Monday, March 21, 2011

Feelings . . . Woh-Woh-Woh

I slept badly last night. Every time I woke up, I felt anxious. I had no idea why. So, of course, I started thinking through my life until I found something I might have reason to be anxious about -- which then gave that anxious feeling an object to focus on and feed on. Ugh.

In grad school, I read a study about a clinic that served patients with severe anxiety disorders. They discovered that the feeling people have during panic attacks -- the feeling that they're having a heart attack or something terrible like that -- that feeling is not so much a symptom as it is a cause. Their patients, for the most part, were experiencing the body's normal reactions to normal anxiety (quicker heartbeat, sweaty palms, faster breathing .... a bit more elevated than the average person would have, but still normal) and interpreting them incorrectly. They thought something was terribly wrong with them . . which made them more anxious . . which increased the symptoms . . which confirmed their fears and made them even more anxious . . and they eventually cycled into a full-blown panic attack.

When they taught their patients about the body's normal reactions to everyday anxiety and behavioral techniques to deal with them, 90-some percent of their patients had no more attacks. And these were all patients who couldn't survive without medication before this. My Jersey friend Peggy had a similar treatment and was cured of years and years of panic attacks.

At the time, I was fascinated by this study because I applied the idea to my depression problems. I would find myself, randomly, feeling a bit blue. There could have been any number of reasons for this: I was tired, I was coming down with a cold, I'd been home alone with a baby too long, I was coming off a sugar high from eating half a box of Apple Jacks. But I would think, "I'm depressed. Why am I depressed?" Well, if you look hard enough, you can always find something in your life to feel depressed about. I'm so unfulfilled in my work . . my husband doesn't understand me . . yada yada. So then I would obsess over this terrible situation in my life, get more depressed, finish the box of Apple Jacks, get more depressed, pout on the sofa, get more depressed . . . and ultimately I nursed that little blue feeling into a full-blown depressive episode.

In small group last night, we talked (well, I talked) a little bit about how deceptive our feelings can be. I've come to not trust my feelings very much. They're too easily affected by things -- the weather, the time of the month, "a bit of underdone potato", as Ebenezer Scrooge says. My feelings are not reality. My feelings do not define truth. I grow increasingly disturbed by the world's mantra to "listen to your heart". The Bible tells us the heart is "deceptive above all things". That's pretty darned deceptive.

The truth is, I have nothing in my life to feel anxious about. And even if I did, my feeling anxious would do nothing to solve the problem. Take that, stupid hormones.


Ona Marae said...

I took a DBT class about manageing emotions and dealing with emotional distress. We learned EXACTLY the same thing, with a different example....a snake. They told us that emotions are like finding a snake. Perhaps a woman is depressed and that is the head of the snake. But if you don't recognize that depression is just depression, you look for the body of the snake and maybe you "find" that your husband doesn't find you attractive anymore and you feel more depressed. IF you can cut off the head of the snake, BEFORE you go searching for the body, all you have to deal with is the head instead of the secondary feelings and thoughts. Sounds like your study, huh?

I try to remember that with my depression and sometimes I am sucessful...far more often than i used to be! It's harder with my hypomania, but I try there too. Next I guess will be my anxiety, which may be the most difficult of all!

Thanks for your reflections!

Connect said...

Thanks Gwen!! Good stuff!