Mood Swings and Motivation: What Neuroscience Has to Say
Motivation loss is a major sign of depression and bad mood. The smallest issues sometimes appear to be the most difficult ones. Bills, errands, and other obligations are neglected. We tell ourselves, “I’ll do that tomorrow,” hoping that tomorrow would provide the drive that eludes us now. However, it never does. It doesn’t take long for us to get overburdened with unfinished duties, all of which just serve to encourage us to put things off even longer. If we’re not watchful, days might slip into weeks and those into months.
It’s difficult to manage a loss of motivation while dealing with depressed moods, but getting control of it requires starting as soon as feasible. Reserving oneself and ignoring obligations that can improve our mood while we’re feeling down are the last things we need to do. Despite how alluring it may seem, this rarely leads to the desired outcomes and only makes our initial mood worse. In light of this, this essay seeks to explore the science of motivation and depression. We are better able to traverse its seas and escape if we are knowledgeable about the science.
The willingness to do or to do something can be thought of as motivation. It’s a yearning more like hunger than a feeling. It is necessary for living and for life. Without it, we wouldn’t wake up in the morning. The way Marwa Azab Ph.D. referred to it in this psychology today article as the “Psychological Oxygen to Be” caught my attention. Despite the complexity of the neurochemical brain changes that precede motivation, scientists can agree on one thing: dopamine plays a role just not in the way that was previously believed.
Dopamine used to be thought of as the “pleasure chemical” since it was thought to be the chemical that was released when we performed something satisfying, like eating cake or winning a game. This is untrue because research indicates that it is also produced during PTSD episodes and other stressful situations. Scientists have now discovered that the reason for its release DURING a result is probably due to a processing function, such learning.
More crucially, dopamine is also generated before we receive a reward, for example, when we pass the candy aisle in a grocery store as we walk through. The brain’s reward centre releases dopamine at that time, which makes us feel a sense of desire. How much dopamine is released will determine how driven we are to grab for the goodies. Dopamine is essentially regarded to be essential for enabling us to feel driven, but how does being depressed affect this? Can we presume dopamine is involved if prolonged low moods are characterised by a loss of motivation?
While a lack of motivation might be attributed to poor emotions, the difficulties aren’t caused by low moods per se but rather by the precursors of such moods. I.e. stress. Stress is a powerful force that has been linked to greater mortality rates depending on how prevalent it is in the body. As a result, the presence of stress in the body has a significant impact on brain functions, including those that control motivation.
Stress can boost our drive to pursue good results in modest doses. This has been shown in both rat and human research, and it may be seen as an adaptive reaction by our brains to enable us to look for something enjoyable to reduce our stress. All of our coping methods, such as stress eating, procrastination, and impulsivity, are based on this system. Acute stress has been shown to raise dopamine levels in brain regions that influence motivation and reduce activity in brain regions that aid in impulse control, such as the prefrontal cortex, supporting the behaviour described above. As a result, we not only have stronger wants and urges but also lose the capacity to control them with reason and logic. This is how healthy coping strategies deteriorate and become dangerous.
Our ability to feel motivated declines as stress levels rise. Anhedonia, where a person loses interest in what they formerly considered delightful, is a phrase used to explain this phenomena in sad people. Neuroscientists think changes to the brain’s reward system are to blame for this trend, despite the complexity and lack of clarity around the mechanisms that underpin it. In fact, chronic stress lowers dopamine activity, which makes us feel less driven to accomplish activities we probably previously felt compelled to do. Acute stress, on the other hand, boosts dopamine in brain regions related to reward.
Burnout has this as its foundation. Stress still affects our capacity to control our impulses in both acute and chronic situations. In one research in particular, the functional connectivity between the brain regions that mediate impulse control and motivation was examined using brain scans of 48 severely depressed individuals. Unsurprisingly, higher stress levels were linked to lower functional connectivity, which in turn affected people’s capacity to resist urges with reason. This is why even the most straightforward chores may be quite challenging for someone who is sad.
It’s crucial that we stay aware of the underlying neurobiology underpinning our moods even when we’re feeling down. You could feel more inclined to engage in soothing behaviours during periods of acute to moderate stress, which can be problematic because many of these selected comforts, like comfort eating, only help us feel better in the short term and not in the long run. The feeling of procrastination is usually positive until you miss a deadline.
On the other hand, a persistently low mood might cause us to experience depressive-like anhedonia states. Again, stress is probably a component, therefore it’s critical to prioritise your health during these difficult times. His anhedonia may make us avoid things that can help us heal, such working on a meaningful pastime, meeting friends, and taking care of ourselves. This is the difficulty with depressed cycles. This disregard for obligations causes additional stress, which worsens the melancholy.
According to science, people who are sad struggle more with desire to achieve pleasure than they do with the actual pleasure itself. This is why it’s crucial to force yourself to do something that typically makes you feel good, even when you don’t feel like it. Even though you might not want to, after you do it, you’ll probably feel better about it. You will emerge from your current funk by consistently making an attempt to go forward.
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