Anxiety and Depression
Question: I have been struggling with anxiety and depression frequently these last couple of years. I have tried medication after medication yet it seems nothing has had any long lasting benefits. I had an incident at work a few years back that has cause a great deal of pain and my husband keeps telling me to just get over it. That makes me angry and it seems impossible to just get over it.
Answer: Many of us struggle with this concern. In answer to the question about having longer lasting benefits, there have been a lot of studies that show that medication alone is not as effective as using cognitive therapy with medication or cognitive therapy alone to help deal with depression.
First, what is cognitive therapy? This is a talk therapy that helps us change the way we view our lives. The therapist can help guide the conversation to find the deep feelings and how it affects us and then teach skills to change those thoughts and feelings to something more productive. According to Science Daily, after just a few weeks of therapy the brain of patients changes in volume. Anxiety and depression are reduced significantly. This therapy seems so simple yet often overlooked because we feel our lives are so steeped in pain that it cannot possibly be an easy solution. We tend to think that the cause of our downward spiral or our feelings of despair is beyond our control. Yet we can change the way we think and we can change our basic belief about our abilities and ourselves. In the end we can change our situations, our productivity, and these changes can be more lasting.
There are two areas we need to be more aware of: one is emotional resilience and the other is the therapy itself.
Emotional resilience – To be emotionally resilient means to be able to spring back emotionally after suffering through difficult and stressful times in our lives. Some people have the ability to “just get over it.” Others lack that ability. There are a lot of variables connected to resiliency.
Will power- Will power depletion can be a culprit in believing we can or can’t overcome struggles. There have been studies done at the University of Toronto, which found a decreased activity in the anterior cortex, a brain region involved with our thought processes, when we have used our will power to resist temptation. When your will power has been tested, your brain may actually change and function differently. Other evidence suggests that the depletion is cause by low blood sugar. Still other studies have suggested that when it comes to will power, those who are in touch with themselves, their goals and knowing who they really are tend to be less prone to depletion than are their counterparts who are people pleasers.
Past experiences and beliefs- People who feel hopeless and believe they are not good enough do not usually see that they have a choice. Experience tells them this is the way it has always been and this is the way it will always be. Their emotional resilience is non-existent. They do not believe they can change their mood, their thoughts, or their life and this propels them continually down a hopeless path.
What motivates emotional resilient people?
- They believe that life can change.
- They can see if their life expectations are realistic.
- They are more persistent.
- They are more empathic toward others.
- They are more optimistic.
These beliefs help them to keep a better more functional perspective and are better able to cope long after less resilient people give up.
Cognitive therapy – Our dysfunctional thoughts lead to extreme emotions. Those emotions lead to dysfunctional behaviors. It is a cycle that feeds on itself. In the 1950’s a psychologist named Aaron Beck believed that problems occur when distorted thinking influences our lives. He believed that our behavior is not really determined by what is actually happening instead our behavior is determined by our thoughts about what is happening. If a person bumps into us we can determine in our own minds if that was a threat, intimidation or just an accident. Our interpretations come from our experiences in life and from our emotional resilience or just understanding that other people are also living in their own minds.
So now the question is how do we use cognitive therapy to change our lives for the better?
The real truth about our depression and anxiety is that we do have a lot of control. We can change the way we think and the way we view how life treats us. We can even change how we think others view us. Yes, some of us do need added help with medication or finding a professional that can help us walk through our changes, and we should use those resources. Still remember we do have the power to make our lives better.
One step at a time. If you need some added help please reach out.