Feelings of depression and anxiety are the two most common emotions we experience when major crises happen in our lives. Then, anger follows. Depression and anxiety are the most common reasons for seeking therapy and are highly treatable. If you have recently gone through a major life crisis and are experiencing problems with depression and anxiety, you are not alone and what you are going through is very common.
While it is very common, depression and anxiety are feelings that can become debilitating if your life circumstances overwhelm your ability to cope normally. It is important that if you are having problems with depression or anxiety that you seek help from a therapist. If you are already having major problems functioning in your day-to-day life, treatment is a must. If you are feelings suicidal or planning to hurt yourself, you must get help right away!
In mental health terms, feelings of depression and anxiety are not symptoms of a mental illness. Feelings are important physiological cues to us, like a warning light in your car. When the light goes off, you know you need to tune up your car. In people, when you experience emotions like anger, sadness, or nervousness, it is a cue that you need to “tune up” something in your life.
Feelings, good or bad, are what reinforces our actions or they alert us to when things are not going as they should and require our attention. It is no mistake, for example, that having sex, eating, laughing and loving feel good. They feel good because mother nature wants us to do these things. We cannot continue as a species unless we reproduce, ergo biology urges us to have sex and it feels good to do so. Furthermore, it is important to eat to keep living. Laughing is curative and boosts up the immune system. These things, along with loving other people and other things, aid in our overall survival.
Humans are social animals, and we depend upon one another because our lives are so complex. If you lived in total isolation, it would literally harm your physical being. Studies on babies who were deprived of human contact in war-torn countries and were not held and interacted with constantly failed to develop and died! There is a good reason babies are cute – it keeps us coming back for more!
Anger, depression, and fear or anxiety are emotions that tell you something is wrong and needs to change. They are your “DO SOMETHING!” feelings. They are meant to motivate you. For example, if a person on the street pulls out a knife and demands your wallet, chances are you are going to feel scared, maybe even angry. Your feeling is protecting you, so you will live through the situation. You will either do what the guy says and if he tries to hurt you, either fight him or run. Or, believe it or not, you may just become paralyzed, like you are “playing possum,” a very important survival strategy that humans have adopted. You “play possum” when you feel extremely threatened. Many people get really frustrated with themselves after a traumatic event if they feel like they “just didn’t do anything to stop it, or to save her, or to protect him.” What people don’t know is freezing up is a primal survival response. You do it because it is in your genes. It is what helps you stay alive. It is a normal fear response.
Another example of how feelings get you to take action that is more obscure: Let’s say someone criticizes you, you might respond by feeling angry and hurt. Why? Why from a survival standpoint that is? That person is threatening your well-being on a primal level. They are triggering your survival emotions. Let’s say your boss criticizes your work. If your boss doesn’t like your work, he could fire you. This could threaten your survival – if you can’t work, you can’t support yourself, so you can’t buy food and put a roof over your head. Make sense? The hurt and anger are warning signs trying to tell you to do something so you survive. So our feelings are very important to us. They let us know what we need to be paying attention to, for survival sake.
But, what happens when our feelings are reacting so strongly that they are interfering in our ability to make things happen – to take action for our survival? For example, if depression gets really out of control, you won’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. You may even have thoughts and fantasies about dying. If you are too anxious, you won’t be productive and will end up making a lot of mistakes. In extreme, you may start having panic attacks on the freeway while you are driving. That isn’t going to help with your survival, in fact just the opposite! This happens when you are too overloaded by stress and crisis in your life, or if your brain chemistry or hormones are out of balance.
When you have too much of one emotion and it is no longer helping you, there is a chemical overload or under-load in your body. This is when medication may be helpful and you should consider talking to you a doctor or seek out help from a psychiatrist. Therapy will be very helpful too because therapy also helps create a chemical change in your brain! That’s right, you read that correctly! Therapy can change your brain! Wild isn’t it? But it is true. Many people have found that therapy alone has been able to cure their depression or anxiety, because your brain develops new neurological pathways all the time. However, for some people, therapy won’t make enough of a change and this person will need medication to relieve these symptoms. For you, therapy plus medication is the best treatment.
If you were abused as a young child, you may need therapy and/or medication because your brain likely developed with chronic chemical over/under-loads that became a lasting part of your brain’s anatomical structure. Think about it this way, let’s say that you are constantly on edge because your life is unpredictable. What is happening in your body? If you know what it is like to be really scared, you can start to guess what is happening: your heart rate goes up, you become very alert, your breathing changes, and you feel tension in your muscles; your entire body is ready to respond to whatever threat you may encounter. There are major chemical and physiological changes happening throughout your entire body. Your pupils dilate, your blood vessels expand and dilate so that more blood flows to your vital organs and limbs, your digestion slows down, your bowels and bladder may empty, and your brain shifts into a partially automatic reactive mode. You find yourself acting without thinking, just responding automatically, before you even realize what you’ve done. These changes all happen as a result of what is known as the fight/flight/freeze response.
Your body is in a survival mode, ready to protect yourself if you are to be attacked. If you were to be attacked, you would need to be prepared to either fight to defend yourself or flee. In an abusive household where there is a lot of upheaval, constant tension and unpredictability, so you naturally remain in a chronic state of fight/flight/freeze. The stress is too high. When this happens, your body begins to break down because the chemical changes required to create this survival response are very powerful. You are not built to sustain that level of physiological response.
When you are a developing child, your brain is developing and forming nerve pathways that will create your emotional responses and reactions throughout your life. But the pathways created are damaged due to chronic stress. Thus, as you become a teenager or adult, you may experience problems with ongoing depression and/or anxiety because of the damage done to your brain in childhood. Medication and therapy may be needed to correct these problems, and are very helpful to survivors of childhood abuse.
Social anxiety is another common problem as a result of childhood abuse and neglect. If a parent didn’t give you enough support, you may have developed some depression and social anxiety. It is often caused by not having supportive socialization as a child or by being excessively teased and bullied by peers as a child. Social anxiety is fairly common and is characterized by:
- Feeling uncomfortable around groups
- You may not know what to say or do so stay quiet and feel awkward
- You may avoid going out to events or functions unless you know you are going to be secure with the people you are with
Some people are also born with a tendency towards having depression or anxiety. It is just a part of your genes. If your family tends to be depressive or anxious, it is likely that you may have inherited this from them. In this case, medication or herbs may be helpful to you if anxiety and depression is a problem. In addition, paying attention to what you eat is also very important because this will impact your moods. For example, if you eat a lot of sugar or foods that have starchy carbohydrates, like breads and cereals, your body tends to have sugar dips. When this happens, your mood is impacted. If you have caffeinated drinks or foods, like coffee, soft drinks, or chocolate, this also will cause anxiety, and then a sugar swing, which will impact your moods.
The other thing about these foods is that they have a significant impact on your hormonal system that regulates your entire body. Your hormones impact your moods so if you are not eating balanced meals with regular healthy snacks, you are more likely to have hormonal and sugar instability, which cause problems with moods. Good things to eat are fruits, vegetables and protein regularly. If you have a protein and fruit or vegetable at each meal, and then nuts or a glass of milk for a snack, you will find that your moods may improve significantly, because your body is able to work better overall. This is especially important for girls and women, because this type of diet is the healthiest on your ovaries. Studies are showing that females are currently at a high risk for ovarian problems due to diet and environmental toxins. The purer the foods you eat, foods that are not processed, the healthier your ovaries will be and the less likely you will develop reproductive and many other non-reproductive diseases.
Here at LA Therapy Network, we like to recommend the book, “Its My Ovaries Stupid,” by Dr. Elizabeth Lee Vliet for all girls and women because Dr. Vliet has done a significant amount of research on women’s ovarian health and has found a tremendous impact on female health caused by chemicals and environmental toxins. By the time a female realizes the extent of the damage, it is very difficult, if possible at all to correct the damage. It is extremely important to understand what is happening to our bodies now, because for the first time in history, girls and women are showing tremendous ovarian diseases that are not being recognized or correctly treated by an under-educated medical system on ovarian health. And, ovarian health is directly linked to mental health and mood stability. The more PMS symptoms or Perimenopause Symptoms or Menopausal symptoms you have, the more your body is trying to tell you something.
More Resources for Depression:
Dealing with Depression from HelpGuide.com
Eight Ways to Actively Fight Depression from PsychologyToday
What is Depression? from MedicalNewsToday.com
Teen Depression: A Guide for Parents from Helpguide.com
Menopause & Depression from Menopause.org
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