Suffering is evidence that your brain is working the way it’s supposed to work or, at least, the way everyone else’s brain works (including mine). Everybody suffers from time to time, but it does not have to be a way of life.
- Anxiety and depression are common when we experience a failure or loss of jobs, health, or relationships, lose control or autonomy over our life, or encounter new situations with confusing or overwhelming responsibilities. Therapy can help us be more aware of how our brains create and maintain anxiety and depression. This awareness helps us to begin practicing new, helpful habits of thinking and being.
- Depression and anxiety are terms used to describe what our brain does when we attempt to learn from the past and plan for the future in an unhelpful way. The experience of anxiety and depression is actually evidence of healthy brain behavior. These unhelpful behaviors, thoughts, and emotions can be viewed as unhelpful habits that our brains do a great job of picking up on and then repeating (i.e., maintaining status quo). If these perceived events were actually happening right now, we want a brain that gets our attention when important stuff is happening.
- Changes in mood and affect get our attention using these powerful thoughts as well as uncomfortable physical sensations and our brain continues to track when, where, and what’s going on when they occur.
- Quite frequently, rather than putting energy and effort into responding to these thoughts and physical sensations, we would be better off noticing that this is what our brain is doing and get back to living our best life
Avoidance creates and maintains anxiety and depression
- Anxiety and depression are typically created and maintained by avoidance of unpleasant emotions and physical sensations. Nobody enjoys feeling bad. It is understandable why we might make decisions about what we want to do each day based on what we don’t want to experience.
- Unpleasant feelings can have a powerful influence on our life because they can demand our attention. If we send the message to our brain that avoiding unpleasant emotions, physical sensations, and situations is a priority, a healthy brain will work hard to help us avoid feeling bad. We want to not feel bad, but we end up getting really good at picking up on stuff that feels bad and reacting to it. The brain keeps getting the message that we want to get really good at getting away from feelings we might feel.
- Avoidance helps us engage in what seems like a productive activity; however, when we put much of our energy and effort into not feeling bad, our brain gets a strong message that we want to prioritize avoidance as a way of life. Healthy brains get that message and put us on the look-out for more life to avoid. We can even build confidence at avoiding which kind of feels good!
- While we are getting really good at practicing avoidance, something else is going on that doesn’t seem to matter at the time. We start getting out of practice at initiating and maintaining doing the stuff in our lives that we want to do. Our values (i.e., what is important to us) don’t change much but our lives don’t represent them as obviously as they used to.
- When we notice that our lives have gotten smaller because we’ve also avoided doing things we enjoy, we still feel bad and our brains work hard to maintain status quo and help us avoid even more. The frustration creates fatigue. We might not sleep, eat, and move well enough, and we have less energy to do the stuff we want to do. This is simply more healthy brain activity working to maintain status quo and protecting us (sort of) from failing at trying to enjoy our lives.