it is not easy for depressed people to immediately get up from the blanket and exercise, meditate or repeat a positive imagination. Still, as the saying goes, the cause and treatment of depression is related to brain dysfunction and various neurotransmitters, so understanding what happens in our brain when we are depressed is definitely helpful in overcoming depression. If you try little by little to get out of the swamp of depression, the day will come when you can feel the blue sky again after the long rainy season of depression.

Gangnam Forest Mental Health Department Clinic | Director Kyungsoo Woo



1. Vuilleumier, P. (2005). How the brain is alert: Neural mechanisms of emotional attention.

2. Strigo, IA, Simmons, AN, et al. (2008). Association of major depressive disorder with altered brain functional response in heat pain anticipation and processing.

3. Holzel, BK, Hoge, EA, et al. (2013). Neural mechanisms of symptom improvement in generalized anxiety disorder following mindfulness training.

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