by Richard Boyd, Body Mind Psychotherapist, Energetics Institute, Perth, West Australia
Stress anxiety and depression are all related and feed off each other. Depression is considered the second biggest health issue in the 21st century. Given pain is rated the biggest issue and pain is a physical phenomenon then one can say that depression is THE biggest issue facing us all in our current era.
A 2013 study by the Australian Psychological Association revealed that Australian workers are facing decreasing wellbeing and increasing stress in their lives and workplaces. They reported more depression and anxiety symptoms than when the last survey was conducted in 2011.
If you are a man then the odds are already stacked against you. Men typically are prone to suffer depression at a rate of twice that of women. One of the key reasons is that men have been conditioned to ignore and numb out to their feelings, and that includes feeling depressed.
The neuroscience understandings of depression show us that there are two primary ways in which the "black dog" of depression can visit any one of us. The first way is where we have depression as an ongoing symptom of another issue which for many will be some form of undiagnosed or untreated trauma.
Trauma is a complex subject that has been minimised and misunderstood by society up until very recently. The impact of one episode of an overwhelming experience for our nervous system such as a major accident or perceived impact on our life, can leave us with trauma.
Likewise an ongoing dynamic in one's life of an unresolved distressing, unsafe, abusive or overwhelming situation that cannot be resolved, can also create a legacy of trauma. Trauma itself often has as its symptoms anxiety and/or depression as a secondary issue.
In our society men are told to "toughen up!!". The weak get rejected, get fired, get bullied, get labelled and named, and may get into what they perceive is a new set of problems if they own, admit or speak up about what issues they are carrying or what feelings they have about those issues.
Men live in silent vigilance and stress. We hold in, minimise, rationalise, compensate with jokes and humour, and withdraw when it gets all too big, but we do not tell!! Many men suffer in silence and then internalise their feelings as there is something wrong with themselves beyond feeling their trauma or depression.
Many men feel weak, guilty, embarrassed, or less masculine for not being on top of their worlds. Many are perfectionists who lock up within them so much self-criticism, disappointment, self-hatred and rage at not reaching their own unattainable goals that you do not need a worst enemy, they live moment to moment with one inside their heads.
The second way depression develops is that healthy men and women get ground down and spat out by the life they live. In our era of materialism and personal brands we each are told we must be someone, we must work harder, we must be wealthier, and everything around us costs more to buy and more to maintain.
For a while we work harder and run faster on this treadmill of life. We use more energy but we start to feel like we are running on the same spot just as in a treadmill. There normally is no Plan B, no "off switch", we engage our will and grit our teeth as we collectively work harder to keep up.
It is true that what is not in truth will eventually collapse, and so normally the stress of living out one's life by running harder on the treadmill of attainment and lifestyle takes its toll. We lose energy for tasks but a new frantic energy appears in our heads with anxious and looping thoughts which are always negative.
In relationships men find they are also perceiving they need to be strong, to perform, be more intimate, take charge, to be the rock for the other person in their life. Society has a prevailing myth that after all, being a man you should know what to do at all times.
Before long the pressure that is being bottled up by men when they silently internalise their thoughts and feelings rather than express them to their partners, leads to depression. This creates enormous pressure on the physical and mental wellbeing for the man.
Women tend to have more socialised rituals and avenues to express their thoughts and feelings with other women, whether that be the café catchup, the school drop off gossip session, or just women knowing how to relate and share better than men tend to do. For most men the art of communicating thoughts and feelings is alien to them.
From a clinical perspective we know from couples counselling that both men and women in relationship can gain enormous insight and new pathways for connection from sitting down and facing new ways of relating together. The significant sharing provides insight into the reality and state of where each other is at, and to gain a better understanding of the needs that each has in moving forward together as a unified and supportive couple.
Sometimes it only takes education, demonstration and practice for men to gain new skills which reduce the buildup of internal pressures that would otherwise send them into a downward spiral towards anxiety and depression.
In a downward spiral we start to contract, to see fear around us, our positivity dips and we become more negative, more fearful as we have arrived at the place we call anxiety. The road to depression normally has two milestones along the way. The first is stress or a trauma event, and the second is anxiety.
Once we are anxious all those "fight and flight" hormones and biochemicals we produce which keep us alert, hyper-vigilant, tense and active, start to accelerate that hell of a mind that keeps us thinking, worrying, stressing and not sleeping. It keeps us on the treadmill for a time.
However it is these same chemicals themselves that cause us harm, as well as the positive wellness chemical counterparts which get switched off in us when we are stressed or anxious that do some real damage to both our mind and then our bodies.
We do have a sort of 80/20 rule in our bodymind design as humans. We are designed to live 80% of our time in relaxed wellness(known as parasympathetic state), and 20% of our time in fight or flight(known as sympathetic state). In our modern age where real physical threats are largely non-existent there is no reason why we cannot actually live a 90/10 existence.
However stress and then anxiety starts us down the road of flipping us into a 20/80 equation or lifestyle where we are stressed or anxious 80% of the time and are only able to get refuge, often via addictions, medications, self-soothing via comfort eating and drinking, that remaining 20% of the time.
The reason the word "disease" exists is that we are ill at ease or disconnected from our ease and so we get sick. At the anxious stage we may get sick in the body as it can no longer run our bodymind to a 20/80 pattern when we are designed to live at a 80/20 pattern.
There are all sorts of conditions that exist at this stage. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, sinitus, bronchitis, infections, hyper-thyroidism, hypo-thryoidism, hypo-metabolism, adrenal fatigue syndrome, bruxism, sleep disorders, tinitis, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, to name a few. The body starts to give up.
Some people will collapse here at this point and will either get help, get off the treadmill, or be thrown off the treadmill as they cannot put the foot in front of the other and keep going any more. Others are more resilient or wilful and keep going but then collapse into depression.
Depression in its typical form is a heaviness, a lethargy, a collapse, and a heavy dullness and a stuckness tinged with anxiety still acting out its symptoms in amongst all the new things that depression brings to the table to experience. When depression arrives there is no-where to run and no-where to hide or stay in denial.
Depression is a life threatening issue if it exists unchecked and untreated long term. Its impact on health of the body and the mind is serious and its distorting effect on life meaning purpose and the value of one's own life and place in others lives and relationships.
Depression is of a nature that it should never be left as an issue or something to "toughen up" or shrug off and try to get over. Stress and Anxiety clearly show us the signals for where we can end up by trying to tough it out, or by trying to blot it out with alcohol, drugs or distracting ourselves through work.
Certainly there are many ways to create resilience to stress, anxiety and depression that we each should learn and adopt in our modern society. However for trauma sufferers and some others this will not avert the onset of a major stress, anxiety and/depression episode.
Getting help is the only way to get on top of this lifestyle issue that none of us can say we will never have to face. With either stress, anxiety or depression now hitting 1 in 2 at some stage of adult life we must be honest and mindful of where we really are in our life and being ready to reach out for help if we find the old black dog starting to sniff around our lives.
The Energetics Institute has designed anxiety and depression resolution programmes in both its personal Psychotherapy as well as its organisational Conscious Business Australia faculties. These have been adapted from the various body-mind traditions of Somatic Therapy, Yoga, Mindfulness, Meditation, CBT, Human Biology, Neuroscience, and the Bioenergetic understanding of the body and mind.