Depression and anxiety are two primary emotions that signal change when we are stressed. Happiness and elation, their polar opposites, are emotions that say, “Keep up the good work,” while depression and anxiety shout, “Change!” One way to overcome the latter stress-induced emotions is to move through them, and in order to do that, you must connect. It’s important to note that if you think you may be suffering from depression, you should reach out to a doctor about how you are feeling.
The body has two primary functions, Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., states in his book, The Biology of Belief, “Growth and protection, both of which require substantial sums of energy and cannot occur at the same time. When we are stressed, our bodies go into protective mode and growth cannot occur. Take for example a man being chased by a charging rhino. It wouldn’t make sense for his cells to waste energy on growth when the energy is required to flee and stay alive. When you are in protective mode, you cannot connect.”
Our protective mechanisms developed in a world where acute stressors, like predator attacks, were the order of the day. They were few and far in between, which gave us plenty of time to recover and even contributed to our growth. Today, however, we are inundated with chronic stress.
Different types of stress
Today’s stress won’t pounce at you in the dark; sometimes it progresses so slowly that you don’t know it’s there until you’re swamped. That is when we experience the emotions of depression and anxiety. Those emotions are triggers for us to change and move through the situation that provokes stress signals. But if you can’t run from those feelings — or fight them — what can you do?
The first step is to slow down, make time for yourself, and acknowledge how you are feeling. This hectic world doesn’t allot much time for slowing down and thinking about emotions, so you have to make the time.
Connecting with others and ourselves helps us to move through emotions. This is the reason that people with strong social bonds have the highest markers for health and happiness. If you’ve found yourself short on friends due to fall-outs or moves, find groups on meetup.com or a social networking site, or join a club or rec league to meet people with similar interests.
Taking time to meet new friends and maintain relationships can seem almost like a chore in the age of instant social media, but nothing can take the place of one-on-one emotional connection with a living person.
In order to establish open channels for emotional connection with others, practice being vulnerable with yourself first. When you first feel the hooks of anxiety, or if you’ve been in the haze of depression, let yourself acknowledge how you feel. It seems strange, but the simple act of recognizing your emotions can have a remarkable impact on dissipating the emotion. Recognizing the emotion is the first step to moving through it.
Make a practice of acknowledging your feelings throughout the day — even the little ones. When you feel surprised, make a note of it. When you feel overjoyed, write it down. Studies have shown that writing down emotions has an increased positive effect on managing negative experiences. But you have to take the good with the bad, so when you feel lonely, afraid, upset, impatient, or anxious, take a moment to acknowledge those feelings.
Our first instinct is to run from feelings because our lives, for the most part, are overcrowded with activities. It’s all a rush, and the rush is what prevents us from acknowledging our emotions and moving through them.
Once you make a habit of identifying emotions and connecting with yourself, you’ll be set up to connect with others and increase the meaning and joy in your life. As Lipton writes in Biology of Belief, “It isn’t enough merely to not be stressed, but we have to actively pursue things that make us thrive.”
Anxiety and depression are sort of “super” emotions that often result from many smaller emotions being buried. While mentally keeping track of your emotions throughout the day is powerful, reflecting on your emotions at the end of the day in a journal is cathartic. The effect that journaling has on depression is profound; not only are you actively moving through your emotions, but you are increasing your capacity to remember and store memory.
If you make daily journaling a practice, you will enhance your emotional IQ, your memory, your feelings of well-being, and your ability to connect. As a bonus, nightly journaling is a relaxing activity that will set you up nicely for a restful sleep.
There are many factors that contribute to depression and anxiety, and though stress is significant, it is only one factor. Stay tuned for next week’s article on dietary and lifestyle factors that lead to depression, and simple ways you can overcome them.