Friday, August 19, 2011

The sting of anxiety

My latest news is that I am back working part time as a Social Worker, yeah, not thrilled, but it's a means to an end for now & I'm trying to make the most of it.

Yesterday I attended an awesome Professional Development day to become an accredited facilitator of a group work program to assist children to manage their experience of fears, anxiety and depression. The program's been developed by a bunch of psychologists and is impressively evidence-based, which means that they've done their research.

Some of the research stunned me, for example, apparently adults who have mental health issues have signs and symptoms by the age of 12 years old. I thought of a few people I know, including myself, yes indeed I had signs of anxiety by 12. That anxiety goes untreated in most people until adulthood when their anxiety becomes debilitating, usually as the result of a stressful event or experience.

Research and anecdotal evidence from the therapist running the training indicates that depression often stems from anxiety. The theory is that we all tend to have fears and anxiety is a pretty common experience, it's part of being human. However if anxiety is ongoing and occurs regularly, we become exhausted, as a result we tend to become depressed. It's like we can no longer function with the high levels of arousal in our body, so we shut down and our affect becomes flat, our body movements and thinking slow down, it's a form of shutting down. This isn't to say we don't continue to experience anxiety, the two usually go hand in hand; but depression seems to be our body's response to ongoing anxiety. That's how most people end up with the double whammy- depression and anxiety.

Why is it that I'm writing about this today? Because it's personally significant and I felt like the learnings I got out of the PD yesterday created lightbulb moments. It's helpful to understand that because I didn't know about anxiety or learn how to manage it as a child, I am now having to do so in adulthood. Current stats say that 1 in 5 adults will be diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression atleast once in their life. This stat reminds me how normal it is, though I think we'll see an increase in the stats in future years, as currently many people go undiagnosed..struggling. I reckon more like 99% of people in the western world will experience anxiety and or depression in their lifetime (diagnosed..or not). For many of us it's a recurring experience; each time we understand a little more, we know more about how to manage the symptoms and will recognise what's happening more quickly so as we can get help more immediately.

I believe that anxiety and depression can help us to see what needs to change in our lives, I don't think it's just about how we think, that's kinda bullshit to me. It's in part how we think, but usually it's our external and interpersonal circumstances that can tend to get us down or into a worried state of mind. If those circumstances or relationships continue then often so does our inner experience of stress and worry. We can't always change our situation immediately, what we can do is reach out, get the help we need and soften, become more gentle with ourselves and try to find opportunities for positive experiences wherever possible.

What do you think about all this? Any lightbulb moments or stories to share?

Thanks to Cath at Precocious Lotus a number of Mental Health related blogs are now linked up, so if you want to read more, you can, please do add yours if you've blogged on a MH related topic!

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