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In part 2 of my series on the four main roads out of anxiety and depression, we’ll learn the first of four roads out of anxiety and depression.
But first, a little background on all four.
These all target the mind, how you and I process the things that happen to us. In the last episode, we called this “reframing the narrative,” meaning we choose to view even the stressful things that happen to us in a new and positive way.
All four roads are grounded in a very powerful form of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT for short. I’ve done a series on CBT before, but it’s a topic worth covering again.
There are literally hundreds of CBT techniques we could talk about. But I’ve found they all fall into one of four groups. So, I call them the four roads (or the 4 R’s) out of anxiety or depression.
Here’s Road #1: Do Your RESEARCH.
Imagine you and I are research scientists.
We’re working on an experiment, and we’re pretty sure we already know how it’s going to end.
But then we get some data that goes against our theory.
Now, the objective thing to do is to use the new data to rework the theory.
But that’s not what we do.
Instead, we try to rework the data to make it fit our theory. Or even worse, we toss it because it doesn’t fit our view of things.
Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Yet this is exactly what you and I often do when we suffer from depression and anxiety. We pay attention only to the information in our environment that jives with our sad or scary worldview. We ignore the rest.
We often don’t even know we’re doing this until others point it out. But there’s a pretty easy fix for it:
Examining the evidence for and against our viewpoint.
And then we go where the evidence leads us. Here are some questions we can ask:
- What’s the evidence for or against my belief?
- Am I using all evidence available to me?
- Is the quality of my evidence so good that everyone would agree with me?
Here’s another example:
Being our own defense attorney.
Sometimes, when we’re depressed, we accuse ourselves of things we’re not really guilty of.
So, imagine that you are the defense attorney preparing evidence for the case.
The twist here is that you are defending yourself against, well, yourself.
But the important point here is, it’s not your job to pass judgment. You don’t have to believe your client is innocent, or even to like him/her. But it is your job to defend him/her the best you can.
You do this by picking apart the prosecution’s case, demanding proof and challenging all the evidence. So you ask questions like:
- What’s the evidence for and against the charge?
- How do we think a fair, unbiased jury would look at this evidence?
- Are there any other fair explanations for the defendant’s actions?
We tend to be harsher on ourselves than others. So, pretending to be our own defense attorney can help us stay more objective than we would be otherwise.
The main idea behind this first road is pretty simple:
We weigh all the evidence for and against our point of view.
Which means sometimes we will find that a negative thought is true, at least partly. This happens, right? Sometimes bad stuff happens.
Let’s say you or I mess up an important project at work or school. Our immediate, knee-jerk thoughts are:
- “I failed.”
- “I’m such an idiot.”
- “What will others think? They probably think I’m an idiot, too.”
The thing is, sometimes negative thoughts have bits of truth in them. Everyone fails sometimes, and sometimes others will judge us for it.
But here’s the important question to ask: “Why would this matter?”
We also examine our deeper thoughts.
Maybe it matters because, deeper down, we’re also thinking:
- “If I don’t succeed at everything I do, then I’m a failure as a human being.”
- “I can’t be happy unless everyone approves of me.”
These deeper thoughts are obviously wrong.
They’re like dark undercurrents in our mind, pulling us emotionally to places that we should not go, making us feel sad and down on ourselves.
We should not let ourselves get caught in these dangerous undercurrents, like needing a perfect success rate, or 100% approval by others.
Instead, we can reframe the narrative by turning the failure into a learning opportunity. “So I failed at this project. What can I learn from it?”
Conclusion & Action Steps
The first road out of anxiety and depression is to do our research, examining the evidence for and against our negative thoughts.
When you are having negative thoughts, try the following:
- Act like a scientist, digging through the evidence for or against your thought. Use the questions above as a helpful guide.
- Act as your own defense attorney, trying to defend yourself against negative accusations as best you can.
- Dig for deeper negative thoughts that might be contributing toward your anxiety or depression.
These steps can help us bypass a lot of stress that might otherwise develop into full-blown anxiety and depression.Become a Patron!
Dr. Pamela Coburn-Litvak has published research articles on exercise and stress in Neuroscience and Neurobiology of Learning and Behavior. Her latest book, Leaving the Shadowland of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, was published in 2020.
After receiving a Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she served as both Assistant Professor of Physiology & Pharmacology and Special Assistant to the Vice President for Research Affairs at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California. She then joined the Biology department at Andrews University and developed courses in human physiology as well as the neurobiology of mental illness. She also founded Rock @ Science LLC, a company that specializes in health and science education and web development. She co-developed the brain and body physiology segment of the Stress: Beyond Coping seminar with its creator, Dr. William “Skip” MacCarty, DMin.
Dr. Coburn-Litvak currently lives in California with her husband. Their two daughters are mostly grown and attending school elsewhere.
When she’s not studying or teaching about stress, she enjoys stress-relieving activities like puttering around the garden, taking nature walks with her family, knitting, cooking, and reading.