How worrying leads to depression

Anyone who worries unconstructively is in danger of clinical depression. Depression is not selective – to take recent examples from the media: the famous, single mothers, politicians, men, women are all susceptible to depression.

When you worry incessantly about something which can’t be immediately solved or is circular, you generate unresolved emotional arousal. Once an emotion has been roused it must be deactivated in order to complete the biological circuit of arousal in the primitive brain circuits in our brains (either by being acted upon in some way during the day, or metaphorically through dreaming at night).

It is well known that depressed people experience longer, and more intensive, periods of REM sleep. This is because we need more REM (dream) sleep than usual to de-arouse the increased unresolved emotional arousal which results from our excessive worrying and introspection. This is exhausting both physically, due to the decreased amount of restorative slow-wave sleep and mentally, due to the increased firing of the orientation response (which is also linked to our motivation and attention capacities) during the REM state.

Waking up exhausted, sleeping for hours but still feeling tired and waking up early in the mornings, are typical symptoms of depression and are all characteristic of the effects of too much REM sleep trying to de-arouse worries that were not acted upon or resolved in some way during the day before. (Waking up early happens as a sort of survival mechanism for your brain, it can feel it’s getting exhausted so it wakes up to prevent further REM sleep from depleting its resources further.)

Have you ever woken up feeling worse than when you went to sleep? When you wake up feeling awful like this, you lose motivation and energy, and so the cycle of depression begins. The resulting feelings of hopelessness, exhaustion and apathy give the depressed person even more to worry about and only exacerbate the situation.

So, one of the first things to do if you are experiencing these effects is to be strict and do everything you can limit your sleep to a healthy amount each night.

Don’t let your brain dream too much. Limit your REM sleep by waking up at a set time each day and not letting yourself sleep in, no matter how exhausted you feel. More sleep may feel like a good idea but it will only exhaust you further as you slip right back into the REM state again.

To find out more about dreaming and the REM state and how this is fundamentally related to depression, click here.

Posted by: Jane


16 responses to “How worrying leads to depression

  1. that’s ominous news for me – i’m a horrible worrywart.

  2. thanks for your comment sulz.

    We have edited the post a little bit to make it more positive – we didn’t want it to be ominous, but explanatory.

    The brilliant thing is, now you know exactly *why* worrying can make you feel worse – and do something to control it if it’s becoming a problem for you.

    Worrying is fine until it starts impacting you negatively, and this is where knowing about how REM sleep is related comes into it.

  3. ok, i’ll try not to worry about this news. lol

  4. Incredibly interesting topics, both that of depression, which we hear so much about these days, and the interaction and value concealed within the mystery of our dreams. A most timely and useful post also, for myself and especially for others I interact with. I have learned that action on issues helps me emotionally when dealing with day to day situations, yet when I think about it there are those still questions I leave unresolved that will haunt me. I had meant to procure this book another time, but had forgotten to do so. Not this time as it is on order.

  5. Hi Eleanor! I took a look at the links you provided. Very interesting. Would you like to write a post as guest blogger in SharpBrains to provide Brain Fitness advice to our readers? In summary, we see what we do as both 1) mental stimulation, 2) stress management and positive outlook development. Would you like to suggest specific concepts, tips and techniques for 2), based on your organization’s experience and research?



  6. Bob – Once you know about the link you see it in yourself and others all the time. It’s always been well known that depressed people dream more, and now we know why. Thanks for your support!

    Alvaro – I have sent you an email

  7. hello… i am glad that i found this article. this is what i am exactly experiencing. my dreams are very intense and when i wake up in the morning, i feel that i haven’t got any rest at all.

    these dreams are lucid… sometimes i fly, sometimes i fight with people… i have tried having a dream within a dream a couple of times too. i usually think it is fun because it gives me some excitement and happiness outside from my sad everyday life… but i guess it will take its toll on me in the long run if i dont get any proper sleep.

    i dont really know what to do.

  8. Hello tiffany – thank you for your comment –

    By consciously reducing REM sleep (try hard to do this by regulating your sleep to a healthy amount, perhaps waking up at a set time every day and forcing yourself to get out of bed despite how much sleep you have had.
    other tricks: book appointments and plan events in the morning so you are forced to get up and go to them (I have used this one myself), set 5 alarm clocks, get someone to ring you up and talk to you in the morning and wake you up, etc) you will naturally start to feel better as your brain isn’t being exhausted and de-motivated (is that a word? it is now!) by over exertion of the orientation response which occurs in dreaming.

    Once you do this, You can’t HELP but find yourself with more motivation and attention in the mornings as you have physically given your brain back the spare capacity for these things. The first step in dealing with depression – it’s all about getting the balance right, so you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to deal effectively with the challenges of the day – which is a wonderful feeling as you know.

    I hope this helps :) take care

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  10. I see myself constantly worry about EVERYTHING. from family, boyfriend, friends, work, school, to money. I mean everything, there doesn’t seem to be a day where I don’t worry. I worry myself to sickness. I’m constantly sick to my stomach. I’ve never confronted my doctor with any of this, should I? I need help. please

  11. Try to focus outwards rather than inwardly – the more time you spend absorbed in other things the less time you have to worry.

  12. How true all of this is. I have had so may bouts of depression all from worrying. I have always been a real worrier even as a child. You’re right in trying to keep busy and think outwardly but tiredness due to poor sleep can make that hard. I wake early with a knot in my tummy so more sleep is impossible for me anyway. Depression sure is the hell of all diseases.

  13. fantastic post, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You should continue your writing. I’m sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

  14. Pingback: 'Worried Wanda', the sneakiest 'Depression Go-Away' | Depression Getaway

  15. Hello to all, how is all, I think every one is getting more from this web page, and
    your views are fastidious in support of new users.

  16. Pingback: 'Worried Wanda', the sneakiest 'Depression Go-Away' | Depression Getaway

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