It might seem counter intuitive to allow ourselves to feel depressed or anxious. Neither of these conditions are comfortable or pleasant, and we may feel ashamed or weak for feeling them.
Yet, the statistics are out: Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In Australia, around 1 in 6 women and 1 in 8 men will experience some level of depression.
On average, 1 in 4 people (1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men) will experience anxiety, making it the most common disorder in Australia right now.
In addition, around 12 per cent of Australians will experience PTSD in their lifetime and up to 40 per cent of the population will experience a panic attack at some time in their life.
Yet, only 35 per cent of Australians with anxiety and depression access treatment.
Why? Well, let me ask you: would you go see someone if these unpleasant human conditions happened to you?
And if not, why not?
For many of us, we don’t recognise anxiety and depression as a normal part of the human experience. Thus, we usually think something is wrong with us when were feeling anxious or down.
We are likely to do anything other than accept these so called “negative” experiences.
I’ve seen this over and over again in my work as a psychotherapist. And I have a different way of relating that I’d like to propose to you…
We need depression and anxiety to survive.
It’s right there in the Darwin theory of evolution. Due to this theory: if we didn’t need a quality in order to survive, then we simply wouldn’t posses it anymore. Therefore all of the parts, functions and emotions of our current day body are exactly what we needed to get us here.
We have been passed down all the traits we possess by our ancestors, or what I call “the long line of survivors”. They passed down fear, so we could prevent harm or injury. They passed down sexual desire so we would continue to replicate. They gave us love, paternal instinct and attachment, so we would band together as community, raise our young, and work together.
Depression and anxiety are not just part of the human condition, they are necessary to it. It is the very rejection of this fact that keeps us stuck in these states, instead of allowing ourselves to efficiently experience them as they arise. Allowing them to come, and allowing them to pass.
Depression can escalate to the point that I call the “impossible task” state. In other words, the individual experiencing the state can no longer do simple tasks. Getting out of bed, showering, or even eating can seem impossible.
What is often happening in this state is a self criticism, judgement and berating. The person’s thoughts may be saying something like:
“You’re hopeless. Look at you, you cant do anything!
You will always be depressed.
You’re a waste of a life.
You are so useless that no one even cares about you anymore”.
The energy the affected person has towards themselves is harsh and unwelcoming. There is little to no acceptance of the depressed state. Under these conditions, the person is likely to remain, or progress further into the depression.
Have you ever experienced a state like this? Self criticism and judgement? Harsh and unaccepting energy?
The alternative to the above scenario is to let yourself lie there. You were going to anyway, right? But this time, you could do it with permission. Acknowledge that for whatever reason, this is what your body needs right now for its survival. It needs to be slow, it needs to rest, or it needs to be sad.
You could let it. You could grab a blanket and curl up. Stay home and read a book. Have a warm bath or cry until your eyes hurt
Then, be completely aware of your inner voice and your energy. What are you saying to yourself? Start to be as kind and nurturing as you can. If you could create the dearest, most loving caregiver in the world right now to be there with you and say all the right things, what would they say?
Then, say that. Be that type of caregiver to yourself, offer that kind of unconditional and loving energy.
Eventually, as you continue to practice this kind of allowing, your phases of depression will become more and more efficient. What used to take weeks to get through may simply take a day, or a morning, or maybe just an hour.
It is counter intuitive to go into depression willingly, to release all the judgments of your experience. But just remember, if states of depression weren’t what your body needed to survive, they wouldn’t still be here.
Now, lets take a look at anxiety
The nervous system is regulated by the limbic brain. This is the mammalian part of the brain responsible for alerting us to danger.
Bessel Van De Kolk, a leading trauma psychologist, referred to the limbic brain as a smoke detector. The detector is made to alert us when the house is on fire. For someone with anxiety, the smoke alarm is hyper-vigilant, sounding off wild screeches when we’re just cooking bacon or making toast.
IN this way, anxiety is what happens when we have an overstimulated sympathetic nervous system. The body secretes adrenaline when it senses fear, which like the faulty smoke detector, is far more often than average.
Once the body is full of adrenaline, it can be difficult to calm down. And because the feeling can be unpleasant, the likely response is to push it away by doing more, staying busy, or resisting rest.
As anxiety escalates, the person affected can become triggered by very small events or thoughts, becoming more and more anxious to the point of panic. Self-critical thoughts usually arise, and we don’t know how to rest, stop, or feel ok anymore.
Yet, if we learn to tend to the very small triggers with kindness and self-soothing, then we can begin to heal.
As with depression, the key to anxiety is allowing. This is counter intuitive, as almost all of the clients I have worked with want to push the feelings of anxiety away, or power past the symptoms. Instead, we need to turn toward anxiety and learn to be our own gentle elder.
It is important to note that the limbic brains language is emotion. Language and logic were developed with the prefrontal cortex, so the limbic brains stimulation cannot be soothed by words and thoughts. Rather, we must treat ourselves as we would a frightened animal. For example…
Imagine a dog trembling at the sound of thunder. How would you calm him down? Would yelling at him help? Or, would you use a soft soothing tone; approach lightly with kind energy; petting, hugging or holding him with a gentle touch?
In this way, we must soothe our frightened self. Rather than ignoring, we turn toward the fear, using a kind and loving attention. We can breathe softly, place a hand on our heart, or lie comfortably in a yoga pose or in soft blankets. The attitude we need to bring to the feeling of anxiety is of comfort and kindness, like a wise protective elder.
Getting in the Flow
The most important thing to do is to accept and face whatever feeling arises in you. It is resistance that causes the anxiety and depression to perpetuate itself. This can be difficult, and at first you may need the help pf a professional.
Yet, sometimes it can life changing to see the truth: That as long as we are in this human experience, this bag of flesh and bones, we are going to feel all of the spectrums of emotions. Joy cant exist with sorrow, elation without depression.
All things come and go, in a moment to moment flow. It is allowing them to move through you that prevents you from getting stuck.
SOURCE OF ALL STATISTICS:
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS