In part 1 of this series of blogs on the relationship between depression and anxiety, I discuss how they are often related by their both being a response to a difficult task or issue. In Part 2, I describe how depression and anxiety become such problems when dealing with difficult tasks or issues. Finally, in Part 3, I explain how my clients and I work together to rid their lives of depression and anxiety.
Stop Flipping the Coin: Eliminating Depression and Anxiety by re-thinking the tasks and issues, and our capacity to meet new challenges
Conquering depression is definitely possible, but it requires new thinking about our capacities and the importance or feasibility of tasks that fuel the depression. Clients are often able to rid themselves of depression after years of struggle by reassessing their abilities to put an end to self-destructive self-fulfilling prophecies, to put an end to cycles of failures that can be avoided by ridding yourself of the belief that an impossible task is worth pursuing. Sometimes dealing with depression requires us to find new capacities and beliefs about ourselves so we can complete the tasks. We realize that by limiting our tasks to those we can actually accomplish, we are able to do what needs to be done, and we find a new confidence in ourselves. Sometimes dealing with depression requires us to walk away from tasks we thought were absolutely necessary to complete, but then realized they could not ever be completed or resolved, or it simply wasn’t necessary after all. We stop allowing others to dictate, intentionally or not, what we must “prove” to gain their acceptance, and we accept ourselves as we are.
Not surprisingly, ridding ourselves of problematic anxiety often requires the same kinds of change necessary to eliminate depression: a change in belief about ourselves, our ability to meet challenging tasks, and the actual importance, or lack of importance in completing those tasks. If we review our sense of “urgency” it is often not the task that requires urgency, but our own insecurities that make us feel a task or issue must be addressed, when in fact it may not be necessary, or at least not immediately so. Where does the sense of urgency come from? Has someone else, recently or a long time ago, set us thinking we must deal with certain things quickly, or completely, or with the standard of perfection as the only acceptable outcome? Do we believe we cannot do something because we have told ourselves we cannot, maybe over and over again, for years? Identify these causes of both our urgency and our self-doubts and you will begin to figure out how to put aside the worry, the seemingly uncontrollable repeated thinking about an issue, a problem, a task, and then you will be prepared to face the task or issue head on, and without so much urgency, and anxiety.
One thing clients usually know before I meet them for the first time is that avoiding the difficult task or issue will not help them get rid of their depression or anxiety. In fact, it is the failure of this tactic—avoidance—that often brings a client to come and see me. Avoidance can actually make things worse because it confirms their feelings of inadequacy or insecurity about their ability to face the task or issues, while also increasing the urgency of actually dealing with the issue. There are times when we need to be patient in dealing with a difficult situation. For instance, grieving the loss of someone close can often involve a stage of denial, which allows us the time we need to gear up for facing and accepting the loss. That’s fine. Taking time to deal with an issue becomes a problem, though, when denial is prolonged into a semi-permanent state of avoidance. I firmly believe that we must address difficult tasks or issues to overcome them. There is no such things as “getting over” or “moving on” from a problem. We must “move through” the problem, as we increase our ability to believe in ourselves, and distinguish between tasks we set for ourselves and those which we have allowed others to set for us.
In therapy with clients, no matter what particular issues the client has come to resolve, they almost always bring with them a pocket full of coins with some level of depression and anxiety on either side. As we discuss, identify and begin to resolve the issues, clients nearly always learn new and more effective ways of viewing themselves and their tasks. This way, clients wind up having much more confidence in their own abilities, both to complete necessary tasks, and to identify when to let go of tasks that do not need to completed. We don’t need to get rid of all of the coins in a client’s pocket. Once we get rid of a couple coins in therapy, most client are well on their way to being able to get rid of the rest on their own, which is another way of saying they have learned how to rid themselves of problematic depression and anxiety.