High doses of worry, anxiety, negativity, and chronic stress can hold us back from being authentic, thankful, bold and creative, and take us into a depressive experience. I am going to hone in on a brief, but insightful, fragment of how to move through a depressive experience, so you can start being your authentic self again. I want to remind you to make a very clear distinction right away: that depressive experiences do not define you. To clarify, just because you experience a depressive episode, does not always mean you are being in-authentic. In fact, I would argue that suppressing your feelings of depression, and masking your internal negativity with outward positivity, may make you feel in-authentic. There is a fine line between using suppression as a tool for reducing your risk for anxiety and depression, verses not acknowledging and confessing the existence of your depressive emotions in the first place. So how is non-clinical depression a natural response?
Non-clinical depression as a symptom is, in essence, a wake-up call. There is a beautiful reason to why you are depressed, despite the ugly things you may feel. Depressive experiences are highly individualized, so what I propose may or may not apply to you; however, I hope that you will still absorb the core message.
We tend to favor emotional states that are familiar to us, that make us comfortable. Scientifically, this is called emotion regularity, or ER(1). We all have the tendency to attach to emotions, whether they are positive or negative, most of which is largely subconscious to us. In other words, we may not understand why we are the way we are, yet the emotional pattern is very clear to us, or those who observe and share with us.
Taking meaningful inventory and applying emotion regulation strategies can be extremely effective in retraining your response to anxiety, worry, and stress. Let's walk through this with a basic exercise. Grab a note pad and pen.
I want to walk you through some basic self-inventory, specifically relating to authenticity and emotional suppression. Take your paper and make two columns. On the left, title it "Authenticity." On the right, title it, "Depression."
Think about the last time you felt excited, authentic, creative, and energetic about how you contribute your time and talents to the world. Regardless of whether this was one day or a three-month stretch for you, what were you thinking about or doing throughout that time? What did it feel like? Take some time to really think about it and write down what those key ingredients were. You may find yourself saying things like, "I was following my true passion; I felt purpose; I had a great social life; I had meaningful relationships, etc." Without being influenced, step aside and really think about it.
Now, think about your most recent bout of anxiety, worry, or depressive experience and parallel your writing; what were you thinking about or doing throughout that time? What did it feel like? Write down your thoughts.
During your depressive experience, were you violating anything about your true self during that time? In other words, did you feel in-authentic? Were you disconnected from your emotions all together? Were you ignoring an important piece of yourself? What were you suppressing? Keep in mind that it is very possible to suppress both positive and negative emotions. Some people do not permit themselves to be positive, or may have a fear of or feel unworthy of happiness, therefore staying in a chronic negative emotional state. Others suppress negativity and anger so much that it fills up like a bucket, only to be kicked over by a trigger down the road. Studies show that both are damaging and linked to depressive episodes. You may not feel you are in either of those polarities; however, you may still identify with some aspect of both. I hope this exercise was helpful for you to see your personal discrepancies. Now what? Let's talk about strategies for change.
Emotion Regulation Strategies
You might be wondering how to get back to authenticity. Though I cannot directly answer this for you and though I hope you had some intuitive moments through this exercise, you can successfully get back to authenticity by first trusting in your giftedness to do so. You are GIFTED! With some thoughtful practice, you can begin to re-create your circumstances. Some things you may be able to change right away, as we all need humble reminders to do so. Other things, may take some meaningful practice and concerted effort.
Strategy 1) How to use suppression as a positive tool(2).
First, acknowledge that whatever you wrote down under your "Depression" column, was true, real, that it is OK that you experienced it. Make a choice to put it in its place, and make a commitment to pursue something on your "Authenticity" side instead. The key to your success is your ability to not define yourself by your "Depression" column experiences and to avoid self-accusation and self-talk that includes words like "never, won't, shouldn't have, etc." You are worthy of positive experiences and second, third, fourth, fifth chances. You are worthy!
Strategy 2) Re-frame or Reappraise your circumstances(2).
Perception and reality often differ. Reappraise what you perceived to have happened verses what actually happened. If you struggle with this, discussing your thoughts with someone you trust can often provide a healthy dose of objectivity. Also, avoid confining self-talk. For example, if you chronically eat things that are counterproductive to your health, and despite effort to change, you start your morning out with a wrong choice, avoid saying things like, "well the whole day is ruined now," or "I might-as-well just eat whatever I want today, and try again tomorrow." Instead, I invite you to reappraise your circumstance to say something like this, "breakfast did not go so well; however, I know I can make a better decision at my next meal." In other words, don't view anything that you are trying to do as an "all or nothing." Your ability to be flexible will far more equip you for consistency verses your ability to duplicate or replicate. Be kind to yourself!
The mind is a battlefield. Though in life we may always experience a tension between emotional positivity and negativity, you do not have to reject, suppress, or be afraid of either emotion. By going beyond your fleeting emotions, you can find the true message. Take a look. I would estimate that most people feel that they have to do an arduous inventory of themselves to be set free from their emotional pattern; however, I believe that doing simple self-inventory occasionally, can really help us to dissolve our discrepancies. If you are willing to walk through the wilderness, trusting that you have been gifted with an internal compass, I am confident that you will find yourself living through authentic expression more often.
So what's the message that your depression is trying to tell you?
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