Down & Out: Depression & The Pill
Been feeling sad lately? While birth control helps women by preventing pregnancy, it also has side effects that can be a bit vexing. Not only can it cause nausea, weight gain and bloating, it can also cause mood swings. But what if your mood is only swinging down? Don’t worry just yet, we have some answers.
For more information about other side effects of birth control, check out our blog!
Am I depressed?
Depression doesn’t always equal the dictionary definition of sadness: it can manifest itself in several ways. If any of the following sound like you, you could be suffering from depression:
You’re super emotional. We understand crying during an episode of the breakout hit, This Is Us, but tearing up over a dairy commercial? Something’s up. If you find yourself crying easily over small things (like literally spilled milk), take note.
You can’t sleep. Having trouble counting sheep? If you aren’t sleeping (or are sleeping too much), there could be something going on.
You’re always exhausted. You’ve slept a full 8 hours yet you’re still tired. Feeling sluggish 24/7 can be a definite sign of depression.
You can’t make a decision. We all have the one friend who can’t decide what to eat for dinner, but sometimes not being able to make a choice can stem from something greater. If you find yourself shrouded in self-doubt, talk to someone.
You feel like doing…nothing. When you’re depressed, it’s hard to have any kind of motivation–even for things that made you happy in the past. You have a lack of desire even for the pleasures in life and calls from friends are annoying and unwanted.
You can’t focus. Have you noticed sudden brain fog? That could be depression.
You feel incredibly irritable. Are your friends bothering you? Are you blowing up at the slightest annoyance? If you’re exploding with anger that is disproportionate to an event, you may have depression.
You don’t like yourself very much. Low self-esteem is a symptom of depression. If you’re critiquing yourself or deeming yourself unworthy, it’s time to find help.
You’re thinking about ending it. If you are having thoughts of suicide, seek help immediately.
Could it be my birth control? How are the pill and depression connected?
Oh, your sex hormones. How their levels fluctuate when you first start hormonal birth control. And how your mood fluctuates, too. Estrogen is a heavy hitter when it comes to feeling depressed. The pill introduces synthetic estrogen into your bloodstream. High levels of the hormone correspond to happy feelings, so you may ask yourself, if you’re adding estrogen to your system, why can you feel so off? That’s because estrogen levels can take some mighty dips as you begin your birth control regimen.
Drops in estrogen levels can make one feel supremely depressed. You may find yourself crying uncontrollably or having trouble sleeping. But where have you felt this all before? Oh, right. PMS. PMS occurs when your estrogen levels fall and can make you supremely feel down-and-out. When you start the pill, your hormones become imbalanced and you can experience those same depressed moods.
Estrogen affects production of the happy neurotransmitters in our body, most notably serotonin. Messing with estrogen messes with the balance of these neurotransmitters, which can lead to depressive symptoms. Serotonin works as a mood stabilizer and when your estrogen takes a dip, so do your serotonin levels. Too little serotonin can leave us feeling blue.
Your brain also changes with the introduction of estrogen. High levels of estrogen can cause the “reward” part of our brain to thicken. Because rewards keep us going, when we have none, it can feel like nothing is worth anything. It’s like crossing the finish line, yet placing last.
Are you sure it’s my birth control?
To be truthful, you can't be entirely sure. A recent 2016 study from Ohio State concluded that birth control and depression are not related.
The study spanned 30 years, but mostly focused on progestin-only birth control pills (no estrogen), to which they found no connection to depression. Research is still being done, and maybe in the future we will have a definite answer.
What else could be causing my depression?
Your depression could be caused by many other factors, such as the following:
Genes. If you have a family history of depression, you’re more likely to suffer. Check with your relatives to see if anyone else in the family has struggled with depression.
Gender. Studies show that women are twice more likely to suffer from depression than men. Out of the millions of people that struggle with depression in the United States, almost 70% of them are women. Women can experience different types of depression than men can (Think: postpartum depression). But behavior also contributes. Women tend to internalize where men are more likely to take action. Also, women are more likely to have suffered from physical, mental and/or sexual abuse which can lead to depression.
Poor diet. You are what you eat. Processed foods, hydrogenated oils, sugar and refined carbohydrates can all contribute to depression. Are you eating a lot of Doritos? You may want to cut down.
Leaky gut. Leaky gut is a condition in which food is allowed to pass through the small intestinal lining and therefore leaks unwanted substances into your bloodstream. Why does this cause depression? Your gut and your brain are connected. When your stomach is unhappy, you not only feel bloated and gassy, you can often feel unhappy as well.
Insomnia. Remember how not sleeping is a sign of depression? Well, depression is also a sign of insomnia. (Oh, the vicious cycle!) Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can rewire emotional circuits in the brain.
Hypothyroidism. You want to be extra careful about this one. Like leaky gut and insomnia, hypothyroidism can be another side effect of hormonal birth control. Hypothyroidism (an underfunctioning thyroid) can cause serious problems, and if it goes unnoticed, it can be life threatening.
B12 deficiency. B12 is essential for positive mood and aids in the production of serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter. When we don’t get enough serotonin, we can feel depressed.
Trauma. Both childhood and adult trauma can trigger depression, especially if you’re predisposed to it already. Trauma can be both personal and global. One can become depressed after the death of a loved one or after a world disaster. Post traumatic stress disorder and depression also coexist. If you’ve recently experienced trauma and are having trouble getting back to normal, call your doctor.
Should I be worried?
What can I do?
Side effects of depression can be life threatening. Depression can decrease your will to live and increase thoughts about suicide. Your mental health should not be taken lightly. If you are thinking about suicide, please stop reading and seek help. Now.
There are several things you can do if you’re depressed:
Exercise. When you’re depressed, getting out of bed can be the most daunting task of the day. Work out? No way. But exercise can be as effective as medication for relieving symptoms of depression. When you get moving, you release endorphins -- a happy hormone -- and your mood elevates. If exercise seems too difficult to do, you can always start small. Take a walk around your neighborhood or even begin by doing some stretches in your apartment. Movement begets movement, so you’ll build up momentum to keep going. Trust, you’ll be happy you did.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about being in the present moment. It allows us to be one with our surroundings and allows us to slow down our thoughts. Mindfulness helps us to breathe. Focusing on your breath can help you be calm and turn off for a minute. The best part? You can practice mindfulness anywhere.
Eat well. Your diet is incredibly important and has a direct impact on how you feel. Reduce your sugar and refined carb intake. Though they may provide comfort in the moment, these foods will lead to a spike in energy and then a definite crash-and-burn. It’s important to eat well-balanced meals as they provide nutrients your body needs. Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol will also help relieve symptoms of depression. Lastly, don’t skip meals. Skipping meals can lead to even more irritability and exhaustion.
Treat yourself. Do something nice for yourself! Though it may be the last thing you want to do, treat yourself kindly. Spend a day at the spa, get that mani-pedi and help yourself to your favorite TV show. You DESERVE it.
Get the right minerals. Birth control can deplete you of essential minerals and this can make you feel depressed. Be sure to get good amounts of magnesium, zinc and selenium. Magnesium deficiency can cause lowered levels of serotonin in your bloodstream which makes you feel bummed out. Similarly, not getting enough zinc can mess with your digestive and immune system and cause inflammation, which can cause depression.
Finally, selenium is important for thyroid function. Having a low thyroid can lead to lowered mood, so you definitely want some in your bloodstream. And guess what? You can find all three minerals from our Top Up Tonic!
Take probiotics. Again, it’s about the gut-brain connection. Having a healthy digestive system leads to greater mental health. Probiotics work by introducing friendly bacteria to your tummy. You can eat fermented foods like kimchi and kefir, or you can take Top Up Tonic. It contains a probiotic complex, which can help restore healthy bacteria and get your brain on the right track.
Up your B12 intake. B vitamins are crucial to mental health, especially Vitamin B12. Birth control can deplete our B12 supply, which can exacerbate depression. B12 is a huge player in the production of serotonin, and not enough can be dangerous to your overall health. You can find delicious food sources high in B12 but you can also take Top Up Tonic, which provides adequate levels of B12.
Talk therapy. If your anxiety is affecting your everyday life, you could benefit from talking to a mental health professional. There are several methods of talk therapy and you should find one that works for you. Even talking to a friend can help with depression. So think about giving your BFF a call.
Switch your type of birth control. Changes in mood correspond to changes in hormone levels. You may want to try a monophasic birth control that releases the same amount of estrogen and progesterone daily, reducing fluctuation in hormones. Pills that contain less estrogen can also reduce depressive symptoms and side effects.
According to the Ohio State study, progestin-only pills aren’t linked to depression, so those could be a good bet. Another option is to switch to a copper IUD, which releases no hormones. But if depression is slowly taking over, you may want to stop taking hormonal birth control altogether until you can properly deal with the issue(s) at hand.
Like some other birth control side effects, your depression may not last forever. Most side effects of birth control subside after a couple of months, but if it constantly feels like your world is imploding, it may be something more serious. What should you do? Start by talking to your OB/GYN about your birth control options and then go from there.
You can also help prevent these side effects by taking our Top Up Tonic ensuring you take in adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals described above. Top Up Tonic contains key nutrients such as B12, selenium, probiotics, zinc and selenium which are vital to the health of your thyroid, gut, and brain helps replenish missing nutrients (like B12 and those much needed probiotics!) that will help prevent some of the potential side effects of hormonal birth control. You’ll find the end of the rainbow, trust.