How can I control my depression and anxiety?
Dennis felt desperate. He couldn’t believe what had happened in the last 12 months. He’d gone from being on top of his game to struggling to leave the house. What had gone wrong?
A visit to the GP and the realisation hit him square in the face. The D-word! “How did that happen?” he thought to himself. “It can’t be true”.
Nobody, of course, wants to be told: “you’re suffering from depression”.
“I’ll sign you off work for a month. I’d like to start you on a course of anti-depressants.”
It would be great to have a crystal ball. To see your future. To have the clarity, hope and determination to turn things around. But we don’t. Instead, like Dennis, we sit in the doctor’s room staring at the floor, terrified of telling our loved ones. Wondering, “what will happen to me now?”
Pain is Inevitable
Suffering and pain are different. Pain is fear, hurt, anger, shame and sadness.
What’s the difference?
The pain is clean. Suffering is dirty. Pain is inevitable. Suffering can be avoided, prevented, side-stepped or recovered from. Pain cannot.
Pain comes first. And it shows up most days. Even if you don’t see it or feel it with awareness. If you slow down to watch your emotions, then you’ll notice them. Like if you lay down on the grass and look up at the sky, you’ll notice the clouds passing over your head. They’re always there. You might not see them.
Why do you suffer?
Suffering happens when you spend too much time trying to control your pain. It is what happens when you try to make your pain go away.
Suffering is what happens when you spend your time distracting, seeking reassurance, avoiding, putting on a front, giving up, keeping busy, obsessing, worrying, relying on others, never relying on others, putting off, evoking sympathy, self-pity, intellectualising, rationalising, making a joke of it, self-criticising, blaming others, taking medication, drinking, exercising, going to the doctor, looking up symptoms on the internet, withdrawing, staying isolated, staying seated, never sitting down, carrying rescue remedies, going to the toilet, making yourself sick, taking risks, placing yourself in danger, sex with strangers, masturbating, over-eating, starvation, staying single and never being alone.
It’s a long list, and I could keep going. They are natural ways of coping with pain. They’re attempts to control your pain and to make it go away.
Control isn’t bad
These coping strategies aren’t bad by nature. Sometimes, they’re helpful. And, sometimes, they’re not. So, how do you tell the difference?
You need to understand the action within its context. You need to know its intention. For example, taking medication can be helpful. It can make you well. It can help you function and prevent things from getting worse. And it can do the opposite. It can cause side effects, damage your body and create further despair.
Control is terrible when it makes your life worse. Control is inadequate when you spend so much time, energy and effort trying to push away the pain you neglect those you love and care about. It’s bad when you lose sight of what’s most important. It’s terrible when you slowly self-destruct instead of giving yourself the nurturance you need to thrive.
Control is human
The urge to control is vital. It’s natural. It’s how the mind has evolved. Just like pain, control is inevitable. But, it isn’t a losing battle. It doesn’t need to be a battle at all.
Your mind, just like mine, sees and feels the pain. It judges “I’m losing control” or “I can’t control my thoughts or emotions.” In response, your mind determines that the solution is to find more control, get better at it and put more time and effort into it. It’s logical to search for more control.
As a result, your attempts to control the fear, the sadness and the hurt increase. The control becomes excessive and prolongs the pain. It creates additional suffering and worsens over time, creating recurring problems with anxiety and depression.
So, if control is the problem, not the solution, then what is the solution?
A Solution that works
Psychology has been investigating the solutions to emotional suffering for decades. There are now many different psychological therapies on offer. Choosing or knowing what will work best for you can feel impossible.
Many therapies overlap. They use different languages to describe the same or similar concepts. Some focus on the past, and others on the here and now. Some focus on techniques, and others focus on the therapist-client relationship. Even psychologists don’t seem to agree on what works best as professionals probably tend to overstate the benefits of their approach and undervalue those of others. None of that helps for precise, immediate guidance.
What do I think is the solution?
I’m going to keep it simple. I’m going to give you a brief description. It’s the best way I can capture what psychology tells us works. Ultimately, I will describe what helps people reduce anxiety, lift their mood and reduce depression. I will describe what helps to end addiction and move on from trauma. I will describe what helps a person learn to trust again, manage stress and dissolve urges to kill themselves. It’s what I call the brave and gentle approach to self-care.
A Brave and Gentle Approach to Self-care
Why be brave?
You know what it is to be brave. It’s not being fearless. It is doing what matters, even when you feel scared. It’s doing what matters, even when you don’t see the point. It’s taking steps outside of your comfort zone so you can learn, grow and discover through your own direct experiences. It is doing that stuff even though your mind tells you not to. It’s doing that even though your entire body resists and wants to lie down.
Why? Because if you don’t, then you risk shrinking into nothingness. You can’t stand still. You can only go forwards or backwards.
Why be gentle?
To be gentle is not to be harsh. It is not criticising, blaming or dismissing your pain. This doesn’t motivate people. It does the opposite. It chips away and puts holes in you. You don’t want too many holes, or they’ll be nothing left. Just like any living organism or inanimate possession, you need maintenance. You need care. And care works best when it is gentle.
Bravery is necessary to turn a life around, especially when suffering gets the better of you. It’s your friend, your coach and your mentor. And you’ll be more likely to succeed, improve and master the performance of your mind if you include another friend in your circle.
Gentleness is kindness. Its warmth and sensitivity. Gentleness is taking it slow. It is seeing it from different points of view. Its showing understanding in the face of criticism, blame and judgement.
Keep these friends in your corner.
Be friends for life. When you’re next struggling, or if you’re struggling right now, ask yourself this: when did I last see my friends – gentleness and bravery? Have I spoken with them recently? Why haven’t I sought them out to spend time with them?