Dr. Gary Bell
Depression is one of the most solvable diagnoses in Mental Health. Primarily, it is driven by the thought disorder of having expectations that are far too high and unreasonable for yourself or others. However, it has genetic components that can be overwhelming also.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression can show itself as:
- feeling lethargic
- being irritable
- having a lack of contact with self
- simply existing
- poor self-care
- feelings of apathy
- a constant nagging feeling
- seeking comfort (through something like food or shopping)
- becoming obsessive
- being frequently moody
- experiencing chronic sleepiness
- having a lack of concentration
- . . . and so many other symptoms. In young children, depression is usually manifested in the form of regular irritability.
Preferences Versus ExpectationsTo get a handle on what drives depression, we need to make our expectations conscious by writing them down and challenging them. Expectations come with a lot of weighted emotions that get in our way. (For example, if I expect a kiss goodbye when my wife is preoccupied, then I will probably dwell on the hurt and question her love.) If a prefer a kiss, then no harm done.
Preferences let loose of our need to control outcomes. They accept the basic concept of life that we are not perfect and cannot control others. We influence through preferences, which is all we are entitled. We no longer have to make decisions by how we feel.
The other key is to be a good listener and validate others. “I understand,” “I hear what you are saying…,” “So you’re telling me….” There is no approval needed but we are respecting the person who is speaking without telling them whether we agree. No agreement required. Just validate and keep your words to yourself unless asked.
The beauty of preferences, is that they can be communicated without offending anyone at any time. It leaves free will for others to be themselves and not feel judged. The more we prefer, the more we self-actuate and set boundaries around who we are. This does not always work. When there are policies, contracts or covenants (like marriage vows), then we are dealing with expectations that have no personal emotional evaluation. They are what they are. Preferences are simply guidelines without the desire to control.
The Relationship Between Depression and Anxiety
Depression also requires mindfulness. It frequently comes with anxiety. We are either anxious because we are depressed or depressed because we are anxious. Anxiety is the bain of the control freak. It is the constant fear of being judged, wrong, or not safe, or predictions of negative outcomes based on past experiences.
Life lived in fear is only existence. It is not living. People who live, live in the moment in faith that everything happens as God has planned. We may have been influenced by what we have done or may choose (we are flawed), but God is in control as the guiding force of our lives. Experiencial learning is life. Making choices out of faith that good things will come destroys depression. The need to predict or judge builds depression.
All of life is a leap of faith — faith in our choices, knowing we cannot control when others are involved. Without faith, you cannot bring the Lord Jesus into your life. The next time you evaluate your choices, try taking a fear perspective, then take a faith perspective. Faith will win every time. That does not mean we make crazy choices like buying things on impulse to seek comfort. It means we do what we think and use human reason (seek God’s voice inside), then act on that reason through your values. Resemble Christ in your life choices and good things come. Your life will have deeper purpose.
Depression and anxiety can also be reduced and we can become more healthy if we take care of our brain and body. That means healthy intake and exercise. Fat makes for a fatty brain that neurons have a hard time moving through. The brain is the fattest organ in your body. If you have a fat part of your body you can see, double it for your brain. People who pray often and take care of themselves walk away from the clutches of depression.
The other issue that can hold us back from experiencing healing and growth is the inability to forgive. Forgiveness works from the presumption that a person did something wrong but had selfish or good intentions. They did not intend to hurt. (Maybe they just thought they could get away with it.) If you begin your sentences with “What” or “How,” then you will more likely be heard than when you ask “Why.” Examine intentions with an open mind and you will learn to forgive.
Anxiety also comes through our mind’s images, stemming from fear, that create fear-based outcomes to plan and prepare for. If we can train our brain to create hope and faith-based outcomes to counter-balance the fear-based, then ask the Lord for these faith-based outcomes, we are likely to see God’s work in our lives. That does not mean that every outcome is going to be what we project, but it allows for an outcome that God wants us to have. Giving our life to God allows for Him to guide our direction; our job is to listen. When your life is in God’s hands, there is nothing to fear. God conquers all. We are in His world and universe.
Another component of depression and anxiety comes through the fear of conflict. Conflict is a necessary part of life and those who avoid it avoid life. Stay calm (less energy than all others) and keep your voice flat and straight (focus on the words), then state your emotions and thoughts rather than express them with your body and vocal tone.
If you can be a good listener and validate the other person’s perception of the truth, then you are safe. That does not require an agreement with them or your opinion. By respecting other people’s perceptions (no matter how absurd to you), you are working from respect. People amp up their conflict because they do not feel heard. They resort to child-like behavior based on the thought that negative attention is better than none at all.
People who are passive-aggressive also often experience depression and anxiety. When they display their emotions, it can seem like an earthquake. It is not safe or rational. Basically, their explosion is really saying, “I hate conflict, so since you made me do it, I am going to make it so explosive and scary that you should never force me to do it again.”
In the end, they are not heard because they look and sound crazy, then they become even more depressed because they are not heard. Therefore, they crawl back in their hole resolved that conflict is not something they do.
Depression and anxiety can be so overwhelming. If you let your emotions lead your life decisions, they will define you. Once they set in, it’s easy to lose all control and register decisions based on fear. People who become traumatized suffer so much because the trauma throws them into fear-based decision-making.
Ways to Overcome Depression and Anxiety
It is so important for people to gather with people of their faith in order to get outside of their thinking. So many just go to church and take in what they hear, then leave. The practice of faith is what makes us healthy. We get outside of ourselves and support each other through God.
Living a life of purpose gives us the reason to do what we know is right rather than serving our fears. Reading the Bible, listening to positive podcasts, and surrounding ourselves with others who believe in God are all great ways to help us thrive.
Many individuals can become anxious and depressed because they are introverted. People require too much energy for them. They start to get set in their ways, very early in life, in order to fill their time with what their energy will sustain. Even introverts need to learn how to make friends. If they can just reach inside themselves enough to make positive observations of others and try to make their day a little better, then their energy will rise and their ability to work with life, faith, and people become greater.
If we are to find our purpose, then we must choose a life of giving to others and discover and accept the natural gifts we have as individuals (lawyer, doctor, worker, salesperson, mechanic, business owner, etc.). Do something good with it if you want to walk away from depression and anxiety. If you stay in your purpose and motivate yourself from your purpose, you will erode the ability for depression and anxiety to control you. Fear is the devil’s playground.
Believe in yourself and accept yourself where you are. If you don’t like how you look or act, start by accepting that you are a work in progress. This is where we begin. Change can only happen when we accept what we have to work with. Life is always a process that is ever-changing based on how we make our decisions — out of fear or out of faith.
“Bokeh”, Courtesy of Alexander Lam, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Foggy Days”, Courtesy of Ivana Cajina, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Anxiety”, Courtesy of Ethan Sykes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Contemplation”, Courtesy of Steve Halama, Unsplash.com, CC0 License