How Relationships Can Help With Anxiety and Depression

I remember how I looked with complete lack of compassion at my mother when I was a young adult in my twenties. I couldn’t understand why she felt to hopeless, helpless and unhappy because I was young and had my entire life still in front of me. In her generation, there wasn’t much to accomplish anymore once your children were grown up. All a woman without a career had to look forward to was the arrival of her grandchildren. And when her first grandchild came, her oldest daughter (me) even lived far away in a different country on a different continent. Looking back now, I realize how once she was over 60, she desperately tried to find meaning as a homemaker with grown-up kids, even though she didn’t take any pride in any of the housewifely activities. She was the happiest when she could go out, connect with people and exercise.

When interacting with her, she usually seemed needy and clingy to me because I wasn’t in touch with my own neediness. I judged her for self-medicating with alcohol and over-exercising because I didn’t understand how we all use STERBS (Short Term Energy Relieving Behaviours) to distract ourselves from our pain. She had depression and anxiety, even though it wasn’t called anxiety back then. I just perceived her as ridiculously worried about things and unnecessarily afraid. My dad, a typical male of his generation, was overidentified with the rational mind and ridiculed her emotions and fears. And my sister and I kept her at arms length when she started getting too anxious. She had nobody to turn to who made her feel a bit safer, a bit more loved. Not until many years later when I was an adult myself with two daughters did that understanding and compassion for how hard it must have been to be her slowly set in.

Today depression and anxiety have become an epidemic. Some experts, for example the Cognitive Behaviour Therapists, suggest depression and anxiety need to be managed by interventions at the level of thought; other experts suggest there is a problem with our emotions. I believe we need to address both, our thoughts and the underlying beliefs as well as our emotions. The changes we make and the techniques we can learn need to consider both. But how do our relationships play into our thoughts and emotions?

From an attachment standpoint, part of the reason for anxiety and depression is a lack of connection. We are mammals who need to bond and connect with others in their lives. My mom was reaching out to a husband who did not know what to do with emotions and to two daughters who didn’t know that she was mirroring certain traits for us that we had disowned inside ourselves. The relationships in our life either help us to manage the depression and anxiety or they trigger it even further.

Partners who are not securely attached to one another, are typically highly anxious and/or depressed. We relive our childhood fears and experiences with our partner. Our partner is a proxy for all the other relationships we have ever had, going all the way back to our first attachment figures, our mother and father.

When we want to address depression and anxiety, we need to grow resources within ourselves, but relationships themselves can also become a resource and a safe heaven to find release. According to attachment theorist John Bowlby, people who feel depressed are experiencing an inner narrative about feeling lonely and not seeing themselves as important to other people. Sue Johnson points out that in our primary relationship, this plays out as the experience of not being seen, not mattering and not being needed. The emotions triggered are those of feeling unlovable and unworthy, of not being good enough in relation to other people.

So from the view of an attachment theory based clinician like Sue Johnson or Stan Tatkin, the cure for depression and anxiety lies in healing the loss of connection that was experienced in earlier relationships, which is being mirrored in our present relationships. Tatkin points out the effectiveness of face-to-face and eye-to-eye contact between partners. That connection through the eyes is stimulating and can upregulate the partner who feels depressed or anxious. It also focuses the depressed person outwards, instead of in their own head. It is like an outside meditation, keeping the focus on the present moment instead of the painful past or the worries about the future that are playing out in a depressed or anxious mind.

The importance of the eye-to-eye connection has been studied on mothers and infants. The more the mother makes contact face to face, giving the baby reassuring facial cues and being attentive, the more secure and happy the baby feels. The still face experiments with babies (for example conducted by Dr. Edward Tronick) on the other hand have shown that a still face in the mother and a lack of connection through visual and auditory responses create a response of fear and anxiety in the child.

The same still applies to adults. We are social mammals. There is a tremendous power when two people allow themselves to be truly present in and dedicated to a relationship. All our past relationships come out through the present-day love relationship to be completed and healed. Initially, the anxiety and depression might be intensified in the interactions, but partners can learn how to help co-regulate each other’s emotional states. According to Tatkin, the partner can become the best antidepressant and anxiolytic.

Tatkin points out the importance of “landing together at night and launching together in the morning”. Ideally, we start the day with our partner and we end it again in the evening by sharing about the day and connecting. He states that co-sleeping creates an important connection, even though that requires that issues like intense snoring, sleep apnea and restless-leg syndrome are being treated successfully.

In order to hold each other and down-regulate together, it is useful to have a tool to rate and communicate the emotion(s) that come up. Jayson Gaddis’ NESTR ritual would be one such tool. The N stands for the Number of activation. 1 is not triggered at all and 10 would be extremely activated, for example feeling high anxiety. The E is to pinpoint the Emotion that we are experiencing. The S calls to find the sensation in the body which comes with this emotion. And T is for becoming aware of the Thoughts or the inner narrative that goes hand in hand with the emotion. R is a reminder for Resources that the individual can connect with to either regulate themselves or regulate together with the partner.

There is a lot of advice out there on the internet on how to love someone with depression and how to love someone with anxiety. There are of course many different degrees of depression and anxiety disorder, and differing responses are required. Often both issues come hand in hand. The numbness of depression can be a protective mechanism so that we do not need to feel more frightening emotions.

A few things you can do for your partner or another person close to you to deal with mild anxiety or mild depression are to truly listen, acknowledge, empathize and normalize. Your partner needs to know that you care and that what they are experiencing is understandable and normal. Do your best to be patient. Fears may be illogical but they are still very real to the person. Encourage your partner and lift them up. Tell them why they matter to you. Whatever you say or do, keep in mind that your only goal is to make them feel safer and more loved. Arguing about right or wrong makes no sense when fears are involved.

When your partner finds the courage to express an emotion, validate it with your words, your tone of voice and with simple actions. You can ask if they want a hug or if they want to be held. If something you do makes them feel anxious, adapt. If you are, for example, triggering an anxious response in your partner because you drive faster than they do, respond by saying, “I am sorry, honey” and slow down. This is not about you and if you are a good driver, this is about an irrational fear that your partner is experiencing. You can either choose to get defensive and be right or you can be a partner they feel safe with.

Or if your partner has a hard time getting out of bed and finding meaning in life, don’t judge or ridicule, don’t preach about how good their life is or become a fixer or pusher. Gently encourage. Small steps of doing something different are huge leaps forward when dealing with depression. Imagine your partner just had surgery. You wouldn’t push them to leave the hospital and be fully recovered the day after. Just slowly walking down the hallway on your arm would be a huge accomplishment for them. It is the same when recovering from depression. Small changes every day are progress. Provide companionship as your partner establishes healthy habits and rituals of movement.

For both anxiety as well as depression, be present and be in your heart. If you feel judgment like I used to feel for my mother, it’s because your own shadows are triggered and that is where the work needs to be done.

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions. We can work on your own triggers and patterns in individual sessions or on your interactions with each other, so you can be a relief to each other when anxiety or depression show up.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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Recovering From Our Losses

Meet Tracy. She is an attractive woman with a warm smile. Her life is busy; she works; she has two children and an elderly father. She has learned to be strong for others, to keep busy and that time will heal all wounds. At night when the kids are in bed, she has a glass of wine or two and a bag of chips while watching Netflix. The alcohol, food and TV help her to relax and to not have to feel. Lately, she finds it harder and harder to get up in the morning and to keep going. Whenever she is not busy, a deep sadness is taking hold of her. This sadness is quite familiar.

She doesn’t know when she first started to have the lack of energy and these depressive thoughts and feelings. Perhaps, it was fourteen months ago, when her mother passed after a long fight with cancer. Or perhaps when she had two miscarriages and life just went on as if nothing happened. Or perhaps it was when her first marriage ended due to her husband’s infidelity. Or perhaps it was when her own parents divorced when she was fifteen. Or perhaps it all began when her beloved dog died when she was eight. Or perhaps this grief is as old as when she moved to Canada at the age of five not speaking a word of English, and having to leave her grandparents behind.

Grief is accumulative and it is accumulative negative. Our bodies become the storage tanks for all our losses and painful emotions because we were never given the tools to appropriately process our loss experiences. Our body speaks our mind through pains or other physical issues to let us know that the storage tank is over-flowing.

what-emotions-is-your-body-storing-1

Instead of listening to those physical symptoms, we have all learned to use some Short-Term Energy Relieving Behaviours (STERBS) like drinking alcohol, smoking, eating, watching TV, playing computer games, sleeping, taking meds, shopping, cleaning, exercising, working and so on to distract ourselves from the painful feelings associated with our losses. It is time to become aware of our STERBS and to address our buried emotions to gain greater happiness and health.

The grief recovery work is for losses we have experienced through death, divorce and 40+ other life changing events. Some examples are the loss of a love relationship or friendship, infidelity and the loss of trust, the death of a pet, a job loss, a move, an accident or illness, resulting perhaps in the loss of health or mobility, a miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, and other life altering occurrences. Even positive life changes like graduation, marriage, or the birth of a child can be an experience of loss.

We are all faced with incomplete relationships and situations. We are all grievers in some form or other at different points in our life. In fact, grief spares nobody. The training to become a grief specialist involved deep personal healing work. After all, we can only take our clients to where we ourselves have been willing to go. As my workshop partner and I were sharing our loss history graphs, we were amazed how many similar patterns we found, despite the fact that he was 12 years younger, at a different stage in his life, of a somewhat different cultural background and of a different gender. The conclusion can only be that as humans, we all experience the same patterns of grief due to death, divorce and other losses.

grief-is-normal-natural

Grief is our normal and natural reaction to such a life changing event or loss. Grief occurs due to the conflicting feelings caused by the end or change of something familiar. It can masquerade as a powerful emotional state like deep sadness, depression or anger. Unresolved grief is almost always about us wishing things had been different, better, or more. We might have undelivered emotional communications with others. We also carry unrealized hopes, dreams or expectations. In case of the end of a good relationship, we might have had plans that never happened. In negative relationships, the end of the relationship robs us of the possibility to repair and make amends.

forgiveness-means-to

The grief recovery work helps to complete our relationship to the pain caused by a significant emotional loss. It helps us to take responsibility for our actions, forgive others for theirs, and to deliver significant emotional statements. It is the opportunity to say goodbye to any pain or unmet hopes and dreams. We can then feel complete, live fully in the present and focus on any existing fond memories. The grief recovery work gives us freedom and newfound joy. It opens the door to health and happiness.

Angelika

Certified Grief Specialist, Belief Change Coach and Workshop Facilitator

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Steam Kettle

Have you ever engaged in any of the following behaviours, short-term or long-term? Most people are familiar with at least one of these responses.

– addictive eating, drinking or smoking

– taking drugs or medications

– engaging in workaholic behaviour

– addictive exercising

– gambling

– shopping to feel better

– addictive consummation of media

What is going on with these behaviours? These are all short term coping mechanisms to distract ourselves from unpleasant emotions. We have been conditioned to respond to pain, sadness, grief, and stress by eating, drinking, smoking, or distracting ourselves with any of the other above mentioned activities.

Short-term, these activities might feel like they give us some relief, but we have not addressed the real problem by engaging in these behaviours. We have taken our emotions and stuffed them down with food, alcohol, drugs or we have distracted ourselves from acknowledging and feeling them. We are doing what we have learned as children when we were comforted with food. Our caregivers didn’t know that the cookie to sweeten the disappointment, or the tub of ice cream for the heart ache, or the cake to stuff the anger down would become our automatic go-to and our basis for any addictive behaviour.

steam kettle cropped

Do you still remember those old fashioned steam kettles which sat on the stove with a flame burning below? John W. James and Russell Friedman use the example of such a steam kettle to explain what is going on. These kettles were fitted with a whistle to notify us when the water has reached the boiling point. Instead of responding appropriately to the whistle and dealing with the hot water, we have been trained to jam a cork in the spout. The cork represents our beliefs that sad and other uncomfortable emotions are too painful to feel and should be kept under wraps. A steam kettle without a cork can release built up energy right away. A steam kettle with the cork builds up to an unbearable amount of pressure. As a result, we engage in one of the addictive or unhealthy activities above to relieve the pressure short-term. They help us to temporarily forget or bury our emotions.

Unfortunately, emotions are energy in motion. Energy has to go somewhere. It ends up stored in our bodies and manifests as energy blockages, pain and illnesses. Suppressed emotions consume tremendous amounts of energy. We need all our strength to keep the cork in the spout and all our concentration to ensure the steam kettle will not explode. The more emotions we push down, the more energy is required. Unresolved emotional issues have a negatively cumulative effect. We lose our health, wellbeing and joy.

Stem Kettle - When you welcome your emotions

To change the addictive behaviours and to regain our full energy potential, health and happiness, we need to learn to deal with emotions differently. Instead of pushing them down, we need to look them straight into their face; instead of judging them, we need to let them be what they are; instead of blaming others for our emotions, we need to take responsibility for them and forgive others for triggering them.

Nobody makes us feel angry, sad, “not good enough” or any of the other many emotions. Other people and circumstances are not responsible for how we feel inside. If somebody brings low energy, addiction, victimhood or other states of mind into your life which you do not want to partake in, set clear boundaries. Then take responsibility for your own emotions and do the “happiness work”. Decide to work thought and release what you do not want and bring joy and happiness into every day. Gratitude, joy and laughter are a choice; they are your choice!

We also need to teach our children that they are strong enough to feel any emotions. All emotions are good because they give us feedback. Anger is the brightest warning light. It gives us the feedback that something is not right. Underneath the anger, there are usually other more vulnerable feelings. We can teach our children to listen to what is really going on, that their needs matter and that they can share their feelings and needs.

Steam Kettle - Your emotions are your best friend

Emotions inform us. Sadness, for example, gives us the feedback that we are missing a person or object. Grief is long-term sadness due to a loss or change we’ve experienced: something is still incomplete in regards to this change and needs to be completed. Depression could be hidden grief. Frustration lets us know that something is not working, that our needs are not met. Fear and stress are a sign that we need to change our stories and beliefs, which cause anxiety and overwhelm.

However, before we can address the needs these emotions inform us about, we need to remember that all emotions are good. To shift out of our unhealthy responses to emotions, we need to accept them, love ourselves with them and take responsibility for them.

In my one-on-one sessions as well as in the Shadow Energetics workshop, I teach an emotional release process. By applying this process, we change how we handle emotions and we have a tool to effectively release stuck emotions from our body and field. Once we have released the emotional charge, we can understand the message and address our needs appropriately.

Angelika, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca, 905-286-9466

If you enjoy my posts, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.