Some days all we feel we can hope for is reprieve from the constancy of pain. Depression is the #1 most common struggle that people at HeartSupport experience, plaguing a whopping 70% of all our users. Anxiety was #2 with over 40% of people experiencing it as well. And these two problems alone account for millions of prescriptions and therapy sessions. More than that, though, these two problems have been claimed to kill more dreams, steal more joy, and limit more potential than any other emotional problem people experience on the planet.
And I think the question we all hope to ask is…how do we keep these things from taking over my life? Killing my dreams, stealing my joy, ruining my life? As I’m experiencing depression and anxiety, how do I live the life I want to live and not the life of wasted potential and abundant regret?
What I’ve come to find in my own journey and in the journeys of many other HeartSupporters is that there are some key realizations we can all make to set us free from these things controlling our lives. And if we choose to engage life with these truths in mind, depression and anxiety will lose all of its power, and we’ll be able to take back the things we once felt were being held hostage. Here are the three realizations that will help you break free from the grips of depression and anxiety:
1) realize you are not your feelings
Imagine yourself sitting in a car in a parking lot by yourself. There are no other cars around, and you wanted it that way because you drove there to think. Zoom out from the driver seat and look at yourself as if you were sitting on the passenger side. Watch yourself feel the fears and the anxieties that run through your mind on a daily basis. Watch yourself feel the depression, the sadness, the lack of motivation that keeps you stuck. Watch yourself feel the anger at the people who have caused you pain and the situations in life that aren’t changing your way. Imagine watching yourself as each of these emotions pass through your mind.
The very fact that you can do what you just did, that you can observe the emotions you feel, that you can separate yourself from them is the very reason you are not your feelings. As humans, we have the unique ability that no other living being has to think about our own thoughts, our own emotions, our own experiences. We can separate ourselves from them, examine them, exercise curiosity around them, change them, select them, craft them ourselves. Who we are at our core is completely separate from these things. Realizing that we are not our feelings gives us space from letting these things control our lives. If we are not our feelings, then our feelings are something that affects us, but they are not us. And in realizing that, we can realize that these things do not control or determine who we are or what we do.
2) realize that your feelings don’t make your choices
At some point, most humans attribute their actions to their emotions: “Well, I did that because I felt ____.” We say things like, “I felt tempted to relapse, and that’s why that happened.” Or, “I felt depressed, so that’s why I didn’t do anything yesterday.”
The truth is, our feelings don’t make those choices. They influence them, but they do not determine them. It is the difference between a teacher recommending that you do your homework and you making the choice to actually do it. A teacher could come up to you and tell you all of the reasons you should do your homework. They can mention the benefits it will have on your grades, your career, your future. They can talk about the discipline it builds, the satisfaction it gives, the sense of pride you’d develop. They can use the best persuasion techniques; they could bribe you; they could threaten you. But in the end, the best thing they could ever do is influence you. In the end, when you go home, their words might ring through your thoughts as you plop your backpack down. But you are the one that chooses to take out the binder and complete the assignment, OR, you are the one that chooses to ignore their influence and play video games or hang out with friends.
In the same way, our feelings can only influence the decisions we make for ourselves. They can make us feel like we should do one thing our shouldn’t do another, just like a persuasive teacher. But in the end, when the decision is being made, when our course of action is being selected, our teacher doesn’t make the decision for us, and neither do our feelings. They are something separate from us. They are something that we experience. They are not who we are, and in the end, they do not make our decision for us…we do. They influence; we choose.
3) realize you can choose a better life even when you don’t feel like it
And if our emotions don’t determine our choices, we can start to take back power over our lives we used to think we didn’t have. If ultimately, at the end of the day, we get to choose what we do, the good news is, we can make better choices for ourselves in light of what we ultimately want and not just what we feel in the moment.[clickToTweet tweet=”We can make choices in light of what we ultimately want & not just what we feel in the moment.” quote=”We can make better choices for ourselves in light of what we ultimately want and not just what we feel in the moment.”]
For example, if we are afraid or anxious about walking up to someone and making a new friend or even putting ourselves out there for a romantic interest, we can choose to walk up to them anyways and start a conversation. We can make a decision even when we feel afraid. Whether we make the friend or score the date doesn’t matter because in the end, we are proving to ourselves that our fear is not in control of our choices…we are.
If we feel depressed or unmotivated to work or write our book or compose a song, we can choose to sit down and do those things anyways. These feelings of depression or of discouragement or of disinterest do not have to determine what we do in the end. We can sit down and write anyways. We can choose to create even when we are not feeling inspired. We can power through a work project even when we feel like it’s impossible. We can make progress in our lives even when we feel like our lives have no purpose. We can choose any action, any decision no matter what we feel. We can continuously choose things that would make our lives better.
And what’s interesting is that in the end, our choices influence our feelings. If we are sad, and we choose to smile or to go out with friends or to do something that makes us happy even though we feel sad, our choices will change our emotions. We will start to feel in accordance with the choices that we make. If we feel depressed and we choose to do something that gives us purpose even though we feel like it’s pointless, we start to feel like our lives have more meaning.
Whatever you’re feeling is real. There is no discredit to your emotions or to the situations that you’ve faced or that you’re going through now. Rather, we need to take an honest look at responsibility: your feelings are not responsible for your choices. You are! And this is good news. You are not determined by the weather. You are not determined by the pain other people cause you. You are not determined by the way you feel when you wake up. You are determined by the choices that you yourself determine. Your fear, your anxiety, your depression, your anger—these things do not run your life.
Realize now that you are not these things. Realize that they do not make your decisions for you. Most importantly, realize that you can make choices that shape your life the way you want it to be even when your feelings want to influence you otherwise. When you exercise these realizations, you will release yourself from the grips of depression and anxiety to a vibrant life that continuously progresses towards purpose, joy, and love. You just have to choose it.