Recently, an event happened which got my attention and got me thinking.
A good friend of mine had difficulty concentrating, lost her appetite, and had significant problems sleeping (symptoms). She didn’t feel motivated to do the things she usually does.
It sounded to me like she was mildly depressed.
The family related issues with which my friend was struggling were not new to her and had, in fact, existed for quite some time.
The “symptoms”, however, were both new and troubling to her.
Now, I should add that she had mentioned that she was angry about the way she was being treated by her family and was anxious about what might take place within her family if she challenged the status quo.
She definitely seemed “stressed-out” to me.
But not mildly depressed!
She decided to get professional help.
Using the Emotions as Tools lens.
Some basic “definitions”..
Depression is an “in the moment” emotion. The message of depression is that one perceives themselves in their situation as helpless, hopeless or worthless.
Mild depression can be disruptive and draining. Clinical depression can be debilitating.
Anger is an “in the moment” emotion. The message of anger is that you perceive an injustice that you can eliminate by throwing enough force at it. Anger prepares you for war.
Adaptive anger can facilitate impactful action. Maladaptive anger can get you in severe trouble.
Anxiety is a future based emotion. The message of anxiety is that there MAY be a situation which may have unwanted consequences for you. Another word for anxiety is worry. Worrying can require a lot of energy.
Stress can be another word for anxiety.
Stress has at least two faces.
The most common is distress which leaves you feeling overwhelmed, sometimes unable to take action, or wanting to escape the situation.
Examples of distress include:
- Choosing not to apply for a position because you think you might do poorly in an interview.
- Choosing not to take constructive action because you are worried about a negative outcome.
- Difficulty maintaining focus and disrupted sleep brought on by worrying.
Less well known is eustress which uses the energy generated by anxiety as a motivator to take whatever action necessary to prevent the unwanted future from happening.
An example of eustress is:
- Preparing for an exam or interview is an example of eustress.
- Developing and implementing a “plan” including setting priorities to resolve whatever concerns, problems, or issues you believe exist.
Chronic stress can, over time, damage you physically.
Another way to look at psychological stress.
Stress ==> Expectations ≠ Reality
Stress happens when what you expect to be taking place(your expectations) is not the same as what is actually going on (your perception of reality).
In many situations in which you find yourself, you will have an expectation regarding the way things should be.
You have expectations:
- about work,
- about your relationships,
- about how your computer should work,
- about your kids
- and so forth
While you may, or may not, be aware that you have expectations and they won’t become an issue unless they don’t pan out, you do have them.
It is only when the reality of your situation violates your expectation that you feel stressed and you become very aware of how you think things should be (your expectations).
Handling psychological stress.
There are two possibilities here, both of which are designed to reduce stress by aligning your expectations with your perception of reality.
1.You can reassess your expectations and adjust them to match reality.
In the first strategy, your assessment may tell you that your expectations were unrealistic.
You believed the other person would do more or act differently than they did but you either did not do your due diligence, did not carefully read the contract, or misunderstood what was supposed to happen.
When you realize that you have erred with unreasonable expectations, you make an adjustment, your expectations match reality, and your stress is gone.
2. You can reassess and adjust your perception of reality to match your expectations.
In the second strategy, your assessment might tell you that you have misperceived reality.
The other person is doing exactly what you expected and you incorrectly judged them, reacted inappropriately, or just misunderstood.
In this case, you adjust your perception of their actions, the match between expectations and reality is reestablished and your stress is gone.
You now have a more adaptive view of stress and some suggestions for mastering it.
My “interpretation” of what my friend experienced.
- My friend likes to be in control of her life. She is intelligent and a “planner”. She is not a “control freak”.
- When the issues first arose, she had expectations for how she and her family should interact.
- None of her expectations were met.
- She perceived an injustice and got angry.
- She didn’t show her anger because she did not want to make her situation worse. But she was angry.
- She tried to reason with and understand her family and facilitated some minor changes were made.
- She felt better.
- Overtime, the situation worsened and she began to feel anxious that her family might exclude her.
- This was troubling. Yet she tried to remain hopeful.
- As her family situation worsened, she became mildly depressed because she sensed she might be excluded from her family and felt helpless to bring about change. Feeling both “excluded” and “helpless”, she felt somewhat “hopeless”. There was little she felt she could do to correct her situation.
- This is the message of depression. However, mild the depression is.
What I suggested:
- A reality check on her family
- What is actually happening?
- What have I done?
- What are they doing?
- What do I expect them to do? (or What should they be doing?)
- What are they actually doing?
- What can I do that might help me get what I want?
- What are the risks?
- How much risk am I willing to take?
- Bring certainty to uncertainty.
- What actions can you take which have a high probability of success. What is totally out of your control?
- Very little in life is “certain”. We can’t control the future.
- The only certainty we have is that we can control what we do.
- We can assess future events, make decisions about what actions we need to take to increase the probability of what we want happening, and work to minimize the risk to us if what we don’t want actually occurs.
- One antidote to anxiety is to ask, “Can I survive the worst possible outcome if it occurs?”
- The beauty of this question is that a “yes” answer tells you that the unwanted outcome, while still undesirable, is not catastrophic. To the extent that this is true, if the benefit of the desired outcome outlays the risk of the unwanted outcome, then it is in your best interest to take action to intervene.
- Your “survival”and your interventions are your certainties.
- Your anticipated benefit is your motivator.
- Accept that risk is real and there might be a negative outcome.
- Prepare for the risk.
- Take action.
Taking action alleviates the mild depression. Assessing the nature of the possible (unwanted) event alleviates the anxiety.