CAN: Breaking Free of the Cycle of Depression and Anxiety
If you’ve ever been caught up in a cycle of depression and anxiety, you’ll know how relentless it can be. If you’re feeling very low and unmotivated, you’re also likely to feel terrified of returning to the world of relationships and responsibility.
Conversely, if you feel constantly overwhelmed by life and worried about how you’re going to cope, you may well not have much belief in yourself, and depression can start to kick in. Before long, there’s a vicious circle in place that seems impossible to break.
In my experience, the journey out of this painful place involves a combination of 3 mental processes that can be summed up by the useful acronym CAN, standing for Compassion, Acceptance and Non-judgement. Compassion involves seeing yourself as you would see others who are suffering, offering yourself care and allowing yourself to be entitled to that care. It means being prepared to be gentle, as you would be to a very young child, and acting as an adult advocate, a benign carer to your vulnerable child self.
If this feels really difficult, think of someone you know and like or care for, or maybe an animal, and imagine them suffering. If it hurts, and you feel like you want to help them, that’s your compassion kicking in. Now think of yourself as a small child- you could maybe use a photograph of yourself to help you remember- and offer compassion to the small child you were. You may want to cry, or feel a lump in your throat or chest; if so, that’s a good sign, a sign that you feel sadness for the child you were.
Acceptance is about allowing the pain to be there, and accepting the reality of what’s happening now, while resisting the temptation to push it away or withdraw from it- the classic fight or flight response. Paradoxically, change begins at this point of acceptance. It’s also about accepting who you are, regardless of whatever you perceive to be your vulnerabilities or imperfections; to be vulnerable is to be human, and thus connected to everybody else. In fact, attempting to be perfect creates enormous pressure, and sets you up to fail- putting you right back in the anxiety/depression cycle again!
Non-judgement means not beating yourself up for feeling as you do, and letting go of any judgement of yourself as a person. This might involve not buying into the harsh messages inside your head that may have come from a parent, teacher or other adults who influenced your life, or indeed other children, especially if they were bullying you. It means not blaming yourself for what happened in the past. Anxiety is often based on shame, a fear of being humiliated or punished, stemming from a feeling of having somehow done or become something profoundly wrong, often without knowing what it is. Depression is almost always based on self-loathing, on anger turned inwards, so we can see how closely these two are linked at this very deep level, and how self-judgement lies at the core of that link.
You may feel that it’s too difficult to look at all this alone, let alone to make changes, or that it feels exhausting just thinking about it, or that you’ve tried it before and it doesn’t work. A counsellor can support you in this process, and help you understand what lies behind your anxiety and depression, which can be really liberating. To find someone near you who can offer you an appointment in the next week, click on Find a Counsellor, and you’ll be taken through our really easy booking process. When life seems overwhelming and impossible, we can help.