There is a lot of confusion out there about what the differences are between major stress, depression and anxiety.
Many symptoms, such as overwhelm, anger, feelings of worthlessness, lack of energy, lack of enthusiasm for life can seem to occur in all of these ‘diagnosed’ disorders.
One minute you could be feeling stressed, the next anxious, only to end the day completely falling apart in tears and feeling like a failure. It may seem like you do all three of these disorders simultaneously and aren’t sure which medication you should be taking from one moment to the next. I mean are you suffering from stress, depression or anxiety?
Well today I’m going to teach you the difference between all three of these disorders. You may remember that I touched on this at the beginning of this program in Week One – Day Three: The relationship between Stress, Depression & Anxiety. It is worth however, repeating this explanation because now, after ten weeks of learning, you have much more of an understanding about your specific beliefs, how you attach your self-worth to your beliefs and also, have gained specific insight into your habitual thinking patterns.
Because of this, my explanation about stress, depression and anxiety is likely to make more sense.
It’s important to remember that all stress is formed because of a conflict between belief and reality. It is never an event that causes us to feel stressed, it is how we perceive that event (through our beliefs) and more importantly, what we have perceived this event to mean about me (my self-worth and my quality of life). There is ALWAYS a self-worth component behind ALL stress and stress disorders.
Even though stress, depression and anxiety can seem like they are the same, there are actually very distinct differences between them and knowing these differences and using the Mind TRACK to Happiness process in a very specific way to upgrade and change your thinking, can help stop you from experiencing these mental disorders.
So this is what we are going to talk about this week, applying the TRACK process specifically to stress, depression and anxiety and other common emotions such as anger, guilt, overwhelm and the pressure to ‘get life/motherhood right’.
First though, I would like to reiterate the differences between the three disorders and how our beliefs are responsible for each disorder being present in our lives. Remember, you do not ‘have’ depression, anxiety or stress. It is what you ‘do’ because of the beliefs you hold about life.
Psychological Stress – “My Life is not going to plan”
Let’s paint a scenario for you:
Ever since you were a little girl you have wanted to become a mum and have children of your own. It was a no-brainer. You just figured that eventually you would get married, fall pregnant, have your 2.3 children and live happily ever after, just like you were taught would happen in the fairytale books and movies that entertained you.
You got to the marriage bit okay, got pregnant okay, but somehow between then and 3 months after your child was born, you are still waiting for the happily ever after part.
Having never been a parent before, you of course, expected labour to hurt, but that it would go ahead normally, however your baby got stuck, they pulled out the fauceps, the suction cap and eventually all of your hard work ended in an emergency caesarian. You felt a little bit disappointed with how that turned out, but felt like you could get over that.
Unfortunately though, regardless of your repetitive attempts, you are struggling to breastfeed. Your nipples feel like they are hanging of the edge of your breasts, you are in excruciating pain, your baby is not getting enough to eat (because blood is clearly not a nutritious supplement for milk) and you are forced to put your child onto formula. On top of this your child is very unsettled and will not sleep for longer than 2 hours at a time 24 hours a day.
You are feeling like your life is a far cry from the happily ever after that you were promised. I think it would be safe to say that life has not gone to plan and you are feeling quite stressed.
But what is actually causing your stress? Psychological stress fundamentally comes down to the beliefs that life is not meeting the plan you believe it should or that you expected it to, which you therefore believe means something about you and your life. Because my life is not going to plan, what does that say about me? I’m not a worthy person. You may not believe that is makes you a completely worthless person if you are experiencing stress, but to some degree you believe that the events occuring in your life are devaluing your quality of life in some way.
In this situation, perhaps you had an expectation that you would have a calm, natural, drug-free labour. Perhaps you had expectations on how you would be able to handle the challenges that came with a newborn or perhaps you didn’t expect that there were even going to be any problems.
The stress comes because what you are now experiencing (reality) is in direct conflict with these expectations or ‘pictures’ that you had in your mind of how life was ‘supposed’ to go. To some degree you had your self-worth (how good you were going to be as a mother & your happily ever after – quality life) pinned to how your life was ‘supposed to go’ and now it hasn’t happened you now engage in conversations about how ‘bad’ this is and this thinking causes the physical response of stress.
You will read and see many definitions of stress relating to the events that occur in people’s lives, like the pressure of work, the demands of motherhood, poverty, a marriage break up, having to make a difficult decision etc. However if it were the events that caused you to feel stress then everyone that encountered these events would feel psychological stress, however not everyone does. This is because we all perceive these events differently because we all hold different beliefs and all have different habits of thinking.
Each of us have been brought up in different environments that have taught us the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to live our lives. Furthermore we are taught that the only way to be a valuable person is to live the right way. The ‘right way’ for one person is completely different for another.
Underneath any of the reasons why one person does one thing over another will be what they believe about being a valuable, worthy person.
Stress occurs when you perceive that your life’s value and your self-worth are in jeopardy because life has not gone to plan.
Depression – “I am a failure”
Anyone who is suffering from depression, has first gone through stress. They have perceived that their life is not meeting their expectations and going according to the plan that they believe is the ‘right way’ for a life to go and they are feeling like their self-worth / quality of life has diminished to some degree.
After viewing your life not going to plan for a while, you start to look for reasons why your life is not going to plan and your finger ends up pointing back to yourself. “It’s my fault. I am to blame [for my life not going to plan]. “I am a failure.”
When someone draws this conclusion when life has not gone to plan, they then begin to give up on their lives. This can happen with one or more areas of life, or in many cases, all areas of life. The reasoning, is, “Why bother. Why bother trying to set any goals in this area of my life because I am just a failure.”
Incidentally, how does it feel to be a failure? It doesn’t feel very good does it? So if I’m viewing myself as a failure every time I attempt to try and be successful at this area of my life that is only going to cause me further pain. So what do I do? I stop setting goals and stop trying to succeed in this area of my life. I protect myself from pain by avoiding doing anything in that area of my life.
This can happen in motherhood, work, relationships or any other area in life. The comments to look out for are “Why Bother. I am a failure. I don’t care anymore what happens. I couldn’t be bothered.”
Again, it is not the events that are causing this depression, it is your perception that these events make you a failure because life has not met your beliefs on the ‘right life’.
In the example that we used above, if a mother has experienced all of these things and is now feeling like a failure, it is because she has pinned her self-worth on motherhood meeting her expectations/ her beliefs and because that has not happened, she now believes that is a direct reflection on her as a person and as a mother.
It can be incredibly soul-crushing to believe that you have failed at motherhood. After all, it’s meant to be a natural thing for a woman to do, isn’t it? “If I can’t get this right, out of all the experiences I have in my life, then what good am I? Furthermore, what sort of quality of life does my child get if they are getting such a terrible mother like me?”
Of course, none of these comments are actual truth, but this is the misperceptions about the problems that occur in our life (and in this case, motherhood). It is the misunderstandings about what defines our self-worth to begin with and also, the reality of life.
This is why all stress (including depression) is a conflict between beliefs and reality. In order to correct depression, we must correct this conflict by educating you to re-learn the truth about life and your self-worth.
Generalised Anxiety – “I must control & prevent”
The thought process that goes on to take one’s stress into anxiety, is a little different to the path that depression takes.
Instead of believing that one is failure when life hasn’t gone to plan and feeling completely worth-less, an anxiety sufferer believes that they can control life so that it goes to plan.
Unlike a depression sufferer who stops setting goals and adopts a ‘why bother’ attitude, an anxiety sufferer sets lots of goals in order to try and control their world. They keep implementing loads of ways to get their life ‘right’ and prevent it from going ‘wrong’.
Control and prevent become the common theme to an anxiety sufferer, all with the underlying incorrect belief that there is a right way to live and a wrong way to live. If I live the wrong way then my self-worth / quality of life is in jeopardy, so I must control my life in order to prevent it from going wrong, otherwise what will that say about me and my life? You got it – worth-less (to varying degrees, depending on the person judging their worth by their life). The stronger the attachment of their worth to how their life unfolds, the more intense the anxiety is.
The pendulum swing between stress, depression and anxiety
Why these three disorders can be so confusing, even to many health professionals, is because of your ability to swing from one to the next from moment to moment.
The bottom line is that your thoughts are what are creating your feelings and it is easy for your thoughts to go from depressive thoughts, onto anxiety thoughts and back again very quickly. Here’s how:
After feeling stressed that life hasn’t gone to plan, you can easily draw the conclusion that you are a failure and give up on trying to get life to go ‘back on track’. You may wallow, feel sad, stay in bed for a while, but then you get thinking, “I can’t just sit here like this. I have to get up and do something.” You begin setting goals again, going for things that will get your life back on track where it’s ‘supposed to be’.
You then go into control and prevent mode, thinking, “I must get my life to go to plan and back on track and I must do everything not to go back to where I was when I was depressed. You fall into anxiety mode, feeling anxious whenever a situation presents itself that becomes a threat to your life’s plan (your beliefs about the way life’s supposed to go).
Similarly you may go straight from the stress of ‘life not going to plan’ to anxiety, thinking that now that life hasn’t gone to plan you must put things into place (setting lots of goals) in order to get life back on track. You become anxious about the outcome of these goals, holding on tight to their fruition for fear of losing them. You try and control every little thing you can and you go into surveillance mode, searching for any potential threat to you achieving your goal and staying on track with your perceived ‘right’ path.
What can often happen then, is that when you cannot control and something does go ‘wrong’ and you deviate from your ‘right’ path, or your ‘right’ life, you feel really bad and start thinking “Why bother. I am a failure”. This is where the depression kicks in.
Often this is when people go to their doctors and are described with depression. The doctor would be correct, because you do, at this point have depression, but you probably do anxiety pretty well too. Most people (unless they are having severe panic attacks) would not go to their doctor when they are suffering from anxiety, but they will when they are feeling depressively low.
What you will find though, in all three of these stress disorders, the same theme applies. You have beliefs about how life ‘should’ be and the reality of your life is not meeting them. Because of this you believe that your self-worth is in jeopardy, or in the case of depression, it has been completely crushed.
Incorrect assumptions that life should always go to plan and incorrect beliefs about what constitutes self-worth are at the core of all three of these disorders.
When we correct the beliefs, using the reality thinking model, then you correct the disorders because no longer are you attaching your self-worth to the outcome of your life.
With stress, if life does not go to plan you and you have a healthy understanding of life’s ups and downs, then you do not feel stressed.
With depression, if life is not going to plan and you have a correct understanding of your self-worth, knowing that no matter what is happening in your life you are always 100% worthy and that there is value in everything that you experience, then you stop feeling like a failure and your depression disappears.
With anxiety, when you understand that you cannot control how your life unfolds and regardless of how your life unfolds their is always value in your experiences and you are still 100% worthy, you will no longer need life to meet your plans and your expectations in order to function in life and the anxiety will go away.
The answer to all three of these disorders is to become aware of your thinking (step one of the TRACK process – thoughts) and to upgrade this thinking to be in alignment with reality (step two of the TRACK process – reality). From here you can begin re-evaluating your goals with an accurate and healthy perception of life and self-worth.
Over the next few days, I am going to show you how to do this and stop your stress, depression and anxiety for good.