Anxiety is the painful side-effect of feeling pressed for time. Depression is the painful side effect of feeling that the time you spend on things is futile.
When we are given something to do, and we feel inadequate to the task, we can initially fall into panic. We try to make our minds and bodies work faster than they are used to, and become mentally and physically clumsy. Our nervous system goes into overdrive, and we can no longer do things with the peaceful skill we can usually manage. This is anxiety.
When this state of anxiety goes on too long, our body begins to get exhausted. There is only so much time that our nervous system can stay on overdrive. Eventually, we become drained of energy and low on the supply of essential hormones and chemicals. This is depression.
Humans are creatures of meaning, and that meaning is often generated by mood. Thus, when we are happy, the world seems friendly and helpful. When we are unhappy, the world seems hostile and unhelpful. So, on top of basic physical anxiety and depression, gets overlaid a layer of meaning that puts us in a hostile, unhelpful world. Everything seems cold, and we seem deprived of help.
(An author who attends well to layers of meaning in our lives, and their relationship with depression, is Dorothy Rowe. See this link for a relevant book on the subject.
How can we avoid getting permanently locked into such a pernicious downward spiral? Here are a few suggestions, born of my work with clients.
- Slow things down. Even though the world seems to be asking you to work harder and faster, slow things down. Take more breaks. It’s counterintuitive, but it works. You are like a car racking itself to pieces with worn tyres and too little fuel. Park yourself in the pits. Take time.
- Do some things you’re not clumsy at. If you’re hitting your head against a brick wall, remove your head from the wall for a while. Do some basic activities: washing up, cleaning something simple, a small piece of shopping, an easy conversation, singing, playing music. This will reprogram your nervous system towards a better balance.
- Rest. The exhaustion of anxiety and depression can take days, weeks or years to rebalance itself. This is because the mind and body can get severely out of balance. The mind can become attached to repetitious memories and feelings, in a manner akin to post-traumatic stress. In particular, sleep helps to contextualise such negative memories (see this link).
- Contextualise yourself. This means try to get into good company, doing gentle, enjoyable activity. This takes the strain off your mind and body. Your mind can share the strain of thinking with other minds. And your body can become less alone by merging in with other physical networks.
These seem very simple suggestions. They are simple, but they are designed to attend to the problem.
- Slowing things down attends to the problem of being pressed for time.
- Doing things you’re not clumsy at attends to the problem of imbalance and incompetence.
- Rest and sleep attend to the problem of unintegrated chaos.
- Getting into gentle activity in good company attends to the the problem of loneliness and depressed isolation.
If you’re really feeling down, don’t try and do all of these at once. That may push you back into the rushed feelings you were trying to get out of in the first place! Just choose one thing, and try it. Good luck.