We recently asked our clients to describe depression, anxiety, and recovery and here is what they told us:
- Depression — “Numbness would feel so much better than the pain.”
- Anxiety — “You’ve lost touch with reality. Your brain takes over all of your thoughts and you believe them, even when you try your hardest not to. You feel like you’ll never win and be in control again.”
- Recovery — “Discomfort then empowerment.”
I just love the above description of recovery: “discomfort then empowerment.” In other words, in order to get out
of your misery, you first have to go through it. And, in order to go through the pain, you need awareness. You’ll also need skills to help you stay with the hard work and you’ll need values to guide you along the journey.
Three steps to reduce depression and anxiety
You can build mastery and achieve recovery from depression and anxiety
, as hard as it may seem. But, you must slow down and take deliberate steps in the struggle. If you try to cure yourself all at once, you may not be as effective at building the mastery that you will need for recovery.
Mastery (n.): the pursuit of competence and skill when faced with something unfamiliar and challenging.
I’ll break this down for you in three easy-to-follow steps, so that you’ll have concrete ways to reduce depression and anxiety, even in the most difficult moments.
1. Identify the problem.
First, you must have awareness and recognize what has been effective and ineffective in your life. In order to change, you must first accept what you have no control over. Then, assess what you do have control over and plan changes accordingly. This can be hard at first for many of us, because it is very hard to be aware of our own ineffective behavioral patterns and actions. Try to slow down in the moment, notice what is happening, collect information, take in feedback, and allow a new perspective to shine through
2. Identify helpful skills.
Second, you can learn skills to help you regulate your emotions, so that you are better able to make effective changes. Think about this: have you ever tried to find something while frantically running around and trying to remember the last time you saw or used this object? It feels like your mind is floating away from your body. It can be difficult to concentrate or even breathe properly in these moments. Well, it’s the same when we are in distress. So, in order to effectively manage distress, we must slow down and breathe evenly to regulate our emotions and body
. Once you do this, you can check the facts. Does the intensity of your emotions match the facts of the situation? If yes, then problem solve the situation so you regain a sense of balance. If no, then face the emotion and do the opposite of what you want to do. For instance, if you are anxious and want to avoid something, face your anxiety, go forward and do what you fear.
3. Identify your values.
Third, it is helpful to identify your values and practice behaviors aligned with those values. To do this, you must identify the things that are most important to you. What do you want to prioritize in your life? Maybe it is taking risks, building strong relationships, or having more compassion for yourself and others. These are just a few examples of what some have chosen as values to help them in recovery.
You can change unhealthy patterns of behavior
Many times on your recovery journey, you will come across a fork in the road. You can ask yourself, in these moments:
- Do I use my old, familiar behaviors (even though they are ineffective for me)?
- Do I challenge myself and try something new (even though it is uncomfortable and uncertain)?
In these moments, stop, slow down, breathe and identify your values. Let your values guide you through the difficult choices. If it helps, you can even write your values down so that they are easy to remember. And, recognize why you choose the harder road.
We talk about this path as following the Wise Mind, a deep intuition telling you that the most effective thing to do is often the more difficult choice. Ultimately, it will have the greatest long term benefit.
We all want recovery, but, at the beginning of the journey, it may not feel possible. Even though you may doubt it at times, you can learn skills to reduce depression and anxiety. We have seen many of our patients follow these steps above and we have also watched them move from misery to a life worth living.
Lara Schuster Effland, LCSW is Senior Director of the Mood and Anxiety Program at Insight Behavioral Health Center with locations in Illinois and Austin, in partnership with Eating Recovery Center.