It’s that time of year again.
The sun goes down and stays down. The temperature drops. Everyone starts spending more time indoors. And with these seasonal changes, comes…
Today I’m going to be answering essentially a question about seasonal anxiety (and depression as well). For those of you in the northern hemisphere, as the lights go down, as things get dark and cold over the Christmas time, depression and anxiety are far more likely to kick in.
There’s a lot of external factors that trigger anxiety and depression at this time of year. And the same occurs in the second half of the year for people living in the southern hemisphere – winter kicks in, suddenly everything seems more shit, we’re more likely to have these painful moods and experiences.
And the question I’m really answering is this:
What should I do about my anxiety?
I want to point out two key mistakes that I see people make when it comes to managing both depression and anxiety. And it’s these mistakes that actually cause all of your suffering.
Mistake #1 – Trying to “fix”
When you try to fix something about yourself, you automatically create shame, because you’re saying this thing that’s true about myself is wrong – it is a problem, there is something wrong with me, I am broken. When you create that frame, you’re saying “I am wrong,” and that’s where shame comes in.
Shame always doubles the size of our suffering, doesn’t it? Anxiety is painful enough just as an emotion but then to tell yourself that you’re wrong for having it – that you’ve made a mistake, that you’re somehow a failure as a person just because you’re experiencing this normal human emotion – doubles the size of the suffering.
You don’t actually have to be suffering as much as you are.
One of the reasons that depression and anxiety is so painful for you is because of the shame. The shame is triggered so instantaneously that you think your pain is coming from the emotion when it’s actually coming from the sense of wrongness that you attach to it.
Even if you’re using meditation, medication, going for long walks etc, if you’re doing all the right things – taking care of yourself and all the right things you should be doing when you’re feeling anxious or depressed – but you’re doing them for the reason of fixing the emotion, it undermines the effort.
Those things will not help you if you’re doing it for the reason of fixing the emotion.
Solution #1 – Learn from it
The quick change that you can make there is rather than trying to fix the emotion, try to learn from it.
Why are you anxious? Why are you depressed? What is your body trying to tell you?
It’s probably just trying to tell you it’s time for a break. It’s time to stop trying to control things you can’t control. It’s time to let go of toxic relationships. It’s time to change your job.
There’s a lot of things this emotion might be telling you. If you stop trying to fix it, you might hear what it’s trying to tell you.
However, this brings us to the second biggest mistake that people make
Mistake #2 – Believing anxious thoughts
When somebody gets anxious or depressed, they’ll ask themselves “Why?” Unfortunately, they’ll often believe the first answer that comes to their mind. Then they’ll investigate that answer.
Recently one of my clients said that there was somebody murdered near her when she was a child and now she’s anxious about perhaps being murdered herself. And that’s a good example of when you ask your anxiety “Why are you here?” and the anxiety comes up with an answer. She now believes that answer.
So now she’s investigating that answer. How can I make myself safer? What’s the risk of murder right now? How do I avoid being murdered?
All this does is aggravate her anxiety. It’s not the risk of murder that’s got her worried, she’s just having anxiety.
There’s no helpful purpose in investigating the thoughts that come up when you’re depressed and when you’re anxious.
Put it really frankly: when I’m depressed or anxious, the first thing I do is stop believing my thoughts. Now it doesn’t mean I try to ignore them. I simply try to focus my attention on something more helpful to focus on.
Solution #2 – Go do something productive
Instead of trying to investigate your thoughts and trying to psychoanalyze your depression and your anxiety – go and do something productive and meaningful with your time.
If you’re depressed, it’s a great level of energy for creative artwork. Draw something, write something, write about what you’re feeling, draw about what you’re feeling, go dance, paint. Use that emotion to be creative. It’s a very creative emotion if you just let it be black and dark and brutal.
And when it comes to things like anxiety, it’s a very high-pitched emotion. It’s what the pseudo spiritualist would call a “high vibration.” It’s it’s a buzzing emotion. Use that anxious energy. It’s a lot of energy to burn up – go burn it up!
Go do something fucking meaningful. Go build something. Go help somebody. Take the focus away from investigating your own thoughts (which is just the energy exploding inwards) and explode outwards.
Focus on something you can control and a problem you can solve.
Anxiety usually comes from focusing too long on a problem you cannot control or solve. So the attempt to fix it just short-circuits your brain. You’re just constantly going through a cycle of: attempt to solve, can’t solve, attempt to solve, can’t solve. That’s really the feeling of anxiety, that powerlessness, that fear, that worry.
Find something you can fix. Go do the dishes. Go fix the deck. Go help your friend move house. Pour that energy into something where you‘re like “Hey I’m actually contributing! I can control this! I can have an effect here!”
Those are my top tips for people feeling anxiety or depression at this time of year. I know it’s hard; your first impulse to listen to your thoughts and obey them is simply the wrong thing to do, putting it frankly.
Go out there, either be creative or be productive, focus on things you can control, ignore the thoughts or at least don’t fight against them. Stop trying to fix this emotion.
Put those feelings to work.