I know anxiety & depression...intimately.
These are not topics I discuss from a distant, philosophical place. While I never succumbed to medication, I came close a couple of times in my life.
My introduction to depression came in my senior year of high school. It took me almost a decade to realize what that experience was; paralysis brought on by fear. Fear because I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and because I doubted I was ready to take that next step into adulthood.
That depression was so debilitating that I essentially stopped going to school. It wasn’t that I was skipping school and having a great time hanging out at the beach with my friends. I wasn’t having fun, and I wasn’t hanging out with my friends. In fact, I wasn’t even getting out of bed.
While I was able to somewhat pull myself out of that just in the nick of time, I barely managed to graduate and immediately dove into classes at my local community college. Not because I was particularly inspired, but because I had absolutely no idea what else to do next.
A couple of years later, that debilitating depression mostly behind me, I was still operating under a fog… living in a cloud of fear and self-doubt. That’s when my journey deep into the world of emotional intelligence began, as I sought to understand my emotions in an effort to better understand myself.
My “aha” moment came when I learned to listen to and trust the messages in my emotions. And to actually be grateful for them. For all of them. That was the moment the cloud fully lifted for me and, for the first time in my adult life, I experienced actual JOY.
Now I have come to respect and trust my emotions as powerful messengers, and see the gift in all of them. So when life hit me hard again twenty years later, letting me know I’d never be able to have children of my own, I felt that familiar tug of depression.
But this time, I knew what it was.
I saw the gift in my grief and was able to work with it in a completely different way. I gave myself lots of room and permission to feel what I needed to feel, but that emotional energy never incapacitated me, and it didn’t turn into a debilitating depression that hung on for years.
For almost two decades now I’ve been an emotional intelligence educator and coach. Because whether we choose to fight them kicking and screaming, or embrace them as the powerful messengers they are, our emotions are not going anywhere. And I know first-hand what not understanding ourselves and our emotions can do to us.
Our emotions are there for a reason. They are there to tell us something—guiding us in ways we were never taught to pay attention to or understand.
When you realize your emotions are there to tell you something, you come to understand the truth about anxiety and depression and start to have a completely different relationship with your emotions.
Right now, anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, and anti-anxiety and antidepressant prescriptions are more prevalent than ever before. What's worse is that preschoolers are the fastest-growing population going on these drugs!
Clearly, there are some things we don't understand about our emotions, and this lack of knowledge has many feeling paralyzed. I want to demystify anxiety and depression and help break this trend that we have fallen into.
Here’s what you need to know about anxiety and depression, and about your emotions in general.
First, your emotions always have a message for you. Your body and your subconscious mind communicate with you through your emotions. You've probably experienced the sensation of doing something or making a choice that you felt really at peace with. Your body and mind were in complete resonance with that choice, meaning every part of you was in alignment with that choice. There was no inner conflict of any kind. It just felt right.
You've probably also experienced a thought or have made a choice that your body and mind were not at all at peace with. And instead of that feeling of resonance or alignment, you probably felt some sort of discord or dissonance in your body, meaning your inner guidance system was telling you that something was wrong with that decision, something was wrong with that choice.
A SIGN THAT SOMETHING'S WRONG
That might've shown up as an increase in heart rate or heart palpitations. That might have shown up as a tightening in your chest or in your gut. Or maybe you couldn't get your mind to settle and get quiet. You may have experienced sweaty palms or a feeling of agitation. All of these sensations, whether it's a peaceful feeling or a feeling of stress and anxiety, are your body, mind, and spirit's way of trying to tell you something.
So rather than immediately going to medication as a solution to the problem, it's time for us to look at our emotions in a completely different way.
The second thing we need to understand about our emotions is this: Our emotions are trying to keep us in integrity with ourselves. And if we are not at peace, that may mean that we are out of integrity with our highest good in some way.
It's important to realize that your emotions try to get your attention through subtler sensations first. But if we're not paying attention and we're ignoring those messages, then the messages have to get louder in order to get our attention. So what could start out as a subtle nagging feeling of discomfort and unease may start to mushroom into much more noticeable sensations.
ANXIETY & PANIC
Some anxiety is normal, It’s our body trying to communicate with us. But when that inner guidance system goes into overdrive, that’s when we start to have problems. Panic and anxiety disorders affect 2.4 million Americans and are most prevalent in women.
According to the Department of Health & Human Services, there are 5 major types of anxiety disorders:
Anxiety, especially chronic anxiety, is a sign that we may have lost touch with ourselves or that we haven't been listening or paying attention to what our own inner guidance system is trying to tell us.
To really help illustrate this point, I want to tell you about a friend who was traveling with me on one of my yoga trips. She had recently acknowledged that she had a drinking problem and had decided a few months earlier that she wasn't going to drink anymore. However, on the retreat, several people were enjoying wine at a private catered dinner party we were having. She really wanted to partake, so she did, thinking she would just have a little bit and it wouldn't be a big deal. While she had just one small glass, the very next day she experienced for the first time in her life a full-blown panic attack to the point where she felt like she was dying and asked to be rushed to the hospital.
Anybody who has ever had an anxiety or a panic attack knows how scary that is.
Luckily, we had a doctor in our group who by checking her heart rate and vital signs could tell that she was okay and that it was nothing more than a panic attack. She did get through it after a few minutes, and then she was completely fine. She admitted to me later that she knew the reason she had that panic attack was due to that she had the night before.
It was her body, mind, and spirit letting her know she was out of integrity with herself.
We have these built-in checking mechanisms within ourselves helping us, guiding us, and supporting us in staying in alignment with our truth. And to the degree that we experience anxiety and even panic attacks could be a sign that this is the degree to which we have not been listening to ourselves. It's simply a sign that we have gotten off our path, that we have lost our way temporarily.
If you look at it this way, these experiences could be seen as a gift, because they are not going to let us off the hook in our own lives. Again, the more intense these sensations are simply mean we weren't paying attention to or didn't know how to pay attention to the subtler messages we were getting along the way.
The third thing I really want you to understand about emotion, this time specifically as it relates to depression, is this: Depression is not an emotion. Depression is a result of suppressed emotion.
Emotions are energy in motion. And unless that energy is moving freely, unless we have the tools and the understanding on how to work with our emotional energy, we tend to ignore it, deny it, and do everything in our power to suppress it.
We've all been disappointed, heartbroken, and maybe even betrayed. The problem is most of us don't know how to get past those experiences. So in an attempt to move on, we bury them, and they get stuck, lodged in our bodies and minds.
Over time, if enough of that emotional energy accumulates and builds, we start to feel heavy and weighted down by unprocessed experiences of the past. So naturally, waking up in the morning and being enthusiastic about our days and about our lives is going to feel challenging.
I want to tell you another story about a woman who was going through my yoga teacher training. She had been struggling with depression for most of her adult life. She eventually succumbed to medication. The problem was she wasn't feeling any better, and actually every year they were upping the dosage on that medication. As a result, she said she felt numb, like a shell of her real self most of the time.
Through our work together, she acknowledged a lifetime of pent up anger, resentment, and even guilt around a relationship with one of her family members. When she finally got in touch with all of that and was given a way to process and move through all of that, she had a breakthrough and transformed her relationship with her husband, with her children, and perhaps most importantly with herself. She said she had never felt freer in her life.
Luckily with a new understanding of your emotions and a few helpful tools, it is possible to work with that emotional energy in a completely different way and to actually be empowered by that energy rather than overwhelmed by it.
If you want to learn how to enjoy natural anxiety and depression relief, check out How to Set Yourself Free Emotionally, and learn three things you can do to move emotional energy to transform stress, anxiety, and even depression into powerful fuel for your life and how to stay in integrity with yourself so you can live light and free every day.
If what I shared here spoke to you in any way, please let me know in the comments section below.