Worrying is usually focused on the future—on what might happen and what you’ll do about it. The centuries-old practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present. This strategy is based on, first, observing and then letting your worries and anxieties go. It can help you identify where your thinking is causing problems, while helping you get in touch with your emotions.
· Acknowledge and observe your anxious thoughts and feelings. Don’t try to ignore, fight, or control them like you usually would. Instead, simply observe them as if from an outsider’s perspective, without reacting or judging.
· Let your worries go. Notice that when you don’t try to control the anxious thoughts that pop up, they soon pass, like clouds moving across the sky. It’s only when you engage your worries that you get stuck.
· Stay focused on the present. Pay attention to the way your body feels, the rhythm of your breathing, your ever-changing emotions, and the thoughts that drift across your mind. If you find yourself getting stuck on a particular thought, bring your attention back to the present moment.
Using mindfulness meditation to stay focused on the present is a simple concept, but it takes practice to reap the benefits. At first, you’ll probably find that your mind keeps wandering back to your worries. Try not to get frustrated. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re reinforcing a new mental habit that will help you break free of the negative worry cycle.
“You don’t need to talk to someone, you don’t need to talk about it, you don’t need to do anything! You just need to get over it and move on and be happy!”
That would be awesome if it worked that way, it really would.
But these words come from a perspective where it’s enough to simply will yourself happy. Like Barney from How I Met Your Mother says, “When I’m sad, I just stop being sad and be awesome instead!” While funny, it’s a ludicrous concept. ESPECIALLY when you’re talking about depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, or anything similar. What’s worse, these perspectives set you up for defeat, letting it feed into the sadness you already bear, and making you increasingly skeptical that you’ll ever find happiness, or worse that you don’t have it because you do not “deserve” it, that it’s somehow “righteous” that you suffer. It’s horrific, because it causes those already suffering to crumple even further, even though it was likely said out of love and well-meaning (but terribly flawed) support.
So how do you seek happiness, then? There are several ways:
1. Understand how you are suffering and how it works. If you do not understand that some afflictions are beyond your ability to control, then you will continually suffer guilt and shame because of your inability to snap out of it. That extra guilt and shame is the last thing you need to carry in addition to your other burdens. Understand what’s happening to you. Understand what you are able to do, and where your limits are. Read about the experiences of others online who are going through the same thing. Draw from their hard-earned wisdom and insight. In short, know your enemy, as that’s the first step to defeat what’s afflicting you.
2. Seek the understanding of others. There may be family and friends in your life who are well-meaning, yet uneducated in what is afflicting you. These people care for you and very much want you to be happy. But they have likely never gone through what you’re going through. They’ve never encountered it. Or maybe they’re looking at it from their perspective, not yours, so they don’t understand how hard it is, or how it controls your life. For someone who has never experienced depression or other life-controlling afflictions, they may believe it’s just a matter of not being sad (and being awesome instead), or looking on the bright side with your chin up, or counting your blessings, or just “staying strong” and powering through it, as if emotional endurance will get you anywhere when neither your situation or affliction is changing for the better or getting the understanding and care needed for real recovery. These people are your allies, but without understanding what you’re facing, they can inadvertently cause you even more damage and sadness. You NEED these caring people on your side, and you need them to understand so they can give you the support, love, and caring you want from them, and they want to give you. Inform them. Sit down and make it very clear what you need from them and why. If there are reasons why you can’t do this, send them links to articles describing the realities of people suffering from these things, as well as the common misconceptions about them and those who suffer from them. I’ve seen some great examples of this floating around Tumblr. They’re out there.
3. Seek support from those who understand. While my first instinct was to put “seek treatment” as #3, it’s often the case that doing so is a huge step, one that often can’t be made alone. You need a support network of friends and family who understand you and are on your side, as they can give you the encouragement and support you may need to make that jump to seeking treatment.
4. Seek treatment. If what is afflicting you is so great as to throw your life out of balance, leaving you living each day in fear, depression, or similar, then I urge you to seek professional treatment. I do encourage you to spend time researching your options, or asking others who have tried different options. Try to figure out what works best coupled with what will negatively impact your life the least. If you have a counselor aware of your situation, ask them about your options. Those online who are ahead of you may be able to tell you what to expect. Seeking treatment is, paradoxically but understandably, one of the hardest things to do, as it may require emotional vulnerability, in the least that it’s an unavoidable and inescapable confrontation with the fact that you need help because you are seeking help. You need your web of support fully engaged and at your back to take this step past that barrier of fear, as it’s often the only way forward. Keep in mind though that treatment may take many forms, depending on how well you understand what is happening to you. For example, there are some cases where vitamin B difficiency can cause or allow for depression. A heavy supplement of Niacin was able to correct the imbalance. So keep options open, including nutritional analysis, as that’s often overlooked, and may be easier to try than drug therapies.
5. Change your environment if you can. Suffering in these ways usually leaves you extremely emotionally vulnerable. So in the interest of your recovery and well-being, try to alter your environment so you do not experience unnecessary suffering. For example, when getting anon hate on Tumblr, immediately delete it as soon as you realize what it is and turn anon off for a while (that’s usually good advice anyway). Try to avoid what is triggering to you. Whatever it is that’s causing you harm, pain, or suffering, think about whether you have the ability to change anything or remove yourself from that environment. Likewise with those around you. If they can be made to understand how what they are doing is affecting you, and if they are willing to stop or respond, good. Otherwise, remove yourself from their presence if possible.
6. Treat yourself gently. This SHOULD be rolled into #1, but I put it last because it is extremely important, and if you are going to remember anything about this post I want it to be this. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, whatever it is chewing up your life…it is not your fault. Let me say that again: it is NOT your fault. Just as getting a cold is not your fault, sometimes these things happen, and it’s how our bodies and minds respond, usually at a level beyond our ability to control or stop. They’re like quicksand: once you’re stuck, even though going it alone may seem noble and “strong”, it usually just gets you more stuck, and sinking deeper. To get out, you’re going to need the help and caring of others. Though society often teaches us that this is weakness, it is in fact usually the ONLY way to find the strength to escape this suffering. So go easy on yourself. Treat yourself gently. Just as you wouldn’t call upon someone with a broken arm to toughen up and be strong by playing basketball with that arm before it recovers, treat yourself gently as you undergo the treatment and healing you need to get better so your life can return to normalcy.
Remember, for all of you suffering, I love you all, and I’m here if you want to talk with someone about it. And I’m hardly the only one who feels this way. So remember, you’re not alone. There are people who care. And there is ALWAYS hope.