Symptoms of anxiety and depression are common and understandable, and more people are experiencing them. Sometimes you may have felt you had no choice but to put up with feeling bad, but you do not have to. There are things you can do to help yourself feel better.
As a psychotherapist, I have known many people who have got through difficult times and painful emotions, and I have seen them overcome these challenges and emerge much stronger than they were before. Psychotherapy can be an effective form of treatment that offers you new ways to manage your symptoms of depression or anxiety, whether or not you also use medication.
In psychotherapy, we are interested in you, and not just your symptoms. What is it that triggered them? We are interested in something more than getting rid of emotional and mental pain and distress, because, in order to manage them more effectively, you need to understand them. (If you are convinced that the sole cause of your depression is a biochemical imbalance in your brain that has no connection with the way you think, then psychotherapy is not for you… read no further).
No one feels bad for no reason, but we do not always understand what started off a long train of negative thoughts and feelings that we feel powerless to prevent. The combination of circumstances around when you began to feel bad are personal to you and your life experience, and thus psychotherapy offers open-ended individualised treatment, and not one fixed programme.
Difficult feelings – such as hopelessness and stuckness, frustration, despair, low mood, joylessness, loneliness, repetitive worrying, low energy and lack of motivation – are a signalling system. Given the safe holding relationship of psychotherapy, these feelings can be explored, understood, expressed and shared. Together we listen in to what they are saying and why they are shouting at you so loudly you can’t ignore them. Indeed, your body-mind system is telling you it is fed up and is refusing to continue on your old path, and so there must be things in your life that need to change. These may include your actual circumstances, but are likely to be old underlying beliefs, assumptions, values and repeating behaviours that you inherited and that have been working in the background like an old out of date operating system. They have been running at a semi-conscious level, so you have not been fully aware of them. They do not work in your best interests and may be sabotaging your peace of mind and wellbeing… and these unconscious aspects of ourselves resist change and fresh thinking.
Depression is a kind of withdrawal from life when you cannot find reasons to be hopeful or the motivation to improve things, and you feel there is something wrong with you. It’s different to grief or the process of coming to terms with loss and change. You can feel helpless and disempowered, and so it’s important to get in touch with aspects of yourself that are resourceful, creative, courageous and willing to change. Depression can sometimes be associated with feeling unlovable and unworthy, or not good enough, and sometimes there is guilt which is an attack on the self. Sometimes it can be anger and destructiveness turned against the self, attacking yourself rather than openly being angry with someone when perhaps it was not safe or possible for you to show anger. Depression is an indication of oppression or suppression, whether inner or outer.
Anxiety is based upon fear, such as feeling unsafe, threatened, restricted, over-controlled, afraid that your survival needs won’t be met, or worried that you won’t be able to cope. Anxiety can be an expression of the ego part of the mind being over-active, because you have been living too long in a fight-flight-or freeze state of mind. In this state, you can’t make rational, thought-through decisions and choices from your frontal cortex. Instead, fear-based thinking, constant worrying and repetitious concerns and doubts preoccupy you, as this part of your mind is trying to assert control to keep you “safe”.
Whatever symptoms you are struggling with, it is helpful to understand that they are not caused by weakness or inadequacy, but by an old operating system that has been running without being updated. Holding a kind but slightly detached attitude towards the frightened or depressed feelings is more productive than getting too absorbed in the content of your thoughts (for example, “I’m worried my partner does not really love me and may leave”). Do not automatically believe these thoughts when they arise in your mind, or give them too much space, as they will expand as much as you let them. It’s also important to be active and not allow yourself to be lulled into a state of passivity, to take small daily actions and choices that are going in the right direction.
There is always something you can do to make yourself feel a little bit better, such as walking outside, practising a sport or activity, eating healthy food, making something, reading a good book, gardening, watching inspiring videos, spending time with a pet, or connecting with someone who is kind and accepting. Creativity and making things are under-rated as a way to help you feel better. When you’re in the process of making something, it’s easier to be relaxed and just focused on the project. It’s also active and so much better for you than passively absorbing media which can be very detrimental to mental health. Don’t get into judging the quality of the product you are making, just allow it to be a form of self-expression.
The attitude you hold towards yourself really makes a difference, so practise being kind and gentle with yourself. So many self-attacking feelings have taken root in the soil of judgement, self-neglect and not valuing yourself enough. When you notice mean self attacking thoughts, stop them and replace them with a kind thought.
So teach yourself to be an adult who treats herself with kindness and respect. Appreciate and value the unique person you are, rather than focusing on what is wrong. This is a powerful way to signal to yourself that you have decided to start a process of constructive change.
Don’t think badly of yourself for being depressed or anxious, as it is an understandable human response to what you have been living through, perhaps for decades. There’s no guidance at school or in most families about how to deal with these familiar symptoms. We live in a society where there is little attention given to sound mental health. Nonetheless, if you are determined, you can learn to stop turning against yourself, and use your negative emotions constructively – as an alert system that tells you something needs your attention. Build on your strengths rather than your weaknesses and make daily choices that take you a step or two in the right direction. You can do this. And if you would like an experienced guide during your reconstruction process contact me.