While I never set out to specialize in anxiety disorders and depression, the truth is, it didn’t take long for me to see the incredible need. Not only in my counseling practice, but firsthand through the suffering of one of our children. About 9% of adult Americans experience symptoms that generate a diagnosis of depression (Centers for Disease Control). Anxiety is even more prevalent. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 18% of the adult population suffer from anxiety disorders (i.e., generalized anxiety, panic, social anxiety, phobias, OCD); and 10% of teens. While depression and anxiety create different kinds of havoc, they often occur at the same time — because they share a similar root vulnerability.
If you’ve ever suffered from depression and/or anxiety, or love someone who has, then you know intimately how one’s mental well-being profoundly affects the quality of every aspect of life, and those near and dear as well. Brewing for decades, my wish for this article is singular and precise: to empower anyone who suffers from anxiety and depression — through awareness, support, and simple practical tools — to heal themselves and find greater meaning through the overcoming process.
Here are some tools and rules:
KNOW THAT YOU CAN OVERCOME
Let’s make it very clear, anxiety disorders and depression can be overcome. The overcoming starts with the very realization that the power to overcome belongs to you. Just today, one of my clients reminded me, “I first came to see you hoping to “manage” my anxiety disorder. I am so glad you let me know I can overcome it.” An empowered mindset can be hard to find when mental disorders cloud and overwhelm us. This is why we are not here to go it alone and why simple and do-able changes are key.
ACCEPT DON’T JUDGE — YOURSELF AND EACH MOMENT
Yes we have the power to create our own happiness and overcome, and yet, it’s important to be patient and compassionate with ourselves along the journey. We all need a long runway to make changes. Self-judgment and self-sabotage cause unnecessary additional suffering on an already challenging road. They are the second stab only feeding the monsters we are trying to fight. Accepting yourself where you are is the foundation for change. Self-compassion and mercy create a doorway into a state of mind above your depressive and anxious reality, making the climb up lighter and more achievable.
Accepting your “experience of the present moment” is another powerful acceptance tool. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), they call it radical acceptance — a practice of accepting the experience of the present moment for what it is. Paradoxically, this letting go of resistance gives you greater power to make changes and overcome overwhelming feelings.
EXPLORE THE CAUSES
Even though no one knows exactly what causes depression and anxiety, most agree they stem from a state of internal imbalance. Identifying what kind of imbalance is key for choosing the right path and approach to overcoming. Here are some causes to explore: genetic predisposition, hormones, suppressed emotions, outmoded defense mechanisms (e.g. the fixer, the overachiever), death or loss of loved one, major life events, marital unhappiness, other mental illnesses, substance abuse, childhood trauma, certain medications, medical conditions (e.g., lupus, thyroid imbalance, asthma, hypoglycemia), and personal problems such as financial troubles or loss of a job, or feeling trapped in one.
UNCOVER HIDDEN EMOTIONS
Anxiety is often a cover-emotion for feelings unconsciously deemed too painful to deal with, such as grief and sadness, fear of being abandoned or alone, feeling helpless or out of control. Once you identify any hidden root emotions, often with the help of a healing professional, you can express these exiled emotions, accept them and proactively nourish ourselves at the core. This proactive process can bring great relief and healing, thereby leaving our anxiety out of a job.
According to ancient wisdom, depression stems from a lack of desire. When one is depressed, like anxiety, feeling low might stem from the unconscious covering of other emotions. This suppression process can significantly diminish desire. Whether that be on your own or with professional help (see more below), I recommend exploring what might be under the depression (e.g., anger turned inward, unresolved grief or trauma, shame or powerlessness). Our emotions serve as vital clues — something within or around you is ready for change. Listen inside carefully, for anything that might be blocking your desire.
TAKE SMALL SIMPLE STEPS TO BE PROACTIVE
Trying to solve your anxiety and depression can trigger, well … anxiety and depression. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. So it’s important to find simple actions and small steps that will work for you. By being proactive, we have the power to change our brain chemistry, and yet, slow and steady wins the race. All it takes is a little dip into being the cause versus the effect in your life and you can begin to remedy the helpless and out of control feelings which often lie at the heart of anxiety and depression.
Below are some small things I believe will make a huge difference in your life, and that are simple enough, you can even start today. All you will need is to find a little bit of time to pick some things to do for yourself. You are worth it!
BODY — Be as good to your body as you can be.
Sleep: See what you can do to improve your sleep. 30 minutes more a night can make a difference. Try turning netflix off early or dimming your screen
Body Movement: Move your body as much as you can and in ways that feel good (dance in your room, do yoga, walk or run outside, swim, go to the gym)
Food: Put food in your body that makes you feel good and strong
Routine: Do your best to create one that works for you
Alcohol and Caffeine: Be moderate with alcohol and caffeine
5 Senses: Explore ways to self soothe your 5 senses (e.g., lavender, music, watching the sky)
Active and Engaged: It’s tempting to withdraw, but “idleness is the devil’s playground”
MIND — Do your best to connect to your higher mind, the part of you not anxious or depressed. Here are some examples.
Being in the Present Moment: This moment is perfect even if I don’t like the situation I am in
Affirming Thoughts: I love and approve of myself as I heal and grow; My essential nature is whole, perfect and complete. I have the power within me to overcome; I make good choices for my well being; I always have choices and opportunities
Awakening Appreciation: I see the good in me and in my life
Finding Meaning: Everything is for the good, even if it’s not apparent in the moment
HEART — Find ways to bring more love and connection into your life
Connect with others: Call a friend, make some plans, text ‘I love you’ to someone you do, spend time with your family
Give and Share: No matter how big or small, pick some things you can do for others. It’s the best medicine.
SPIRITUAL — Connect to something bigger to nourish your inner being, whatever that means to you.
Study Spiritual Wisdom
Attend a spiritual class or service
Call a spiritual friend
Take steps toward a purpose or passion
Look for the meaning, the gift in the challenge
WHEN TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP - THE POWER OF BEING HEARD
While we can make many changes on our own to improve our well being, we can all reach higher and go farther with the strength and support from a therapeutic relationship. Particularly if your worries, panic attacks and/or depressive symptoms cause extreme distress in your life and impede your happiness and daily routine, I would recommend seeking professional help.
CONSIDER MEDICATION CAREFULLY - AS A TOOL, NOT THE SOLUTION
I have seen medication change people’s lives, and yet, it’s not for everyone. There are some things that medicine can’t take away — e.g., trauma or a phobia — and even some anxieties are better served with talk therapy. It’s important to understand that using medication doesn’t mean you don’t need therapy. Even if you take medication for anxiety, for example, you still have anxiety.
We are here to grow and transform ourselves, personally and spiritually. If medication is needed as a support system to make these changes, then it can be a powerful tool. Not the solution, but a tool.