Making sense of your feelings
Feeling anxious and stressed is a part of the modern world we live in. At times, it’s almost as if we’re telling ourselves being stressed is a good thing. We’re active, we’re busy, we’re meeting our deadlines and coping – a sign of how involved and engaged we are in finding a purpose in life.
But stress beyond a certain point can be a problem, and this is where understanding what anxiety is about can help. Some anxiety and stress can be a good thing. Before an interview or something that needs a lot of engagement, anxiety can help you prepare and get ready for what lies ahead. But beyond a certain point, being anxious and its more obvious expression, feeling stressed, can be a distraction.
Rather than engaging with what needs to be done - for example with a problem at work or a relationship that has run into difficulties - you look for ways of coping with the anxiety. This can range from starting to drink too much, avoiding socialising, getting angry in an inappropriate way, perhaps compulsively doing something. But more importantly, something that is about taking away the stress, rather than channelling the anxiety and engaging with what needs to be done.
Talking to a therapist can be a relief, and can help you get in touch with feelings and thoughts you may well have tried to push aside. It then becomes possible to understand what you are anxious about and whether it’s primarily to do with your present lifestyle or connects with problems in the past that weren’t really dealt with. This, in turn, allows you to think about managing the situation in a more creative way, or possibly making more significant changes in your life.
Feeling guilty when you have done something ‘wrong’ is a normal part of living. When you break the moral code you have been brought up with, it's usually considered a sign of health that you feel guilty about it and want to make amends for what you've done. Not feeling guilty when you have harmed or hurt another person can be seen as a problem, and in extreme cases as pathological behaviour.
The key here is that you are conscious of what you have done and realise what this sense of guilt is saying to you. But when you feel guilty and it becomes a pervasive feeling which is not attached to anything in particular, then this can become a problem.
Often, once you begin to get in touch with this feeling of guilt you can see how critical a voice it is, but not because of some wrong you have done to someone, but because you are wrong, and this guilty voice is insistent on telling you this. A minor error at work, not getting something done on time, saying something incorrectly, taking a comment as a criticism and that negative, critical voice kicks in – ‘You’re always getting it wrong’, ‘They’ll think I’m stupid’, ‘I must get it right’, and often ending up with a kind of total negative statement such as ‘I’m pathetic’ or ‘I’m a failure’.
Here, it is true, you may have got something wrong or made a mistake, but the level of the feeling far exceeds what is appropriate, and probably is not appropriate at all. Also, it extends to you as a person and in a very negative way. You as a totality become bad or wrong, and start making demands on yourself, such as ‘I must get it right’, demands which often won’t tolerate any minor infringements, and simply can’t be met all the time, which then further contributes to the feeling of guilt.
The guilt here can link to the feeling of anxiety. When the feeling of guilt is excessive and not really attached to something specific, you become more anxious as the feeling of guilt grows, and in a negative way, they feed off each other.
It is when this feeling of anxiety and guilt becomes oppressive that you may become depressed. Then it can feel like there is this heavy weight on you and it takes up so much of your energy it’s difficult to get on with your life.
Feeling depressed is a word that is used for a whole spectrum of feelings where someone feels 'down', and sometimes you get the sense it is an overused word that does not convey at all what you are going through and experiencing.
We have all experienced periods of unhappiness or feeling depressed, which is related to something specific that we have gone through. We’ve ended a relationship that we depended on more than we realised, or we’ve lost a job, or didn’t succeed in something we had put a lot of effort into. But this is a natural process, almost akin to a mild form of mourning when you lose something you were very attached to.
But ‘depression’, is when after a period of time, you don’t move on or feel you just don’t know how to get going again. You have tried to ‘pull yourself together’, and sometimes sought out advice from other people as to how you might do this. Often a strong sense of guilt and that you have failed will play a part in what you are feeling, and there can be a pattern in the way the depression keeps coming back.
It is possible you may not realise you are depressed, though there are probably quite a few symptoms suggesting this could be so. You may:
- have lost interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- find it hard to concentrate and think things through
- feel low in energy
- suffer from insomnia and waking up early
- find yourself oversleeping
- suffer from feelings of worthlessness
- feel guilty about things you have done or should not have done
- have outbursts of anger and feel out of control
- have various physical symptoms such as eating too much or too little, tension in the body or feeling very lethargic, and putting on weight or losing weight too quickly
- in some circumstances having suicidal thoughts
- and that these signs or symptoms have happened a number of times
Often realising that you have a problem is the first step towards doing something about it. Sometimes with depression, because you are low in energy, it is hard to acknowledge this and to motivate yourself into taking that first step towards making some real changes in your life.
Perhaps if what is being described here resonates with your experience, it could be the time for you to make a change. Making a phone call could be that first step.
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