Depression, Anxiety and Mindfulness
Depression and anxiety are common bedfellows, they originate from the same negative thoughts which wander in and out of our minds leaving their mark on how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. These negative thoughts tell us that we are not good enough, that we are imposters who do not deserve praise or our position in the world. They lead us to become anxious, constantly afraid of inevitable failure and of being found out to be a fraud. This anxiety has a profound effect on our physical and mental health, it has a negative impact on our wellbeing, it stops us from developing and from enjoying our lives, it leads to depression. Depression creates more negative thoughts and wakes us more willing to listen to and to believe in them, so we become more anxious and less able to live our lives and so we become more depressed.
Negative thoughts are unavoidable, our minds are constantly working, it is easier to stop our breath than it is to stop our thoughts. Our minds create thoughts based on past experiences which are then used to try to attempt to make sense of our current situation, but they have no basis on the reality that we are experiencing now, in this moment. Those of us who are prone to depression and anxiety are easily led by these negative thoughts which results in the downward spiral described in the previous paragraph. We are not always conscious of these thoughts or what has stirred them into life, but we accept them as a true representation of ourselves and base or actions on them.
Negative thoughts are pernicious, an ever-present inner critic berating us making it ever more difficult to interact with the world. All of us have some degree of natural resistance to the harmful effects of negative thoughts, but this resilience is eroded and if we are not careful it will be exhausted leaving us unprotected against the onslaught from our inner critic and in need of help. Unfortunately, our inner critics tell us that we are not worthy of help, so we do not ask for it and instead live evermore miserable lives, thinking that this is normal and just what we deserve. It is not normal, and nobody deserves this.
It would be flippant and disrespectful to suggest that we should just ignore negative thoughts and “get on with it”. If it was that easy there would be no one suffering from depression. Because of the insidious nature of the development of depression and our tendency to normalise the behaviours associated with it, we, more often than not, do not recognise that we need help. There is also a stigma associated with mental health issues despite advances made in making it more acceptable to speak openly about them.
There is no substitute for talking therapy and anyone who is feeling depressed, or that they are not coping, or that there is no joy in their lives need to seek help. Asking for help is the most difficult step on the road to recovery, it can feel that we are failures if we cannot cope with what life throws at us, but remember that we only have a limited reserve of resilience. When you ask for help please accept all the support that you are offered and enter the process with an open mind and a willingness to listen to and to try the advice that is given. This is where mindfulness proves invaluable.
Mindfulness techniques allow us to acknowledge our negative thoughts and give us an opportunity to examine them and question where they have come from. By developing an awareness of our negative thoughts and inner critics we stop them from sneaking into our minds unnoticed and lowering our mood and draining our resilience. By being mindful of our thoughts and emotions we can recognise when the new techniques that we are being taught in therapy are being helpful, and indeed what is not helpful for us. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the battle against depression and anxiety, but this must be started with a properly trained practitioner, preferably under the guidance of a psychiatrist.
Once we are feeling better, mindfulness comes into its own in the prevention of a relapse. Initially it is hard wark keeping an awareness of our thoughts and emotions. We start to see what lowers our mood and this in turn allows us to develop better responses to these triggers. We cannot stop events from having a negative impact on us, it is normal to be sad, annoyed, angry and happy. With mindfulness we accept that all emotions are normal and that how we have reacted in the past to them may have been inappropriate, but now we can start to react to them in a more appropriate and beneficial way. And gradually the techniques of mindfulness become second nature to us and our lives become happier, more colourful and enjoyable, we recognise when our levels of resilience are getting low and what we need to do to replenish them. Mindfulness quietens our inner critics and allows us to thrive.