A Cure for Anxiety & Depression
Category: Sort Your Life Out
Last Updated: February 2011
Both here and on the Journal I refer to the various practices of
mindfulness meditations, visualisations (and so on) as 'A Cure for Anxiety'
I want to take a little time to discuss just what it is I mean, as well
as some models for understanding 'anxiety' and how sometimes
anxiety seems to be therapy-resistant.
So what do I mean by 'Cure,' anyway?
To my mind 'cure' is not necessarily the best description.
I see 'anxiety and depression' as a result of mind-body processes
that have accidentally been conditioned to work in a way that
reduces effectiveness. Basically if you alter these same processes so that they work in
a more useful way then this 'anxiety' just doesn't happen anymore.
Strictly speaking you are not 'curing' anxiety
any more than filling a car with petrol 'cures' its 'Empty Tank' warning light.
Obviously what I am suggesting - several weeks (or months...) of near-daily 2 hour
meditations / visualisations - may well be greeted with horror by some.
So the question is: what do you actually want to do with your life?
If this 'anxiety' magically disappeared tomorrow how would your life be
better, how would it change, what would you do differently?
If the answer to that question is that your life wouldn't change -
you'd do the same things but just feel better doing them -
then honestly I think that mobilising the motivation needed for such an
extended project might be difficult.
On the other hand it might have occurred to you that if this 'anxiety'
is being generated by something in your mind, then this same 'something'
would be an astonishing resource if it could be redirected to
generate something a little more useful.
From a very detached standpoint 'anxiety' could be seen as an
It's automatic (you never need to remind yourself to be anxious or depressed)
and it's fast (seemingly instantaneous in some instances) and it can be
to the degree that it can be totally physically debilitating
or even take over actions and speech.
You can wonder to yourself...
"How would my life be different if, instead of 'anxiety,' my mind and body
generated feelings of curiosity - curiosity about how I could
make even more happiness, success and fulfilment out of every situation?"
And the more you ask these questions the more you realise that this 'anxiety'
is actually an opportunity itself - an opportunity to discover a little
about how your mind works and how to make it work better for you.
It sometimes seems to me like there are three ‘parts’ of us.
The first part (which we could call Part A) wants to keep us safe. The second part (Part B) just wants to get on with things. The third part (C) wants to keep an eye on things, to
make sure everything is going to plan.
Unfortunately it’s like society accidentally (?) forces these three into situations that they are ill-equipped to handle.
Part C is told that it should micro-manage what is going on – that it should be in total control at all times. However, Part C is more of a ‘sit down and think things over’ kind of guy. In fact Part C is a quite sophisticated high-level intellectual system specialised in goal-setting and rational step-by-step reasoning. Sadly this means that Part C does not really have the natural ability to manage a fast-moving and complicated situation smoothly and calmly. Not only that, but it will also be the very first mental part to be temporarily ‘switched off’ at the first sign of anxiety.
(Robert Anton Wilson, in his ‘Prometheus Rising,’ makes the point that “when the bio-survival circuit senses danger all other mental activity ceases,” and that this process is entirely pre-conscious. Human Beings have no control at all over this event as it is occurring.)
Oops! And suddenly the bus has no driver at all.
Part B has more of an ‘instinctual’ or ‘habitual’ air to it. It wants to know what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and then be allowed to get on with it. Sadly Part B has been neglected. It hasn’t had the information it needs to get the job done communicated to it in an appropriate manner (if at all) and as a result it basically just sits there and goes ‘eh?’
Part A watches this palaver with a growing sense of panic until it just pulls on the ‘emergency stop’ lever.
The longer this is allowed to go on the worse the situation gets, until Part A wallows in a perpetually stressed-out state, Part B has gone completely ‘Absent Without Leave’, and Part C runs around in circles panicking at the slightest provocation whilst desperately insisting that it is really in total control.
The key to moving from a state of ‘Background Anxiety’ to a state of ‘Background Calm’ is to get these three parts working as they should. What this boils down to is creating new habits of thinking. You will literally train your mind to operate in a way that operates
on a minimum of stress and anxiety.
Without a doubt the most important 'technology' on this site is the power
of using 'questions' to direct your mind's focus.
On a very simplistic level we could understand how
certain symptoms of 'anxiety' work
by looking at it as a result of some subconscious resource
that has got into the habit of constantly asking itself 'what could go wrong?'
Now while you might not be conscious of these movies playing away somewhere
in your mind, you will become aware of the effect these movies have on
your body and on the general tone of your feelings.
Since you've already read the article on 'Asking Better Questions' -
(you have, right?) none of that will be new.
So how do you get this working? First off, pick something coming up
in a week's time that you know you will feel moderately anxious about.
Nothing too heavy at first. Let's say this is going to be a social get-together.
What we need to do is to practise questions that move the focus of your
mind towards 'what could go right?'
For 30 minutes each day ask your 'inner mind' questions like:
- How good could it feel to meet new friends?
- What would it be like to be relaxed and at ease at [this gathering]?
- How even more fun could it feel?
- What could I do to feel even more relaxed and at ease?
As you ask these questions,
it might help if you visualised yourself sitting (or whatever)
at this get-together looking relaxed, having fun.
And then go out at the end of the week and marvel at how much of
this so-called 'moderate anxiety' has just forgotten to turn up.
And there you have it - the first building block of how you get your life
back on track - done and dusted. Repeat as needed, and keep repeating it until
these new questions have become a new subconscious habit.
Of course if you have been practising your 'mindfulness' as well then
you will find that it is a big help in maintaining an even more
stable and relaxed inner state.
The best way to permanently get rid of anxiety,
to see the back of it once and for all, is to
replace it with something else.
If you have been building a new, more resourceful
self-image with plenty of suitable behaviours for most of the
situations and contexts you find yourself in,
then the mental-emotional 'space' cleared by your practising of
'Better Questions' and 'Mindfulness'
should give the new self-image plenty of room to manifest.
If, like me, you've spent a great many years investigating
a great number of various self-help and self-change theories,
systems and technologies, then you too might have found that none of them
seem to do anything, and even that some of the basic
assumptions that these systems are built on top of don't seem to
work how they are 'supposed' to either...
In this section I'm going to discuss my thoughts on 'why'
some anxiety seems to be 'therapy-resistant' and how to get around it.
For the moment we will pretend that inside your mind there is a kind of
giant 'movie screen' on which every thought and impulse and process that
is being actioned within your mind is being played out on.
You will be consciously aware of only one small part of it
at a time.
We've already discussed some of the problems that negated questions
can cause ("Why don't you go to the park", etc) - but what happens
if this goes on for years and years?
Maybe the only way that the mind can cope with the long-term inconsistency
of attempting to simultaneously consider
both a goal and its negation is by 'splitting' its
internal movie screen into two.
So the 'goal', what the conscious mind is attending to
gets played out on one 'movie screen', while the negation -
the reasons not to achieve the goal - are being
played out on a screen accessible only to the subconscious.
Now what happens if the part of your subconscious
that 'makes changes' is spending all of its time
looking at the other movie screen?
Unfortunately most self-help techniques and indeed the vast
majority of any therapies rely heavily on the conscious mind
as a means of communication with the mind-as-a-whole.
The client / patient is supposed to visualise things (on the internal
movie screen) - but if the subconscious resources that are going to
make the change happen no longer pay any attention to the
'conscious' movie screen then it's all a waste of time.
It achieves nothing.
Suddenly you may as well just be talking to yourself...
... well you know what I mean.
The way to get around this is to specifically and purposefully
direct questions at your 'inner mind' as I have described in the
'Paradigm' section of the 'Asking Better Questions' article.
If you ask questions like
"How even more relaxed and confident could my body feel?"
then the idea is that, in order to understand what this question means,
your 'inner mind' has to create a representation
of 'you' being 'relaxed and confident' on the 'secret subconscious movie
screen'. Then the part of your mind that makes the changes will see it
and start making it happen.
You will know you are on the right track if you
begin to feel some glimmers of relaxation and confidence
appearing in your body, seemingly out of nowhere.
In the long-term, I wonder if
replacing the old 'negation' habit - with questions directed
towards what you do want -
will lead to the two 'movie screens' re-merging, I guess we'll see.
There is one more important realisation I've had that has been
crucial for me getting my life going again.
The word is validation - wanting people to recognise and understand
that it is not your fault.
Basically people with an 'anxiety'-related problem often
get the blame for all of the behaviours, effects and symptoms of anxiety.
They get the blame for something that is not their fault and over which
they have little control.
It is almost as if 'society' has made some people into this 'kind of person' and then
has decided to punish them for being the person it made them into.
It is quite understandable, in these circumstances, to want to 'clear their name.'
However, if you've read through the material on 'language' you may realise
that sadly many people spend a lot of time wrapped up with
their own issues and 'stuff' inside their own head
and only really communicate and connect with other people in a very
confusing, convoluted and sometimes superficial way.
Attempting to 'prove' or 'demonstrate' that this problem is
'real' and beyond control
is not only a complete waste of time but could make it worse.
When you change the mental habits that are creating
anxiety then it will just go.
Yes, I suppose some people will claim that 'if it just disappears then it can't
have been much of a problem in the first place' - but who cares?
These people understand nothing about how their own mind works.
Forget about anxiety and use the information you've learnt from this experience
about your own mind to make your life happier, more successful and more fulfilling.