misunderstanding depression & anxiety

Posted on: March 26, 2012 by Chris Kingman

When we feel depressed or anxious, it is no joke.

Other terms that we use to describe these painful feelings include:

Depressed = low, negative, dread, hopeless, dark, shut-down, disconnected, sad, hurting, irritable
Anxious = nervous, insecure, fearful, jittery, scared, scattered, all over the place, worried, restless

Not only do these feelings simply ‘feel’ terrible – it’s also the case that the repeated experiencing of such feelings play a significant role in all kinds of self-destructive behaviors including obsessive self-criticism, social isolation, substance abuse, chronic over-eating, avoiding important life tasks, unhealthy relational patterns and sometimes even violence.

Given this state of affairs, the logical conclusion for us to draw is that feelings of depression and anxiety are ‘bad’ and should be avoided at all costs, right?

Actually no – it’s not that simple.

depression and anxiety – the normal feelings vs. the medical disorders

The truth is that even though they are highly unpleasant, feelings of depression and anxiety are normal, natural and unavoidable aspects of living. When we habitually fail to acknowledge and effectively deal with these human feelings during the ordinary course of living, it is then that we increase our risk for developing full-blown “Mood Disorders,” like Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Phobia – all of which are catalogued in the DSM IV. Chronic Mood Disorders are serious medical conditions that can ruin lives if left unattended.

What’s important to remember about this – and what I talk about with clients in my NYC therapy practice – is that these Mood Disorders do not just drop out of the sky; they are degenerative conditions that result over time from our lack of knowledge about and skill in handling THE NORMAL FEELINGS of depression and anxiety as they arise in our everyday experience.

If we learn to acknowledge and deal effectively with our emotional lives on a daily basis, it fosters our emotional growth. If we habitually minimize, avoid or numb our feelings, our emotional growth gets stunted. In other words, it is through the successful processing of our emotional experiences that we increase our emotional intelligence.

getting smarter about our emotional lives

What does it mean to “successfully process” our feelings?

Basically, feelings sort of ‘happen’ to us; they are automatic physiological reactions to situations in our lives – based, of course, on how we are perceiving what’s going on. What matters most is not the onset of feelings but how we RESPOND to these feelings arising within us. Essentially, how we handle and give expression to our emotional lives – moment to moment and day to day – makes all the difference.

To learn about (1) recognizing and identifying feelings, and (2) processing them effectively – is the road to developing emotional intelligence. This is true for all of us, and unfortunately, no one teaches us this in school.

When human beings do not develop these understandings and skills, we fall into habits of avoiding and ultimately numbing ourselves to our emotional lives: we become distant, closed off, angry, irritable, desperate, compulsive, obsessive and more. As mentioned earlier, emotional pain, turbulence and overwhelm underlie all kinds of self-destructive behavior and unsatisfying living.

If so, there are many paths; therapy is only one option among many. How we take action in this area is up to us, but continuing to avoid emotional self-care simply intensifies the difficulties we will face down the road.

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