In addition to my passions of coaching and human design I have also been working in the field of addiction and wellness for the last 7 years. What I have noticed is that almost all of those that struggle with addiction also struggle with anxiety and depression. In my observation, anxiety and depression are on the rise in all demographics in this society. In the past, I have personally struggled with both anxiety and depression. At the time, I didn't have words for what I was feeling. It was much later in life that I went to a presentation and a video was shared on mental health and anxiety. I was beside myself when what I had struggled with for years was depicted so clearly. I worked through this on my own without help because I thought everybody had these feelings.
A quick disclaimer. What I am sharing below is a very simplified dialogue regarding anxiety & depression. This is in no way intended to cover the range of examples and situations that can contribute to these states. Anxiety & depression are also closely related to trauma history which goes beyond the scope of this blog post. I also want to honour your unique experience of anxiety and depression and have no intention of minimizing your personal journey and experience.
"The difference between passion and addiction is that between a divine spark and a flame that incinerates." ~ Gabor Mate
What is anxiety? Anxiety is related to a nervous system response. Our nervous system is designed to alert us to cues of safety and cues of danger. This system is rooted in our primal responses to our environment. When we receive a cue of danger we get activated into either fight or flight. Our body mobilizes and redirects all its energy towards this mobilization. If we are faced with a situation that activates this response and we are unable to get into action then we are left with the physiological response to the cue of danger. This results in a rapid heart rate, cortisol racing through our body, dilated pupils and more. We then refer to this feeling in our body as anxiety. Anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion it is our body telling us that something is out of alignment and needs attention. The thing to remember here, is that this state is created from a state of powerlessness or not being able to address the problem. An example of this would be not being able to pay your rent. This puts you into a fight of flight state and you believe that there is no way to solve the problem and you are left with the feeling of anxiety.
Anxiety can also be a nervous system that is tuned to repeated exposure. In my family system, my parents were both alcoholics. This resulted in lots of noise and arguments. As a child there was very little I could do to solve this problem and the result was feeling anxious. Experiencing anxiety longterm can create a nervous system that is attuned to being anxious. The story can become something along the lines of "the world isn't safe" or "people aren't safe" and we avoid any situations that cause us to feel anxious.
If we chronically feel like we can't solve our problems this can lead to depression.
When we are in shame, we don’t see the big picture; we don’t accurately think about our strengths and limitations. We just feel alone, exposed and deeply flawed.” ~ Brené Brown
When we are chronically faced with being unable to change our circumstances the result can be that we begin to shutdown. This process of shutting down and quite literally turning away from the world is linked to the freeze response. I like to compare this to a turtle hiding in its shell. The world isn't safe so I'm going to hide, is the response. In our body everything is slowing down, we lose the desire to take care of ourselves and we disengage from our connections. The person may stop activities that once brought them joy and satisfaction and they will disconnect from their close relationships. From the outside the person doesn't want to be engaged and may refuse all invitations. In the best situation this state will run its course and the person will slowly re-emerge. In its most chronic state, this can lead to suicidal thoughts. For family and friends this can be particularly hard to navigate.
I recently showed a video at work about the 12 steps of AA, and the person presenting shared the idea that God had created us all to have a unique gift to share with the world. I loved this sentiment. Underneath all the layers of complication related to anxiety and depression, I believe lies one possible root cause. We have ultimately strayed away from our unique gifts and ways of being. I know this to be true on my journey. I became the way I thought the world needed me to be and in the process walked away from myself. This was a huge part of my anxiety and depression. I felt like I didn't belong here and couldn't follow the traditional path that was laid out for me which felt deeply out of alignment. All these years later and I have discovered Human Design which brings light to this dilemma. If we have forgotten who we came here to be then we need help coming back to ourselves. This is the journey of personal growth. This is the journey of doing our personal work and healing. Human Design presents the roadmap of our uniqueness and it is a tool that can help to solve the problem. There is also a documentary that I discovered back in 2013 that was a significant wake up call for me on my journey. It explained so much of my struggles and I show it to as many people as I can. It speaks to so much of what I have shared. The movie is called Finding Joe and can be watched here. It speaks to the cycle of the Hero's Journey. The wake up call or tap on the shoulder that we get that is calling us back to our uniqueness.
I hope that I have helped to bring some awareness to the struggles of anxiety and depression and why it may be such a big issue in our society. While I know I did not cover all aspects of this issue I hope this was somehow helpful. Through much hard work I am happy to share that I live a life that is largely free of anxiety and depression. If anxiety shows up I know to hit the brakes and investigate. My wish is that we can all find this level of peace and as they say in Finding Joe, "Follow Your Bliss".