In addition to specializing in treating physical symptoms, clinicians at the Pain Psychology Center are experienced working with patients suffering from depression and anxiety. Anxiety and depression can impair quality of life and level of functioning as much as chronic pain. The following paragraphs offer a brief description of why anxiety and depression develop and how they can be resolved.
As strange as it sounds, anxiety is our body's way of trying to help us stay out of trouble.
Our ancestors lived in much more dangerous conditions than we do. Imagine that you're out taking a walk, and a saber toothed tiger leaps out in front of you. The body, sensing this threat, induces an anxiety attack. This anxiety attack sends us into what is called a "fight or flight" state. We can either run faster or fight harder than under normal circumstances. Our body has triggered this anxiety to give us a better chance of surviving in the face of a physical threat. It's trying to help us.
Well in this day and age, there's not as many threats to our survival as there was thousands of years ago, and anxiety attacks have different triggers: an important job interview, a big presentation, or a final exam worth half of your grade. These are not physical threats, but psychological threats.
Let's say you have a big job interview coming up. If you get the job, you feel great about yourself, if you don't you feel badly about yourself. This potential of feeling like a failure is a threat to our self-esteem: a psychological threat. But our bodies can't tell the difference between a physical threat and a psychological threat, so an anxiety attack may result. Our bodies are trying to help us, they're simply misinterpreting the signals.
Sometimes people feel general anxiety throughout the day, in which case the body is in a continual state of "fight or flight."
In both cases, reducing the anxiety involves learning techniques to bring our bodies out of this "fight or flight" state. Additionally, it is important to address the underlying issues that led to the anxiety in the first place. Looking at the above example, the fear of feeling like a failure may be so high because of low self-esteem. Increasing self-esteem would decrease that fear associated with failure, thus significantly reducing the power of the perceived threat.
Depression often involves having low energy, a loss of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure, and feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and low self-worth. It is a very painful state to be in, and a sense of feeling defeated can often accompany it.
Depression can stem from the messages we were given as a child, from a difficult or traumatic experience, or can seemingly come out of nowhere.
Often the messages we give ourselves when we're depressed: "there's something wrong with me," "I'm not good enough," "I'll never get out of this state," serve to further promote feelings of hopelessness and low self-worth.
Overcoming depression is a function of momentum. Just like the brain can get used to feeling bad, the brain can get used to feeling good. Feeling better leads to confidence, higher self-esteem, and empowerment, and these in turn lead to feeling even better.
Many of the techniques outlined in the "Therapy Techniques" section can be used to promote and maintain this level of momentum, helping to bring oneself out of depression and into a state of joy and personal fulfillment.