Gaining control again


Floating next to sailing boat

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I am reading about causes of depression at the moment and I have come across a very current topic. Depression caused by uncontrollable events and learned helplessness. Martin Hautzinger (Akute Depression, 2012) writes about experimental studies that show insecurity, fear, drawing back, passive behaviour and giving up to learn new things caused by the loss of control around us. If it gets even worse, some might experience lack of appetite, loss of weight and resignation. Let’s not let it get that far! Do something about it.

We are finding ourselves in an unprecedented time when we are forced to tolerate the outside circumstances. We seem to be drifting away from our safe anchor in life. As an individual we are unable to take control over major decisions in our life, e.g. going out, meeting people, going to work, living our dream, you know the restrictions by heart I assume. This lack of control can kick off old patterns of helplessness from the past. We all have experienced helplessness in one way or another. We can’t influence it a great deal that it happens to us but we can take control over the way we look at it.

If we felt overwhelmed making decisions in the past we might experience an echo of those feelings. What are the decisions in your life you felt you didn’t make fully consciously? Did you move to the country because you wanted to, did you take the job you desired, are you with the person you chose to be with? We might be reminded today of the feeling of helplessness of the past. Maybe buried away for many years but now experiencing a major come back. Subconsciously we know how helpless, fearful and angry we felt back then when we didn’t either have the ability to control or didn’t choose to take control. Now the mixture of uncontrollable events and the lack of social support can lead into a spiral of depression and anxiety.

How do we break out from this? How do you avoid letting yourself stream down the line of depression caused by helplessness? There are certainly many approaches to overcome depression and anxiety and not every approach fits everyone. I believe that everyone has their own story, therefore requires an individual healing. However, I would like to run through a “simple” model following four steps: 1. Own it, 2. reflect, 3. define and 4. start.

  1. The first, most important and most difficult one is to admit the situation. Own the feeling that it is hard at the moment and that we struggle with a situation we can’t control.
  2. Once this is done, we can look at our own history. What have you gone through so far to get to where you are now? What difficulties have you experienced in your life? How have you dealt with them back then? What was different in the past to the present? What person have you become with the experiences you made? If you ask yourself these and more questions about your life, you may find differences about you in the here and now compared to the person you were in the past - how you dealt with life interruptions as a younger version of yourself. Write down how you've grown, what you have managed, what you have learnt. Become aware of your strength, acknowledge them as much as you acknowledge your fear. Let the strength stand up to the fear so that the fearful part of yourself knows that you are more than that. You are more than a person living a life full of restrictions, you have strength, skills, hobbies, desires, dreams, potential and more years to come.
  3. Once you are aware of your full history with the bad and the good stuff, start writing your new present and new future. Define what you want and who you want to become as colourful and bright as you can. Dare to think wide and open, be courageous to try something new and learn a new skill.
  4. Last but most importantly, start now! Don’t wait for tomorrow, start today with a little step. Don’t expect to conquer all your dreams in one day - you know Rome wasn’t built… Make an adjustment to behaviour of yesterday. It doesn’t need to be a major change, small steps last longer. Pick one positive item on your list of desires and turn them into your new past. And then do it again, and again and again, and again.

So in theory, the steps are to be aware of the situation, reflect the past with its bad and good experiences, define the present and future and start living it…. Easy in theory but any process is never what you expect it to be. There are milestones on the way but if you ask yourself, what you have to lose - you will come to the right decision for you. Pursue what you want to do in your life, stay on track and unfold the life you want!

If you want to know more or feel you could do with some support through this process, feel free to contact me.

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