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The world is dealing with a major crisis. This isn't business as normal. Much of the world is shutting down.
You probably think I'm going to say it's because of COVID-19, but you'd only be partially right.
Increased anxiety and depression typically comes from something else.
Let's explore what that might be--and two strategies you can use to overcome what you're feeling.
When anxiety increases, it's usually because of a few things.
Feeling out of control is a big part of it.
Anxiety stems from the need to control, to put life in a box. That's so that we can feel comfortable carrying that neat, little box around. But sometimes the box is too big to manage. Occasionally, like during a major crisis, the box opens up and its contents spill onto the floor. Then, life can become overwhelming.
It's scary to feel out of control. When we're out of control, we look for things that we can grasp onto and manipulate to our liking. In a time when everything been uprooted, when everything is drastically different than it was even one month ago, it's like trying to control the air. You're just not going to be able to do it. Air can't be completely boxed up.
Crises uproot us. They take us from what we are used to and place us in foreign territory. When we don't feel we have the skills or the knowledge to control our environment, anxiety can increase in a big way.
And so it is for depression. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Anxiety is a frantic clawing for some kind of control. It's a fear of living and dying that we we can't just put our finger on.
If this goes on long enough, the body can become drained. It can lead to stunted behaviors and wild thoughts that run in loops. When we think there is just nothing we can do, it's only a matter of time before the brain starts to rewire accordingly.
Of course, depression can come in lots of forms. It's not always staying in bed for days at a time. Sometimes we can seem to be functionally normally to an outside observer and still feel depressed. During a major crisis, we can become walking zombies and not even realize it. A depressed mood can sink into the body before the mind realizes what is happening.
Increased depression comes back to a feeling of powerlessness. When we think we can change the world and the world just won't do what we want it to, it's easy to just want to give up and stop trying. This especially happens when life gets uprooted, when what was familiar no longer is.
Overcoming Increasing Anxiety and Depression
First, a caveat. There is no one thing that works for all people. Anyone who tells you that is lying. The best approach is the approach that fits into your life, that is something that you can manage and adapt as you need to.
That being said, there are actionable strategies out there. There are things you can do to feel more capable in your own life. Here are two of them.
First, practice the art of acceptance.
I've never been able to overcome any difficulty without accepting it first. Acceptance sounds like a magical action, but it's really quite simple. It's realizing that you can't control anything. You can only control what you do--and you can't even do that all of the time. Sometimes things just happen, such as involuntary muscles responses and emotional triggers.
But acceptance is a dance worth dancing. The more you practice it, the more you work on an acceptance mindset, the easier life becomes. There is no harm in improving your ability to accept. Only good can come from that.
When you improve your ability to accept, you start to see life for what it really is: a kaleidoscope of images, sounds, smells, and fascinating experiences. You are in them, but you are not them. You are a separate entity, and all you can do is control yourself.
Second, adopt an experimental mindset.
Everything in life is an experiment. What you eat in the morning is an experiment. The route you take to work is an experiment. The way you talk to your friend on an evening call--that's also an experiment.
It might work out perfectly, but it might not. Anything you learn from your experiments can drive your actions and thoughts for the next experiment. Nothing is final. It's all part of the process--the learning process.
Depression and anxiety will try to fool you. They will try to convince you that they call the shots, that they have all the power over your life. But you're the person underneath. You're the one in control of your own experience. It's tempting to relinquish your power to these abstract foes. But you have to fight that feeling and pull back from the abstraction so that you can come back into your body and mind.
Depression and anxiety are all about finality. They make it seem like you're always going to be a certain way. But you know that's not true when you treat your life as an experiment.
Experiments increase curiosity, and curiosity opens the world up. Curiosity makes everything new and vibrant again.
It is completely normal to be knocked off balance during major crises. It's to be expected.
Fortunately, you have tools you can use to respond to increased anxiety and depression. You can learn to accept. You can treat your life like the experiment that it is.
When combined, these tools, acceptance and an experimental mindset, are a formidable foe in their own right. And when they go up against anxiety and depression, the tools are going to help you win.
Because you have options.
You are adaptable in ways that anxiety and depression are not.