Anxiety and its best friend depression
Anxiety and depression are at epidemic levels within UK, with thousands suffering from the pain, confusion and disconnection. These feelings are truly distressing and difficult to cope with. Here I aim to provide some hope that there is a way through these feelings – not by banishing them – but by using them to explore and accept ourselves and understand our experiences. And then, let them go.
Symptoms, not disease
If you go into A&E with a broken leg, the doctor doesn’t give you pills and say ‘you’ve got pain in your leg disorder’; or if you walk on a frozen river with no shoes on you haven’t got a ‘cold toes disorder’. Having feelings of cold or pain are big neon signs saying your basic needs for warmth and a healthy body are not being met.
For most people, the same is true for anxiety and depression; they are feelings that are telling you that your psychological, social or relationship needs are not being met.
Anxiety and depression are symptoms that something in our lives needs to be addressed. Often when we feel these deeply unpleasant emotions, we spend our time trying really hard to get rid of them – we might take drugs, drink alcohol, eat a lot of food, avoid people and pull the duvet over our heads! These might work for a very, very short time. But before long, trying to shut down your anxiety and depression leads to horrible vicious cycle of self-hatred, isolation and an increase in your symptoms.
What is happening?
Anxiety occurs when your mind/body responds as if threatened, your automatic nervous system pumps your body with stress hormones ready to fight, flight, fawn or freeze. When there is no immediate threat you are left with the anxiety – all revved up with nowhere to run to.
Everybody has low moods. Depression is when the low moods goes on for weeks at a time. It is a state of emotional shutdown, often a numbness, emptiness and hopelessness. Often, when our feelings of sadness, fear or anger become ‘too much’, our brain suppresses them to the extent we shutdown and become depressed.
Some key causes of anxiety and depression
A large traumatic incident or a serious of small traumas are remembered in the unconscious parts of the brain and in the body (setting up new neural pathways). You react now to something that has triggered an old trauma pathway in your brain. You might not even remember or have any idea of why you are reacting in this way. Alongside anxiety and depression, you might get panic attacks, flashbacks, space out or go numb.
Inadequate attunement and attachment
The primary relationships we have with our care givers as babies and small children give us a foundation of how we feel in the world and our basic beliefs about ourselves and others. Well-attuned, attentive parents provide their children with a strong sense of security, self-belief and confidence about the world. Most parents do their best, but fall short of providing everything that is needed. This means the majority of us develop some insecurities, distorted beliefs and ways of coping in the world. We then have our own unique reaction to different triggers and situations.
Suppression of feelings
In childhood - as we make our way in the world - we decide the best ways to survive and cope with our circumstances. Some of these ways may help us grow and reach our potential, and some may hold us back. Some of the coping mechanisms we learned as children might be to suppress our thoughts and feelings. Your parents might have frowned upon you crying or getting angry, or been pleased with you when you were able to ‘put a brave face on’ or ‘control your temper’. These coping mechanism are now wired into how you react to everyday circumstance. So, when you successfully suppress your anger or sadness or fear over and over again, it can lead to them bubbling up as anxiety or shutting down completely as depression.
Adolescence, pregnancy, menopause
Anxiety and depression can increase during times of hormonal imbalance and change. This is partly a natural impact of hormonal change and partly a psychological impact that depends on your unique circumstances.
Will counselling/psychotherapy help?
The latest research into neuroscience shows that our brains are elastic and can be changed. For anxiety and depression, the most effective way is through working with a supportive and attuned psychotherapist. This gives you the opportunity to explore your thoughts, feelings and fears - understand and accept them and the messages they hold. Exploring your own personal narrative supported by a warm, kind and non-judgemental therapist can transform how you feel and heal your brain – literally rewiring it.
The therapeutic relationship provides the safety and support that allows your trauma and childhood decisions to be integrated and turned into a bad memory – that is now in the past not lived everyday.
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