Anxiety, Depression: Signs of Spiritual Anemia

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The soul requires your attention.  If it’s depression or anxiety we experience, before we seek to medicate, we need to ask ourselves how much time are we spending nourishing our souls.  While we may spend time balancing the physical and social aspects  of our lives, the soul may remain neglected signaling ‘hunger’ through the pangs of restlessness and melancholy.  Often, someone who is experiencing a generalized form of anxiety or depression will discover that little time has been vested in soul-enriching activities that restore emotional and spiritual balance.  So before a discussion on medications takes place, an exploration of wellness activities should be discovered.  These may include:  

Meditate

Meditation has been proven to significantly reduce anxiety.  In fact, there is research proving that meditation is just as effective as prescribed medications in managing anxiety.

Read

Reading increases awareness and can help improve the ability to understand what is going on within you.  It also helps with shifting focus away from what you are experiencing to being in tune with the plot and characters of the story.  

Laugh

Laughing or even the act of smiling releases pleasure creating chemicals in the brain, giving off a sense of well-being.  Engaging in content or with people that make you laugh is a sure way to combat the imbalance of ‘feel good’ neutrotransmitters in the brain of those suffering with depression and/or anxiety.  

Many times, our moods are worsened by overthinking or catastrophizing.  A “keep it simple” approach in which we spend time devoted to the deeper part of ourselves is important as a starting point to manage our moods before reassessing and exploring further solutions.  

The Best Investment

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An essential kind of success-perhaps the most critical type-is psychological.  Unfortunately,many people attain financial wealth and yet ignore the importance of their psychological health.  We tend to frequently check our bank statements and balance our checkbooks, yet we put off reflecting on what’s happening in our minds.  With the rates of  anxiety and depression becoming more prevalent, it’s time to prioritize and take inventory on our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  We begin by reflecting on our past and current relationships (social, personal, occupational, spiritual). What seems to be the theme?  What or who is the common denominator of the problem?  What are my greatest liabilities and am I ready to discard them?  The initiation of such a process is probably the most daring and life changing endeavor a person will ever embark on.  Psychological success requires discipline, structure, and an enduring commitment to tend to one’s inner life.  A dedication to reflect, admit defects, and take on the painstaking task of breaking unhealthy patterns and cycles is by far the best form of achievement.  Psychological success is the thread that holds everything together and it’s proper management pays off the greatest dividends.  

Stir

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Periodically, I like to meditate on a couple of things that help restore and elicit a sense of gratitude.  It constitutes a period of contemplation evoking powerful emotions of joy and a state of thankfulness.  First, I think of a difficult or frightening moment in the past I eventually overcame.  I think of how, by great fortune, I was spared of the worst possible outcome of the event.  For example, I once slammed on the breaks right on time in traffic avoiding a fatal collision with an 18 wheeler.  Or I was called to cover a different unit on the day I was scheduled to see a patient who had been caught with a shank in his cell.  On both such occasions, I was spared and I didn’t have to be.  Many people die everyday from such unfortunate occurrences.  I like to think that the time I’m given beyond these moments are added bonuses that I should embrace and do as much as I can with the “complimentary hours.”  

The second thing I contemplate on is recalling all the people I’ve known, both directly and indirectly, who are battling or have battled serious life conditions such as terminal and chronic illnesses, addiction, severe mental health issues, homelessness, incarceration, abuse, and other forms of prolonged suffering.  I think of how if there is a universal good that exists in the world then perhaps these people serve a great purpose.  Perhaps, through divine wisdom they are the ones chosen to bear it for now so that I won’t have to.  

As macabre and dark as it can appear, surprisingly these two exercises cultivate a genuine kind of gratitude where the effects are  immediately felt.  Suddenly, the coffee tastes fresh, people become more loving, and the possibilities endless.  

The Deep Path

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We fall into trances…asking what seems to be broad existential questions regarding meaning and purpose.  A man in dire straits who engages in self reflection may at some point ask himself “why is this happening to me?”  If he would just remain still he would discover that he need not go far externally or into his mental faculties to find the answer.  Most times he snaps out of his contemplation due to desperation and attempts to find the answer from the outside, missing the chance of finding the answer right there in front of him. The answer he seeks can most times be found within his question.  So if he asks “why is this happening to me?”, the correct answer will likely be “why, this is happening to me!”  Though we may find it unlikely or even quite a strange response, it is one of the few answers that will prompt him to action.  Another matter to take note of is if the one asking the question already possesses the answer during or prior to asking, it is essentIal to ponder who is it that does the asking.  Surely, it is the same one who answers. This points to the strong likelihood that divine guidance resides inside man.  

Soul By The Pound

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Darkness shines the greatest light.  It is the ultraviolet lamp that exposes what we’re really made of within. It reveals our “guts” and weighs our values, faith, and spirit on the scale of reality. Difficulties bring out our presuppositions and biases, it is the tested method by which our true nature is brought to our attention- to ignore or change. To seize the opportunity of changing or denying what is revealed makes the difference between spiritual freedom and captivity.  

Little Buddhas

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The traumatized psyche of a child contains a silver lining.  With time, love, and treatment, as the child enters adulthood, he or she with great skill and finesse will have an exceptional capacity of reaching high transcendental states through meditation or prayer.  These wounded souls have acquired this ability through the mechanism of dissociation- a detachment of psychological and environmental surroundings used to protect itself against further trauma.  Since meditation also requires a practice of detaching from the ego or thinking mind, these children would have already experienced and understood what most of us seek…less outside distractions and a more intimate connection with our internal world.  Perhaps, a further look into this matter will initiate a shift in which children who have been damaged by trauma can be made into “little Buddhas.”  

On Emptiness and Difficulty

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Often, in times of solitude and reflection I think about past impactful events of my career as a counselor.  My mind wanders through the corridors of a crisis unit where the majority of our patients had a history of multiple suicide attempts.  There were people there who had experienced the worst kinds of acts-abuse on every level, witnessing first hand tragic losses of close friends and family, and sudden abrupt life changes such as financial loss and divorce.  Many of the people I encountered possessed a common characteristic- they were immobilized by their pain and were unable to focus on anything outside of the now prevailing emptiness that pervaded their lives.  Any forms of therapeutic interventions or words of encouragement were lost in the void.  One thing I came to understand:  depression at its peak can paralyze a person, both on the physical and cognitive levels.  Remedying emptiness and difficulty then requires more than persuasion of changing perspective or acquiring tools to cope- it requires a journey further into the experience of despair where light is found through, not away, from the problem.  

Uncovering Reality

Healing takes place when we are able to sit with reality as it is.  When pain is immense it produces a numbness that a person may not even be aware of how they are feeling.  A process of uncovering emotions through validation and recognition of feelings provides us with a sense of belonging and security.  Identifying feelings gives a person the ability of observing their lives from a higher perspective.  The act of observing provides a space between experiencing pain and “paralysis” where finding ways to persevere becomes possible. The sufferer finds freedom in understanding that although they are in emotional pain, they are also capable of observing and becoming participants of their own experience.  People gradually move away from the all consuming thought “I’m in pain” to “I am aware, this is happening to me.”  

Authenticity 

Difficulties can be the means by which we discard what matters most.  All one needs to ask to reach an effective conclusion is “what is this difficulty teaching me?” Perhaps the things we placed so much time and value on really didn’t hold any weight in our crisis.  Sometimes, it takes a significant life event to learn that our time and energy was spent on falsehoods that contributed greatly to the nagging pangs of emptiness.  The moments of crisis are the opportunities by which we get in contact with reality- we discard the fake and commit our lives to what is true.  This is evident in people who have experienced and overcome crisis.  They emanate authenticity and have a zero tolerance for anything that portrays hypocrisy and deception.  These people have learned the principle of impermanence- that things and people are unpredictable and fleeting.  In this, there is great freedom. 

Universality 

It is sometimes a game changer when we realize that tragedy is tragedy only when it manifests itself in our lives.  However, tragedy occurs daily.  I cannot think of a single individual who has not experienced the death of a loved one or not experienced a loss of some kind.  Pain and emptiness may initially draw us more inwardly, but can also give us the chance to notice that difficulty and feelings of emptiness are universal.  On some level, we have all experienced a loss and many have been able to overcome the resulting darkness and go on to live healthy and productive lives.  If we occasionally gaze our eyes outwardly during crisis, we’ll find the comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our suffering and we will eventually get through it.  

Dying To Feel: Healing Addiction and Trauma

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Trauma drastically alters the senses.  And then it dulls them.  With the passage of time, trauma can hinder victims from both fully experiencing emotions and tactile sensations, depriving them of establishing healthy relationships and a sense of belonging.  This is often brought on by dissociation- a survival mechanism used by victims who psychologically “check out” to avoid any continued danger.  This strategy is subconscious, meaning it’s automatic and mostly done without the awareness of the survivor.  The default mode of behavior and presentation is often detached, melancholic, guarded, and listless.  The person is chronically withdrawn from life, people, and events while being unable to fully feel sensations.  The ability to taste, listen, touch, smell, see and feel feelings is significantly impaired, leaving the victim disconnected from the world and him or herself.  Often, a victim is unable to identify what they are feeling or how they should feel during a situation and will develop a set of stereotypical behaviors that they think are appropriate.  They will smile but there is no joy;  they will cry, and no tears;  they will even play the role of the energetic socialite but lack enough life to convince anyone.  

So, how is all of this relevant to addiction?  Well, those who have experienced trauma want to connect as any healthy person would, they want to feel, and they eagerly want to love and be loved.  However, they are cut off from doing so by the same mechanism that protected them from experiencing painful memories and/or ongoing trauma.  In their yearning to feel, the victim will often seek out substances and behaviors (objects that do not represent an immediate threat of danger nor remind them of the assailant) that will enable them to sense something no matter how destructive the act or substance is.  This desperate attempt is the strategy by which the victim uses to jolt himself back into life.  So, through our eyes the victims are killing themselves, but through theirs, they are actually surviving the best way that they can.  Survivors who are struggling with an addiction are dying to live, they are dying to feel through engaging in a fabricated relationship which satiates the starved soul.  The addiction becomes the only way, although erroneous, to feel anything.  

With roughly 50 to 66 percent of people with Post Traumatic Disorder (mental health disorder some people develop after experiencing a traumatic event) simultaneously struggling with addiction, it is vital to treat survivors with an actively involved compassionate approach that focuses on safely reaching into the withdrawn parts of the self through a genuinely loving relationship that gradually introduces them to re-experiencing the world.  Effective therapy in this area is one that works with the goal of giving the survivor the opportunity to fully experience- to completely feel- their own lives.  

 

Irving Cabarcas, LMHC, MCAP, ICADC

If you or anyone you know is dealing with trauma and/or addiction, we can help.  Contact us here.  

Vermin. Rats. Mice. Connections. Humans. Love.

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Rat park was an experiment performed to show that with the proper connections (love, affection, and attachment) an individual with issues of substance abuse could remain sober. Basically, the idea is that in the proper environment, and with enough positive reinforcement and stimulus, an individual wouldn’t have the need to use substances.

I used to work with addicts.  However, I am not here to write about addiction, getting off or on the wagon, nor rehab. I am here to talk about…

Connections

If you have a baby and He or she  is deprived of connection, affection, security or love, there is a chance that the baby will have difficulty learning and integrating these emotions in their lives. If we think of nature vs. nurture and focus on the environment (nurture) than we see the pivotal role that the environment plays in an individuals life. 

Put a rat in cage, they’ll get bored. Put a human in a cage and confine them with little or no social interaction, they’ll get bored. Try sitting in a room without your phone and only the four walls, while you still have freedom, there’s a chance you’ll get bored. (Question: why do you need the phrase four walls?)

Put other rats in the cage, other humans in the cage and other humans in that small room, you won’t get bored, at least not right away. We need others in our lives to feel connected. To identify ourselves, sure it can come from introspection, but even then, to what do we measure ourselves to. 

Granted, some people live off the grid, away from society and electronics in the hopes of finding some emotional stability in isolation. And I guess that works for them but here is an example of where connections at an early age are crucial:

I once saw a client who early on was in and out of foster care. His parents abandoned him.  His biological siblings were taken away and his few foster families were ridden with horror stories. He never had the sense of belonging, attachment, or security. So, he grows up and finally as he begins to settle into his adult life he finds great difficulty with other humans. It causes him anxiety; he is always in survival mode and has trouble getting close to anyone

The concept of connections is a theory as is its importance. But, the next time you are out,  count how many people are on their phones. Originally, I wrote this article to discuss rat park but I believe it is more about the importance of finding connections away from social media. Sit with your feelings. Step away from a play form filled with a la carte emotions to choose from of what mask you want to wear. Or don’t. Either way, understand this:

If the opposite of addiction is connection,if the opposite of anxiety is confidence, if the opposite of depression is contentment, then perhaps we can benefit from looking at our own rat park for a second. Set boundaries in your life. Understand who and what you want in life. Find a real connection with another human. Living off the grid seems romantic at times, especially with what we see on t.v. but at least for me- I’d rather have a conversation with someone in person to share my ideas with, to be vulnerable, and to be loved.  

 

By Noah Goldberg, RSWI, MSW

 

 

 

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