by Kristin Goodwin
Have you ever stopped to wonder what really depression looks like? Or anxiety? I started thinking about this recently when I attended an ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) training. I was taught a definition of depression and anxiety that made a lot of sense to me. Depression is ‘past dwelling’ and anxiety is ‘future tripping’… makes a lot of sense right!?! Often times people experiencing depressive symptoms find that they are living in the past. That may mean past choices, past regrets, past failures, even past relationships. This sort of focus on things gone wrong would make even the most positive person feel pretty down. Life is full of mistakes, poor choices, undesired outcomes… depression just has this way of holding tightly to these things and not letting us free.
People with anxiety would most often say that they think too much about the future, causing them worry and extreme nervousness (hence, anxiety). For years I’ve struggled with sleep troubles. It used to be falling asleep was difficult, now it’s more about staying asleep throughout the night. My brain just loves to wake me up at all hours of the night and have me planning for my day ahead. I’m a planner, that’s just how I’m wired. However, I’ve learned sleep is also super essential when trying to plan for a productive day ahead. The grounding technique I’ll be talking about throughout this blog is the most effective thing I’ve found when dealing with anxiety and depression, and many of my clients echo a similar sentiment.
First step is that we have to become aware of our thoughts. Not in a judging way, but rather in a noticing way (see last blog entry for help on what this means). Once we’re able to label our thoughts (ie: “that thought is anxiety”, “that thought is depression”), we are better able to choose how we want to approach the thought. Go ahead, practice. Sit in a quiet place for 2-3 minutes and see if you’re able to simply notice and label your thoughts without judgment. Notice if by labeling your thoughts it helps give you some space between yourself and the thought.
Second step would be recognizing if a thought is helpful or unhelpful. For example, let’s go back to my brain waking me up at all hours of the night to help me “plan” for my day ahead. The way I view this is that my brain is trying to be helpful in that it wants me to prepare for potential future circumstances; funny thing is though, at 3am, my brain’s way of doing this feel incredibly unhelpful! Therefore, because I find it unhelpful I do not want to engage any further in this thought and would just like to focus on getting back to sleep. So here’s come the third step…
Bring yourself back to the present moment! Easier said than done, right? It doesn’t have to be that hard though either. When you try to bring yourself back to the present moment, simply bring your focus back to the thing you’re doing in that very moment. Say to yourself, “I’m watching my favorite TV show right now” or “I’m talking with my best friend”. If it’s 3am and your brain isn’t shutting off, say to yourself, “I’m lying in bed trying to relax”. By bringing the attention back to the present, you then can decide what it is that you need to get where you want to be. Do you need to reach out to a friend? Do you need to take a walk? Do a progressive relaxation exercise to help you get back to sleep? By living in the present and engaging in helpful coping skills, you will likely feel more equipped to handle your depressive and anxious thoughts.
I hope these things feel MUCH more healthful, even enjoyable, than past dwelling or future tripping!