Relief from anxiety and depression
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Greg Savva, Counselling in Twickenham & Whitton, Masters Degree, UKCP,
11th February, 20150 Comments
Anxiety and depression are the human response to excessive levels of stress. Stress can be triggered by fear, pain or intense emotional states that overwhelm a person’s capacity to process them. They can also lead to long-term mental health problems if left unchecked. The good news is that we all have the capacity to regulate our emotional states, find effective coping strategies and manage the way we respond to stress. Being mindful of our physical and mental health is key to our well-being – for example taking regular exercise, meditating, spending time in sunlight, outdoor pursuits in natural surroundings.
It will not make stress disappear or solve our problems but it will reduce the symptoms. Even if we have spent years feeling trapped in a repetitive cycle of learned helplessness. Everyone is capable of change. This article suggests simple ways of how to identify your stressors, how to use early intervention techniques and how to try and regulate stress before it escalates.
The other good news is these techniques are very simple. And they work.
All you have to do is break your resistance to change and become more aware of your potential for self-sabotage. Rather than set yourself unachievable expectations - which lead to disappointment and a sense of failure - you need to adopt a mindset which allows you to “do the next best thing” when you cannot keep to the ideal way of maintaining your well-being. Most people fear change, because they are forced to acknowledge they are not in control. No one is. Change is inevitable and it brings up feelings of uncertainty, fear of failure and the risk of being unable to predict the outcome.
I will not pretend that you will be cured of anxiety and depression. This kind of empty promise would only lead to you set unachievable goals and get instant disappointment. You first have to realise that anxiety and depression are a normal and necessary part of human experience. Anxiety allows us to respond to a threat and take the necessary action to avoid danger or fight it off. Depression is a natural response to overwhelming emotions, causing us to withdraw, shutdown or become desensitised in order to survive a crisis. However, once we have accepted this fact we can go about our lives integrating some very basic practices which improve our sense of well-being, relieve us from common sources of stress and make us less prone to its cumulative effects. And these are mainly about changing our response to stress in the body, because that’s where most stress begins, as well as redirecting the chemical neurotransmitters in our brains to relieve stress.
Anxiety and depression rarely occur out of the blue, for no reason. They may be a very normal and understandable response to trauma, personal tragedy or the end of a long-term relationship. But more often than not, anxiety and depression begin with the cumulative build up of quite ordinary everyday stressors that we could easily avoid or deal with early on. These may include restricted breathing, the chronic build up of tension in our muscles, poor posture, dehydration, a lack of exercise, poor diet, restlessness, sleep deprivation, excessive workloads, social isolation and a fear of exposing our vulnerability to others who may judge us as being weak. The other likelihood is that most people who suffer from anxiety or depression are rarely aware they are experiencing stress until it is so intense or overwhelming they can no longer ignore it. But by then it’s often too late. They have spent so many years suppressing their awareness of the early warning signs that they miss them completely.
In the workplace - Examples of bodily and psychological stressors:
- Sitting with stress in the office or other workplace.
- Not breathing fully with the diaphragm.
- Sitting with a poor posture, with the seat, desk and computer at the wrong height.
- Not taking regular breaks, telling yourself you have too much to do to take lunch.
- Not getting outside in the sunlight and air.
- Putting off going to the toilet.
- Failing to rehydrate.
- Getting eye strain at the computer screen.
- Rushing from one task to another, ignoring bodily tension or pain.
- Dissociating into distressing fantasies.
- Catastrophic thinking.
- Avoiding confrontation for fear of offending someone.
- Not standing up for yourself, trying to please too many people without pleasing anyone, not taking decisions.
- Missing opportunities to enjoy an achievement.
- Self-deprecation and putting yourself down, never acknowledging when you complete a task, not prioritising.
- Smoking, drinking too much coffee, lunchtime alcohol.
In the workplace - Examples of stress relievers:
- Getting up from your seat regularly for a brief walk around the office (to the window, for water, to make tea, for a snack).
- Stretching out your limbs, rolling shoulders and neck, massaging the neck.
- Taking a few minutes to practice mindfulness of breathing, breathing by fully extending diaphragm.
- Taking short two minute breaks just to sit quietly with yourself.
- Going out of the office to take lunch.
- Go for a few minutes’ walk in the natural light and air, find a quiet garden, square, church or room to reflect alone awhile.
- Using eye-drops and anti-glare screens.
- Regular visits to the toilet as soon as you notice the impulse to relieve yourself.
- Regular sips of water.
- Taking time to acknowledge the completion of a task before moving on.
- Attending to bodily tension and finding ways to relieve it.
- Remaining present by focusing on bodily sensations and the five sense rather than drifting into daydreams or unpleasant dissociative states.
- Make a list of immediately resolvable task and prioritise them.
- Rather than getting caught up in the drama, express your needs to your colleagues or boss rather than avoid them.
- Making a mental note of achievements or tasks well done, asking for constructive feedback.
- Breathing activity and drinking water rather than smoking, coffee or alcohol.
At home - Examples of bodily and psychological stressors:
- Watching the TV without focus or interest.
- Staying with tension in the body without moving.
- Pacing up-and-down on the phone.
- Too many ‘screen-based activities’ e.g. iPad, laptop, computer, phone, T.V.
- Missing breakfast or lunch.
- Not getting outside in the sunlight and air.
- Putting off going to the toilet.
- Avoiding quiet moments to yourself because you cannot bare unwanted thoughts.
- Rushing from one task to another or compulsive cleaning.
- Ignoring bodily tension or pain.
- Dissociating into distressing fantasies or catastrophic thinking.
- Avoiding confrontation for fear of offending someone, not standing up for yourself or putting in appropriate boundaries.
- Not communicating your needs earlier and treading on eggshells in the presence of others.
- Avoiding contact with anyone.
- ‘Acting out’ anger and anxiety by pulling others into your ‘drama’.
- Staying-in and dwelling on problems after work, drinking too much alcohol.
At home - Examples of stress relievers:
- Getting out of house into sunlight and fresh air.
- Going for a 20 minute walk in a park.
- Going into the garden to meditate or tend to plants and flowers, relieving bodily tension with stretching exercises,
- Rolling shoulders and neck, massaging the neck.
- Taking a few minutes to practice mindfulness of breathing.
- Taking regular meals.
- Meeting friends and family.
- Going for a few minutes’ walk in the natural light and air.
- Taking time out to focus on artistic or creative pursuits which give you pleasure.
- Going for a swim, going for a sauna or a professional massage.
- Remaining present by focussing on bodily sensations and the five senses rather than drifting into dissociative states.
- Make a list of immediately resolvable tasks and problems then prioritise them.
- Giving constructive or empathic feedback to significant others, children and partners.
- Compliment people and let them know how they have pleased you.
- Taking time out from an argument to breathe and collect your thoughts.
- Speaking your mind earlier on rather than letting tension build up.
- Checking-in with your partner and practising empathic listening when you first meet at the end of a working day.
- Establishing clear and appropriate boundaries in your home that everyone has agreed to and is aware of.
- Sharing your anxieties with your partner while they listen with empathy and support (rather than fix your problems).
Please remember counselling is a valuable means of support if you are dealing with anxiety or depression.
About the author
I am an experienced counsellor at Counselling Twickenham, EnduringMind. I've been profoundly affected by my work with other people as a psychotherapist, anthropologist and writer. I'm captivated by the interior lives of others and the cultures they thrive in. I've a Masters Degree in psychotherapy and lecture to counsellors at university.
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