I want to share with you three of the most profound lessons I have learned in my spiritual journey that have helped me heal from 30 years of depression and anxiety. If you continue to struggle with depression and anxiety, despite therapy and medication, this article may help you come to a deeper understanding of the critical shifts you may need to make.
Healing from anxiety and depression does not come from talking about our pain, revisiting past traumas, or coming to a cognitive understanding of why we have depression. Freedom from depression and anxiety requires vital shifts in our habitual ways of being in this world. Having struggled through thirty years of depression, I do know that these shifts are hard to make. Changing our behavior patterns requires immense commitment and a willingness to look at our maladaptive behaviors and thinking patterns. I also know that when we are genuinely committed to change, it is possible to do so and transform lifelong habits in a relatively short time.
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Lesson #1: The past does not define your future
How much of your life do you spend thinking about the past? Maybe you spent a lot of your time revisiting painful memories, trying to make sense of why things happened as they did? Or maybe you’re trying to rationalize another’s behavior, or re-writing old conversations? When you continuously re-examine past events, your brain actually releases the same chemicals as the original event. If for example, you continue thinking about, and talking about past abuse, your brain releases all the same stress hormones and chemically takes you back to that moment. Your body cannot tell past memories from present reality, which is why by continuously remembering and recounting your past, you continually re-traumatize yourself.
Yet, your past does not define your future. You get to decide what you want your future to look and feel like. Spend time every day visualizing and feeling that future version of yourself as though you have already arrived. Just as your mind cannot tell past from present, it also cannot tell present from future. Through this visualization process, your brain will start creating new neural connections and will release the feel-good hormones your future version requires.
Lesson 2: The only thing that ever holds you back are your thoughts
Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” What are the most predominant thoughts you carry? How do you speak to yourself? Your thoughts determine your quality of life. Nothing can derail you faster than negative thinking. Do you ever pay attention to the thoughts inside your head? Have you noticed how negative thinking can tank your mood more quickly than anything anyone else could ever say or do? When you have these negative thoughts, do you believe them? Do you allow them to stop you?
I always tell my clients that a thought is just a made-up story. Stories you have told yourself for a long time become beliefs. In other words, your beliefs are nothing more than thoughts that you have carried for a long time. Start telling yourself a more empowering story, and start noticing how much that will improve your mood, and how much it will change your life experience.
Lesson #3: Personal growth is a continuous process
I hate to be the one to tell you, but there is no end station to your quest to heal. There will always be another layer, another memory, another trigger. As long as we live in a world with outside influences and people we cannot control, there will always be another lesson. When you encounter hurtful behavior or emotional setbacks, say a prayer of gratitude that another layer has been exposed and that you have the opportunity to heal on a deeper level.
Much of our pain really does arise from the resistance of what is. By opening up to the profound wisdom in pain, we learn self-compassion, empathy, and resilience. Each time another event occurs, we get to sharpen our skills, learn some new ones, and emerge stronger. I hope these three spiritual lessons will help you to look at your healing journey in a new light. I do acknowledge these shifts can be challenging to master. But it does not take years to heal at a deep core level, to learn these tools and then forge ahead in creating a more joyful, balanced life. It only requires your commitment to change old habits, to trust your ability to heal, and to change your thinking.