Yesterday, I was talking to a neighbor/psychologist about depression and anxiety. Most individuals are unaware of the fact that both depression and anxiety are normal human emotions/responses. Let me explain. Imagine you are walking in your neighborhood when you notice a beautiful German Shepherd about fifty feet in front of you. You love dogs so you approach. As you get closer, the dog growls and bares its teeth. Do you get anxious? Most individuals would.
In this case, anxiety serves as a burglar alarm, warning of impending danger and hopefully keeping you from being bitten. Therefore, being anxious about a current threat to your wellbeing is normal and healthy.
Now let’s look at a similar situation. Every time you get ready to go for a walk, your fear of being bitten comes to the surface and you have an anxiety attack. There is no current threat, no growling dog, yet you cannot control your anxiety and decide to stay home.
In scenario number one, your alarm goes off and you weigh your options. Options allow you to reduce your anxiety. You might notice that the dog is wagging his tail and stops growling as you get closer, or you may simply cross the street and walk away from the threat.
In scenario number two, you are projecting yourself into a future situation that does not exist anywhere other than in your mind. Your alarm goes off but there is no real and present threat. As you scan for danger, you become progressively more anxious and start worrying about other, threats. If you live in the future, you are most likely going to experience anxiety.
Now, let’s look at depression. My sister-in-law just died. Being depressed over the loss of a loved one is appropriate, right? So, what about being depressed over some distant loss or event. Is that appropriate? When you live in the past, you are most likely to experience depression.
You cannot change the past. Playing the “would have, could have, should have” game is emotionally perilous and, in addition to depression, leads to guilt, another destructive emotion. By the same token, you really can’t change the future. Your best chance at being happy and healthy is to live in the present. The present is a gift that only lasts a short time. Use it, enjoy it now; as tomorrow, it becomes the past.
The above ideas are not novel. Psychologists teach them to people on a daily basis, yet depression and anxiety are rampant today. Anxiety is stoked by the 24/7 news cycle which constantly looks to the future of the stock market, our country, the cost of items, the availability of commodities, the risk of infection, etc.
Personally, I get depressed every time my Parkinson’s flares, every time I look in a mirror, every time I realize that practicing medicine is gone forever. I find my mind drifting towards the past way too often. My children and grandchildren, Blessings List, neighbors, Rock Steady Group and former patients that I stay in touch with all help keep me in the present. I work hard each day to keep an “Attitude of Gratitude” and the right perspective, reminding myself that to be happy is a choice, just like living in the now is a choice. What’s your choice?
Here is today’s joke:
I’ve been sleeping with my maid for the past 3 years.
Just don’t tell me wife, she hates it when I call her that.