Anxiety and depression are what we see. Behind them, there are different thinking and feeling patterns as well as experiences that need to be addressed.
Stress comes first. It’s a natural phenomenon because the definition of stress is the feelings, thoughts, and reactions we have when we are under pressure or “threatened,” as our predecessors were in the savanna, when saber-tooth tigers were looming about. Chronic and intense stress, when left untreated, changes the brain’s and body’s neurochemistry and leads to anxiety and often to depression.
Meet Some People You Don’t Know, Whose Stories Are Familiar
Evelyn worries excessively about her job; the demands from her boss, the tight deadlines, the long hours and the frequent out-of-state trips she has to make. She’s tired and often feels sick to her stomach. Sometimes she feels she has difficulty breathing and she’s worried about her worrying.
Don, after a bitter divorce, started having trouble falling and staying asleep. He wakes up in the middle of the night and lies awake, thinking of everything that can go wrong and having negative thoughts about himself and his future. His mentally and physically tense, as he suffers from headaches in the absence of any medical reason.
What Evelyn and Don have in common is anxiety that gets in the way and doesn’t allow them to enjoy their lives.
Melissa reports feeling tired, without energy, empty inside and not enjoying all the things she used to. She reports feeling sad and low most of the time, without apparent reason.
Greg is irritable and has angry outbursts at the slightest provocation, finds that nothing in meaningful or pleasurable and there are days that he needs to drag himself out of bed.
Melissa and Greg have symptoms commonly found in depression.
Whether with a formal diagnosis or exhibiting some symptoms, anxiety and depression have taken epidemic dimensions. Often, they are diagnosed together; or perhaps one is clinically diagnosed and the other is detected in several symptoms, but not all as to qualify for a clinical diagnosis. In any case, if, for example, eight symptoms are needed to make a formal diagnosis and you only exhibit seven, you don’t get the formal diagnosis. Yet you know very well that you suffer. And what you feel is real and bothersome.
Here are the Most Common Themes Hiding behind Anxiety and Depression
Negative self-evaluation. People who are under stress often tend to feel that their internal or external resources are limited and cannot respond effectively to daily stressors. The more stressed a person is, the more it appears they start thinking that it’s their fault, or they make a negative scenario for every situation encountered, or simply think that they cannot and will not make it because they don’t have XYZ, whatever it is their negative self-evaluation is about.
History of psychological trauma. Another common theme behind anxiety and depression is a history of psychological trauma sustained earlier in the life of this person. It doesn’t have to be an overly dramatic or blatant trauma- oftentimes the smaller, cumulative traumatic experiences have an equally negative impact on a person. Because they are comparatively smaller problems, many people tend to overlook or dismiss them, being judgmental of themselves and their experience. These unprocessed traumatic experiences can remain hidden for a while, but when stress and adversity appear, they tend to resurface and present as anxiety and depression.
Fear. Fear is another major factor hiding behind anxiety and depression. The person may have specific fears or a generalized sense of fearing life. Fear is a state of mind. It’s not a character flaw and it’s not sign of weakness. It has to do with a certain way of thinking, that the person sees more obstacles and problems than solutions. When that happens, the person freezes into place, like the rabbit caught in the high-beam lights in the middle of the dark night. Fear prevents us from planning and executing change. Fear is like a chain that keeps us tied down to a reality we don’t like. The more we fear our fear, the more anxious and depressed we get.
Being Overwhelmed or Emotionally Burned-Out. If you are under a lot of stress for a prolonged period of time, trying to keep afloat and do all that you need to do, you reach a point when you can’t take it any longer. The sense of being overwhelmed occurs when you feel that you tackled two problems, for example, and in their place appeared four brand new problems. You are overwhelmed when you feel the situation is out of control and that no matter what you do it’s like trying to fill a bottomless bucket with a teaspoon. If you continue on this mode for a while, then you develop burn-out syndrome or compassionate fatigue, where you can no longer take anything and you shut down emotionally.
Negative thinking patterns. Aaron Beck, one of the founders of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, delineated the types of negative thinking that are disruptive and harmful. The “All-or-Nothing” type of thinking as in “I have to do it perfectly or I might as well not do it all,” doesn’t allow the person the freedom to start working on something and see gradual progress. Constantly Focusing on the Negative is another destructive thinking pattern, while Catastrophizing, as the name suggests, is all about seeing negative scenarios and waiting for doomsday. People who think this way tend to get stuck and frustrated, as they see no way out of their situation.
Learned helplessness. If you were raised to believe that there isn’t much you can do and always expect someone else to step in and help you out, then you are in a rough position. There are many scientific studies showing that individuals who feel that they have no control over their situation, that no matter what they do they can’t change things finally give up, withdraw and feel anxious and depressed.
Hopelessness. People who are in a rough psychological state often feel that tomorrow is going to be one of the same, that nothing will ever change and that they are doomed in this unbearable situation. When people lose hope for the better, they tend to stop fighting or attempting to get it. They just give up and become stuck in more anxiety and depression.
I am not suggesting that it’s easy to get out of a stressed-out, anxious, or depressed phase in your life. You may need medication and psychotherapy. You may choose to try different routes to regaining yourself and life. By considering the themes that I described here you can start cultivating a sense of empowerment, a sense that not all hope is lost. In fact, there is hope, plenty of it, but it’s like a little spark in the darkness, that you need to protect in with your cupped hands and allow it to illuminate your life. I am not suggesting that somehow it’s your fault that you are in the rough situation you are. I am suggesting that you are not alone, you are not weak, you are not doomed, you are not stigmatized. You are a wonderful person going through hardships. Give yourself at least that. Allow yourself to believe that there is hope, that there is a better tomorrow.