Allison used to describe herself as ‘slightly depressive’. Outwardly to many people she was cheerful, friendly and successful. Close friends knew she had the odd low moment, although they didn’t know how often those moments came along. She’d feel ridiculous if they knew. At times she would feel so low and unable to help herself that she would sit in the living room and cry instead of driving to work in the morning.
Depression: at least some of us have experienced a depressed mood at some point in our life, or know someone who suffers from it. At times it can feel almost impossible to snap out of, and it affects the most successful of people. Fortunately with the increasing and recent media campaigns, the stigma around depression is slowly dissipating and people are finding it easier to talk about it and ask for help. The downside to this is that the label ‘depression’ is being used profusely to describe all sorts of issues such as:
- chronic (long term) tiredness
- unresolved grief
- ongoing stress and/or dissatisfaction at work
- unresolved trauma (also described as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD))
- long term relationship problems.
And the list goes on. What does this mean for the person receiving or using the label of ‘depression’? Primarily, it often leaves the person feeling as if their problem is overwhelming, very difficult to overcome and therefore something they’re going to have for a long time. Feeling disempowered adds to their sense of hopelessness or fatigue, and thus a vicious cycle ensues. The same applies to anxiety, especially where it is escalating for someone into panic attacks or heart palpitations.
Frankly, it’s enough to make anyone feel anxious or depressed…
In my experience, depression and anxiety often go hand in hand; it’s common that if someone is good at doing anxiety, they are often quite good at depression too. Besides, if someone feels anxious, worried or out of control quite consistently, they are likely to feel low – it sure isn’t nice to feel consistently anxious or afraid.
From over a decade of private practice and my training from the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), here are some new ways of thinking about dealing with depression and anxiety. NLP is a field of study based on the belief that all behaviour has a structure which can be learnt, taught or changed. It helps us understand how our brain works, how we use language consciously and unconsciously, and how we create habits with our thoughts. It explains how we can change those thoughts, feelings or behaviours.
As doctors become more pressured to administer medication as a solution (yes, really), and the public become increasingly impatient with such limited options that cause many side effects and few lasting solutions, it’s time to look at how you can truly heal your mind and emotions in a healthy, lasting way.
It’s time to look at how you can truly heal your mind and emotions in a healthy, lasting way.
Let’s reframe it
Our reality is created through language and our internal perceptions. This is a powerful realisation; it means that the words we use and how we think about something determine what we experience (feel). With this in mind, there are two particular myths associated with anxiety and depression that are super helpful to dispel:
- ‘Depression’ (or anxiety) is something someone has
- It takes a long time to overcome depression (or anxiety)
Let me explain.
Myth 1. ‘Depression’ is something someone has.
Actually: Depression is something somebody does.
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say something like “She has depression” or “The doctor says it’s an anxiety disorder”, as if these experiences are actually things. This is a very prevalent idea – we hear it among GP’s and mental health professionals and it assumes that ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ are nouns, a ‘thing’, when actually the evidence suggests that they look far more like a process than a thing. Besides, if think it’s safe to say that if depression was a thing you have, located somewhere in the body perhaps (the tip of the left elbow maybe?) most people would just opt to have it surgically removed and be done with it.
So, I’m going to suggest that depression isn’t so much something a person has, but rather something they do. What if I said they could learn how to do something else instead? If depression is something someone does, it follows they must be skilled in how to do it. It then follows that they could un-learn it – and learn something else instead.
You get the idea.
Try it on – notice what it feels like to frame it as a verb. Say these two sentences out loud and notice how they each feel:
I have depression.
I do depression sometimes.
I have anxiety.
I do anxious feelings sometimes.
Which of the two sentences gives you more of a feeling of choice? Which of the sentences feels like it adds positive energy to your body? Which one feels like you have some control?
How we do what we do
Since the mind is where it all begins, take a moment to consider: how many things you can do inside your head? There are in fact only six things you can do inside your mind, which controls every single thing you do. You can create and remember:
- Self talk
Our brain processes information in these six ways; through the five senses and by thinking about it in words (that’s the self talk part). This means that everything you do, whether it’s admiring a beautiful sunset or remembering a sad event, is done in one or more of these six ways.
What does this mean for someone experiencing depression or anxiety? It means their brain is doing certain things really well and other things not so well. It’s running various patterns which are making them feel unhappy (such as getting a picture of a stressful future event and feeling low which is basically the structure or ‘strategy’ for anxiety). Those negative feelings are produced by chemicals in the brain and body.
The good news is that it’s possible to create new patterns, heal emotions and see the future positively. It’s possible to experience negative emotions less often, and feel positive ones such as lightness and joy more and more often.
When you know how you do what you do,
you can do what you want.
How can we change?
In my experience, when someone is doing depression and/or anxiety there are usually two main things happening. First, the person usually has unresolved emotions such as anger, sadness, chronic stress or fear. Secondly, the person is often also running certain thought patterns, such as making unpleasant pictures in their head of something bad that has happened to them, which in turn causes a negative feeling such as sadness.
The good news is that these emotions can be healed and released, and patterns of thinking and behaviour changed. It is possible to experience less of those negative emotions and feel positive ones such as lightness and joy more and more often.
Our automatic patterns of feelings and behaviours run at the unconscious/subconscious level of the brain. When you tie a shoelace you are relying on that part of your brain that learned to do this many years ago. You do it without conscious thought, it just happens. You’ve also learnt many more things since then that are much more complex that also run automatically.
Likewise, the negative patterns of depression or anxiety are running at an unconscious level (and to varying extents we will be consciously aware of them). It follows then that we want to be able to make changes at the unconscious level – the hard drive. That’s where NLP techniques come in; they allow us to gently change the ‘instructions’ in the mind to transform negative patterns. Utilising language, questioning, visualisation, gentle and deep trance, it is the structure of the techniques that change unconscious patterns, and always in line with what the client wants.
We know that many people have stopped depression without medication. For instance, people have been known to go away to retreats, have near-death experiences or a shock of some kind and suddenly their depression lifts and never comes back. It is like a major ‘pattern interrupt’; like suddenly switching off the television or pulling the plug out of the wall.
Fortunately, with the techniques I work with, we don’t have to wait for one of these extraordinary experiences to happen in order to learn how to do happiness again.
Myth 2. It takes a long time to overcome depression.
Actually: Depression has been resolved within days, weeks or months.
It’s a common perception that it will take a long time to overcome depression, especially for those who have suffered from it for many years, or those who have tried counselling or anti-depressants without success. Yet, just as you can wake up one morning and find that the cold you’d had for a few days has gone after some careful self-care, consider that your body can just as readily make changes at an emotional and cognitive level – usually with some assistance, of course.
How long the patterns have been running for does not usually determine how long they will take to change. Consider this: if you were to write out a recipe for a cake in pencil, and after making it once decided to change an ingredient, you could erase a word and write another. You could probably make that change the day after you’d written out the recipe while the pencil markings were fresh, or five years later when the pencil had been on the page a long time. It would be just as possible to change. So it is neurologically; while your neural pathways may be a little more sophisticated than a pencil marking, changes can be made to both old and new patterns within the brain.
In my work with clients, many will learn to change their emotions and thought patterns within several sessions, and for some it may take a few more than that. It is usually a huge relief for them after years of counselling and/or anti-depressants. It’s not that those who let go of ‘depression’ and learn how to do more positive feelings never feel down again in their life. After all, it is entirely human to experience the full spectrum of emotions. However, they do have a renewed ability to cope, solve problems and feel happy.
And what of Allison? Several years later, and a year since she began NLP change work, she is still the outwardly cheerful, successful person people know her to be. Inside she has changed. Her emotions are steady, her sadness has gone. She feels grounded and in tune with what she does and doesn’t want in her life. She’s busy, enjoys her work and knows she can feel joyous inside. She also knows now that she is not a ‘depressive person’. On the whole she feels light and cheerful.
We each of us want to live a full life, to enjoy being who we are, enjoy our families and our achievements. Depression and anxiety are patterns you can learn and choose to let go of. In turn, you can experience lightness, hope and a sense of possibility. You can more yourself than ever before.
That is the least we should expect of this extraordinary life we have been given.