Often the things we are forced to confront in our lives can seem incredibly powerful and overwhelming. We are working with an evolving world that usually doesn’t wait for us to catch up and isn’t very good at giving us all the details.
We all encounter problems of this sort, but with anxiety and depression it can sometimes feel like your entire life is an unsolvable problem; everything you think about instantly sends you into spirals of self-doubt and worry.
How often is it really the case that we are in “dire” situations?
Is our worry really inherent to an outside problem, or is it only a function of the way we choose to react to a given situation?
This type of questioning is characteristic of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. Instead of seeing pills as a solution to problems like depression and anxiety, CBT emphasizes slowly making behavioral changes that will eventually lead to a more positive view of life.
Luckily, this approach is becoming more widely accepted and it is not difficult to find therapists who use CBT to treat anxiety and depression. Although a therapist trained in CBT will be best able to help you work with your psychological problems, there is also a great iPhone app I recently discovered called MoodKit (credit to Discover Magazine for covering it first).
MoodKit has many features based on CBT that work with you to evaluate your responses to situations that make you feel uncomfortable. One of the most valuable features is one that takes you through a process of evaluating your thoughts and feelings. You are first prompted to describe a thought or feeling, then to choose associated emotions and rate them on a scale of 1-100, 1 being totally calm and 100 being panic attack. You are then asked to come up with a better way to react to the initial problem, and finally to rerate the severity of your emotions.
I was shocked the first time I went through this exercise to see how drastically different I had rated my emotions just minutes apart. I went from being at an 85 to a 20 simply by reevaluating my response and taking time to think through my choices.
Without medication, I had lessened my anxiety in just a few minutes (of course it’s not a permanent fix: in order to see long-term results, it is necessary to keep up this kind of practice every day). While this approach is useful in treating psychological conditions, it doesn’t stop there.
Many small, seemingly unimportant choices we make can have a large cumulative effect on the environment. Leaving a light on, an appliance plugged in, or taking that extra plastic bag at the store, for example. However, with a more conscious approach to energy and natural resource use, it is possible to make an impact on the world that you may not have even noticed otherwise.
Furthermore, by paying more attention to minor environmental choices, you will see a more direct connection between your own life and the future of our planet. Like anxiety and depression, environmental degradation and climate change can seem like insurmountable problems: a rating of 99, to use the MoodKit scale. But when you make yourself a part of the changing environment it seems like a 10 or 15. It isn’t possible to escape environmental concerns completely, but you have the power to decide whether that concern empowers you or overpowers you.