Lifting The Veil

Anxiety, Depression & Mental Health

Despite the stormy weather we had a good turnout for our “Let’s Get Talking” event on Tuesday 30th July 2019. Participants found the evening interesting and informative. The majority felt that the environment was relaxed, comfortable, compassionate and safe. We had a healthy discussion about a difficult topic, and everyone contributed. Thank you to all who made the effort to come out, it was truly wonderful and humbling.

During the introductions it became clear that everyone in the room has had their own experiences with anxiety and depression. The evening therefore focused mainly on anxiety and depression and we only touched briefly on other mental health issues.

What is anxiety and depression?

Andrea started the conversation with a simplified introduction to what anxiety is.

                “Anxiety (and depression) is a coping mechanism that has taken over control. Fear and sadness are essential to our biological and social survival. These emotions originate from deep within the “survival brain”.

The survival brain has only three responses – fight, flight or freeze. During times of crisis and trauma the survival brain takes over and we start operating with “limited capacity” i.e. the brain withdraws from accessing learnt information and reasoning. This is a healthy and temporary response to crisis and trauma. Some people call this “survival mode”. If the brain for some reason perceives the world to be a dangerous place, it operates more and more in survival mode and eventually this may become a permanent state of mind, which may lead to a diagnosis of anxiety or depression.” 

“Historically anxiety and depression were treated as separate diagnoses. Now we see them more as being on a continuum” says Deborah Rutenberg, co-facilitator and counsellor at The Family Counselling Centre. Andrea Nettel added that “anxiety and depression are two sides of the same coin”. The causes are often similar and so is the treatment, some symptoms seem miles apart, however there are many symptoms that apply to both.

The group identified anxiety symptoms as feeling unsettled, “butterflies in the tummy”, heightened energy, hyper vigilance, unable to focus and memory loss. Depressive symptoms were characterised as feeling “lazy or bored”, unable to do things and sleeping too much. Andrea and Deborah added panic attacks, avoiding things and disassociation to symptoms of anxiety. Emotional outbursts and moodiness, they said, could be symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Aggression and anger in men can often be misunderstood symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Another symptom of anxiety or depression is known as self-medicating behaviour.  This essentially means if you regularly have a drink, smoke a joint, eat chocolate or if you regularly engage in excessive or prolonged gambling, pornography or gaming, to “deal with life”, you might be medicating yourself.

If you can’t wait for “wine-o’clock” or if you find yourself checking if the “Boeing has flown over” then you might be using a habit to deal with overwhelming feelings of dread or hopelessness.

What causes Anxiety?

The cause of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, can be situational, environmental, biological, medical or genetic. It can also have its origin in culture, society and upbringing. As counsellors we focus more on the now and “where to take it from here, rather than where it came from” stated local grief counsellor Karin Grobler who was part of the conversation.  Hormonal fluctuations when experiencing PMS, during Menopause and Andropause (male menopause) can make coping with latent or hidden issues more difficult rather than being the cause of anxiety and depression.

What to do?

Anxiety is a well-meaning but overactive coping mechanism, therefore re-training the brain to change its perception of the world is very helpful. Bringing the brain back into the NOW, as a first aid, is one way of managing anxiety levels says Andrea. Here some ideas on how to do this:

  • Gentle bilateral (left, right, left, right) tapping (drumming) on thighs assists the brain to focus on the current surroundings. It engages the sense of touch and hearing.
  • Find 5 things in the room that have your favourite colour and audibly name them. This engages sight, hearing and focuses the brain on the current SAFE surroundings.
  • Singing or humming a song you really like.

These little exercises are by no means a cure but can assist in managing “hamster wheel” thought patterns that may lead to anxious or depressive episodes.

It was suggested to start seeing a counsellor when noticing anxiety or depressive thoughts BEFORE they become overwhelming. This might assist in keeping the dread and hopelessness at bay. Most people only seek help once their life has become unmanageable. By that stage anxiety and depression might have escalated to actual mental health diagnoses and may need to be treated by a medical professional in addition to counselling. 

It was mentioned that there is a stigma associated with the diagnoses and even more so with taking medication. Most people seem ashamed to be taking medication to “cope”.  During the discussion it was mentioned that there is still the belief that taking medication means “I am weak” or “I am giving up” or “I am escaping”. We briefly discussed the myth that medication “makes you into a zombie” and that they are addictive. Some do and some are, however, great strides have been made in the development of psychiatric medication and we see them working very well as temporary assistance to recovery, regaining health and, if needed, as a chronic medication.

What to do for someone else?

If you know someone that seems to be slipping down the slippery slide of anxiety or depression and if you have serious concerns about their wellbeing, then “go over their head” and book an appointment with their doctor asap. No matter if they are asking you not to do so.  If they become very resistant you always have the possibility of calling medical emergency services like CMR, to check up on your dear one. Also, if you are fearing that they might hurt themselves you can report this to the police, and they have the duty to follow up on this. These might seem to be severe measures, however, is it worth taking the risk NOT to do anything. If they are really struggling, they are unable to decide on their own and they need loved ones to guide and help them to find the appropriate help.

They might be “looking for attention” or acting like a “drama queen” and you might feel their threats are not real. Remember they are calling out for help in the best way they can.

If you have any questions about this topic, or if you are looking for assistance, please Whats App or call us on 072 375 6089, and we will assist you with making an appointment to see one of our counsellors.

DREAM – Developing a Relationship between Emotions And Movement

Building Resiliance through Movement

Resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

What is it that makes someone recover quickly? Or what is it that encourages toughness? Research has done little to effectively pinpoint what it is that makes someone more tough or able to cope with life’s challenges better than others. But what we do know is that when the brain believes that the body is safe it has more “elasticity” to form new concepts and is more accepting of change. I find this interesting because this means that we need to make sure that we feel safe first before we even attempt to do anything new. The irony here is that anything new will initially make us feel unsafe. So how can we overcome this conundrum?

Our body is the link! When the brain believes that the body is safe… then higher functioning like mastering change or challenges will be less stressful and we can anticipate higher resilience or quicker bounce back!!

The most efficient way to convey to the brain that the body is safe is through movement! Not mental training or academic understanding but movement.

Movement engages all our senses including the internal senses namely proprioception and the vestibular system which many of us are unaware of. Without going into too much detail movement is a way for the brain to assess how things are going with us! AND movement is also the way we adjust to sensations – positive or negative.

The first interaction a newborn has with its environment is through reflexes which are movements. There is no logical understanding or thought patters at that stage. The brain simply assesses the information it receives through ALL the senses (internal and external) and responds with a movement. As we develop we start building on those reflexes and we learn how to regulate and modify them. It seems that therefore the root of feeling safe lies in our body – through movement.

Movement is not to be confused with exercise! Physical exercise is generally associated with some sort of movement but exercise as such does not necessarily translate into building resilience. (Although many might argue that trained athletes are generally more resilient, but I am not going to delve into this right now.) The movement that the brain requires is not at all related to a cardio workout, strength training, a long run or any other formal sport. It really “only” requires child’s play. Moving on all planes front/back, top/bottom, left/right, up/down and crossing the mid-line. In other words rolling, crawling, walking, marching, etc. Literally: Child’s play!

“Early developmental movement patterns” is the more scientific name for child’s play. It is universally accepted to be the foundation of healthy development. Interesting fact is that highly trained athletes might struggle with many of the most basic movements that children need to master in order to be considered school-ready! How much more likely is it then that we, the general populous, might struggle with the most basic ways to move.

As we struggle to move we become inhibited, because the brain no longer senses safety. As we are inhibited to move – our resilience drops. As our resilience drops so our self esteem drops and symptoms of anxiety, depression, aggression etc. start developing.

In short we can assist the brain to sense safety by starting to move like a baby!! As we feel safe we start moving more which builds resilience. And as we build resilience we start to feel more in control.

Reigniting the early developmental movement patters and combining them with facilitated group work assists with managing anger and aggression; coping with stress; dealing with anxiety and depression; assists with the recovery process from injury, illness or addiction – it is a tool that can be used when going through any life’s challenges to encourage a sense of safety which in turn allows resilience to grow.

For more information on our programme please call Andrea on 0723756089 or email me on info@familycounsellingcentre.co.za