Anxiety, Stress, and Depression

That unpleasant feeling of fear and apprehension. Anxiety can raise the heart rate, put you on alert, get you scrambling. At the same time, your mind is running through multiple “what if” scenarios. All seem valid and your anxiety goes even higher. A client needed the bus to get around, but she didn’t use the bus, she walked. She talked about her incontinence and was scared what would happen if she had an “Event” while on the bus. This fear of the shame and humiliation she would feel if that happened kept her walking. She was often late for work and she said she felt a “prisoner” of her own body.

Stress can be a response to environmental changes, it’s your body’s reaction to any demand for change. Life stresses, work stresses, family and personal stresses all activate the nervous system, which can release hormones such as adrenaline and develop nausea, affect the bowels, create insomnia, body aches, and other physiological responses. Stress can create multiple, and sustained ill-health effects.

Burnout is common with work and life stresses. Burnout can mean something has gone wrong with your relationship with work, or an aspect of your life. Where there was engagement, enthusiasm and high hopes, there is now exhaustion, anger and cynicism. You’re feeling worn out, as Bilbo Baggins said, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

Sustained sadness, feelings of worthlessness, guilt. Depression can affect multiple parts of individual life including withdrawing from friends and family, loss of sexual interest, changes in appetite. Then there is rumination, that seemingly constant replay of events in your mind. It is often present with depression and it can seem tough, if not impossible, to get a break from it. Rumination and sadness are often hand in hand.

There are several ways to examine anxiety. An interesting insight is the small, almond-sized part of the brain called the amygdala (there are actually two, one on each side of the brain). It is the Grand Central Station for what you likely already know as the “fight or flight” response. When we see a dark, shadowy human form while walking home the amygdala lights-up like a roman candle, sending alerts to your body crying “Danger! Danger!” Well, it turns out it wasn’t a person, it was the shadow of dumpster caused by the street light. “Come on amygdala, you’re supposed to help me, not scare me!”

The amygdala can imprint on real memories—perhaps when you were little someone jumped out at you from behind a door. The amygdala gave its stamp of approval that this was a frightening event and that you felt scared. So when you see that shadowy form, the amygdala sends its danger signal. The interesting thing is, in the context of the shadowy form, the anxiety you experience is real, but that anxiety isn’t “you”, it’s your amygdala responding, and we can work together to change that.

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