The more work and learning I do on applied psychology and coaching the more excited I get about how it can change the world.
At this point, it seems straight up ridiculous to me that we don’t teach you how to use your own brain in school. It’s kind of crazy that you have to seek out this information on your own.
This work applies to so much in your life but today I want to talk about the darker side of human psychology.
Let me ask you this:
What if your mood disorder was actually an emotional disorder?
And if emotions are caused by our thinking, then doesn’t that also mean that we have a lot more power over our dark feelings than we’ve been led to believe?
In case that makes you defensive, let’s just be clear.
It’s not your fault. But a lot of it is under your control.
Here’s what I mean by that:
It’s not your fault that no one has told you the truth about how your brain works. It’s definitely not common knowledge and you can’t be expected to just “figure it out”. In fact, personal development in general is still kind of sneered at as being self-indulgent. As a culture, we simply don’t talk about mental wellness unless there’s an evident problem. (Which is exactly like not thinking about eating healthy or exercising unless you’re actually sick!)
However, it’s also true that your emotions are caused by your thoughts and your thoughts are very much in control. Since 7 out of the 9 causes of depression and anxiety are not brain chemistry or biology, then there’s a good chance this applies to you.
Your brain is a creature of habit. It will rely on thinking the same old thoughts as often as it can, even when those thoughts aren’t healthy. On a biological level, that’s just your brain being efficient and saving time. But imagine what that means when your brain has latched onto an extremely dark and unhappy way of thinking.
Chronic stressors can result in a chronic way of thinking (and therefore feeling). But the experience can be multiplied by intense emotion experiences. Trauma, stress and grief can quickly shift from a normal reaction to something occurring in your life into your new normal. Those big jolts of negativity can effectively re-wire your brain to behave in entirely new (and unwelcome) ways.
The good news is healing doesn’t always come from a therapist or a pill.
You can look at these causes and question how they’ve fit into your own situation. Then you can begin the work of healing them.
This post isn’t about making light of anyone’s situation! My aim is to empower you here, not to shame you for something that isn’t even your fault! Again, simple knowledge is key to the healing process. The more you understand about yourself, the better you’ll be able to begin retraining your brain (and healing).
Mindset + The Real Causes Of Depression + Anxiety
Real Causes Of Depression + Anxiety Reason #1:
Disconnection From Meaningful Values
Our values give our life purpose. But it’s not like any of us were given a quiz about what our unique values are. They might be invisible to everyone else but they’ll definitely cause problems if there’s confusion around them. While unseen to most, they’re what gives your life some all-important structure.
Yet many of us end up focusing on the things in life that don’t truly offer us value. This is a result of our outwardly focused consumerist society. We’re repeatedly shown that the way to happiness is by doing: buying things, making more money, rising our careers higher and higher. While we can find happiness in some of those things, of course true happiness can only come from inside of us–not what’s hanging in our closet. In other words, striving for a full bank account or designer bag or a career designation is not guaranteed bring your life meaning.
Again, no one can figure this one out except you! So ask yourself: what are your values? What does make you happy in life? What are the themes that have displayed themselves for you at important points in your life? (And no it’s not the shoes, the career, the guy etc.)
Simply asking yourself that question can foster curiosity and a deeper understanding of yourself. If you don’t understand your core values, you might accidentally violate them–which will leave you feeling out of alignment and unhappy, without understanding the real reasons why.
Real Causes Of Depression + Anxiety Reason #2:
Disconnection From Work That Gives You Purpose
You spend 40 hours a week (or more!) at work. So is it any wonder that the way you feel about your work can have an affect on your emotional state?
Ultimately, we all want to feel like our work matters. And I’ve totally know what it’s like to not feel that way! (ie underappreciated, daily drudgery etc.) I used to get the Sunday Scaries back then: that overwhelming feeling of dread that would start (annoyingly) on Sunday afternoons. (Ooooph)
Having little control or autonomy over your work can leave you feeling like what you do doesn’t actually matter. It’s very difficult to wake up day after day feeling like that! No wonder this one can leave you feeling very much in the dumps.
However, sometimes this problem can manage itself by shifting the way we think about work. Meaning is where we find it and, while it might be hard to find that meaning in some circumstances, it’s always there if we’re willing to look.
Of course, the problem is often much deeper than that. If this resonates for you, leaving your job might not be something you can do right away. But simply acknowledging that this is an important human need is the first step. Is there something you can do to start aligning with your work? Or is there something else that you’ve always wanted to do? These are questions that might take you some time to figure out but they are well worth considering.
Real Causes Of Depression + Anxiety Reason #3:
Disconnection From Other People
Humans are definitely not solitary creatures! We need to experience life with other people around us. Personal connection is what gives our life meaning. And while you might feel that Facebook or Instagram are doing the job, they’re really not. Very often, social media actually distances us from what we really want. While we can see our friends right there in our hands, we’re also looking at literal evidence that we’re not actually with them.
However, as adults, we often let our friendships take a backseat to the rest of our lives. We get busy with work and kids and end up relying on our romantic partner for that all-important sense of connection. Of course that connection is important in itself but it’s unrealistic to expect to get everything we require only from one person. Cultivating friendships might not seem like it’s “important” but it truly is: for your own happiness and ultimately for the best interests of those around you. Without shared meaningful experiences, the world we live
Real Causes Of Depression + Anxiety Reason #4:
Childhood trauma is highly linked to depression and anxiety. But of course, your childhood trauma is not your fault! However, it’s one thing to know that on a conscious level. What your subconscious really thinks is often very different.
We often have unreleased pain, shame and anger from these events in our past. But trauma cannot be processed simply by us telling ourselves we’re over it, that we “should” be over it or that it was never really there. You must learn how to process in order to heal.
Again, these issues can point to the habitual nature of the human brain. The emotions you experienced as a child are very well practiced by now! Your brain is used to going back to those dark places over and over again, which might leave you feeling frustrated and out of control as an adult.
While you cannot change the events from your past, you can shift the way you think about them.
Real Causes Of Depression + Anxiety Reason #5:
R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me!
Respect is basic dignity and a basic human right. So when we feel disrespected by our peers, our boss, our partner etc. that can do a whole lot of damage to our emotions.
Let’s face it: it’s downright exhausting to have to argue and stand up for yourself over and over again. While objectively you know that you’re due respect (just as anyone is) having to fight for your own over and over again might confuse your subconscious mind. After all, if you really deserved it, would you have to fight so hard to get it?
In a perfect world, everyone would respect us all the time. But in reality, we’re also responsible for showing others how we wish to be treated. That’s not to put the blame on you for someone else’s behavior! But it is up to you what you do and do not accept in your life.
Similarly, sometimes it’s the idea of respect that we’ve lost. If you’ve recently lost a relationship, a job, money etc. perhaps the disrespect you’re feeling is coming from you. When you’ve tied your idea of yourself to these external things, then it can be devastating to lose them.
If this is ringing a bell for you, it might be time to draw some boundaries for yourself. You deserve relationships that serve you, not ones that bring you down. The action you take here might be simply having a much-needed conversation with someone or it might mean removing yourself from a toxic situation. As an adult, you don’t owe anyone your energy, even if that person is a parent or partner. Or perhaps you need to work on your thoughts to the point that other people’s opinions don’t matter to you so much.
At the end of the day, only you determine your own worth, no matter what anyone else has to say about it.
Real Causes Of Depression + Anxiety Reason #6:
Disconnection From The Natural World
We might live in a modern glass condominium. We might be on our phones 24/7. But underneath it all, we still belong to the natural world.
When faced with our mortality in relation to the bigger picture of the world, we might feel small. But we also feel as though we’re part of something so much bigger than ourselves–and that’s comforting.
We’re meant to roam free, to experience nature, to harness some of our inherent wildness. Animals in captivity develop compulsive and depressive behaviors–and also lose their inherent desire for sex! (That’s why animals in captivity are difficult to breed.)
While you can’t return to the wild per se, how can you honor your inner wild nature? Where do you need to roam free? To experience adventure and novelty? To see, feel and breathe in elements of Mother Earth?
We all need to be outdoors and to see nature. We need to experience sunrises, sunsets, wind on our faces, sand under our feet.
Depressed or anxious people who are told to spend more time exercising or being outdoors often find that advice frustrating. And yes, it might not appear to make sense on the surface. But you were not meant to thrive on Facebook and Netflix! Even if this idea doesn’t resonate with you at first, please take it into consideration anyway. Perhaps some part of you is missing out on this essential part of the human experience.
Real Causes Of Depression + Anxiety Reason #7:
Loss Of Hope For A Better Future
Let’s face it: being given a diagnosis that you are depressed or have anxiety can be debilitating on its own. Labels are useful at times of course. But when they suddenly imply that we have no hope for our future, a harmless label can suddenly become a sentence.
A diagnosis (whether it’s for a mood disorder or not) can result in feeling discouraged and down. Similarly, getting caught up in the never-ending negative news cycle can leave us feeling both helpless and hopeless. So can being told something negative about your future by a fortune teller, like a tarot card reader or astrologist.
We don’t often think of the bigger consequences but cutting off a person’s sense of hope can lead to depression, anxiety–or in extreme situations, even death! Losing the will to live is something even skilled doctors will find it hard to come back from.
Be very careful who’s words you trust in! Always be wary of who or what is limiting your future. Even those people in white doctor’s coats can do us a lot of damage in this regard.
I want you to know there is always hope. Please know that you are so much more than any label. Know that you always have control over your life on so many levels. And please remember that news companies profit off of keeping us feeling scared and uncertain.
An Important Note
Please don’t go throwing out your meds or stopping treatment after reading this article! I am not a medical professional and this information is not meant to replace what your doctor tells you. Being on medication is nothing to be ashamed of and it is immensely helpful for many people. My aim is to empower you, not to replace your current treatment.
So what do you think? Did any of these concepts resonate with you? In what ways can you apply this knowledge to your own experience?
If there’s one key takeaway I want to give you from this post, it’s that you always have so much more control over your brain and your entire life experience than you’ve been led to believe! Working with your thoughts doesn’t come naturally but it really can shift the way feel radically for the better.