Why “Just Get Over It” Doesn’t Work with Anxiety and Depression 

By Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.

We are continually bombarded with messages from the media and self-help gurus that we are in charge of our own happiness. All we need to do is buy this product ot follow that secret formula and we can get rid of anxiety and negative emotion for good.  If getting rid of negative emotions is so easy, why is it that more than 21 million children and adults get diagnosed with depression each year and that depression is the leading cause of disability for adults age 15-44? Why is it that 40 million adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder?.

The truth is that we can’t just get rid of negative emotions when we feel like it.

Below are six reasons why negative emotions l(like fear or  distress) are such a struggle for us:

(1) Our brains are wired for survival, not happiness. That is why they keep bringing up negative emotions, past mistakes, and worries about the future. We can get stuck in repetitive cycles of self-criticism, worry, and fear that interfere with our ability to be fully experience and react adaptively to what is happening in the present.

(2) It doesn’t work to just shove negative emotions down or pretend they don’t exist. Because of the survival wiring of our brains, they will be given high priority and keep popping up again in conscious experience. In fact, some research by Daniel Wegner and colleagues suggests that suppressing thoughts while in a negative mood makes it more likely both the thoughts and the negative mood will reoccur.

(3)  Our physiological systems can react to mental images and events as if they are happening in the real world. Try thinking about smelling and then biting into a lemon.  You will likely feel a change in saliva in your mouth. Now think about putting your hand on a hot stove. Do you feel your heart pounding a bit faster?  Thus, when fearful thoughts and images come into your mind, your heart starts to race or your breathing get short.

(4) Negative thoughts feed on each other. We may begin by worrying about not having enough money. Then we may think, “What if I lose my job?”  and then about all the people who won’t help us and the past mistakes we made getting into this financial situation in the first place. Before we know it, allowing ourselves to dwell on a small negative thought has led to a mental mountain of difficulties.

(5) The things we do to avoid or try to cope with feeling negative emotions may be more counterproductive than the emotions themselves. People frequently turn to alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs, such as Xanax, to escape anxiety. These substances have negative effects on mood and motivation and addictive properties. Turning to food excessively can lead to overweight or obesity and low self-esteem associated with weight gain.  Getting angry and blaming others for our negative emotions can ruin our relationships. Shopping or avoiding opening the bills can lead to mountains of debt.

So what do we do with those distressing and uncomfortable feelings? The answer is surprisingly simple – We learn to make peace with our own feelings and, by doing so, take away their power. As we begin to untangle the feelings themselves from our negative judgments about them (e.g., crying is a sign of weakness), we begin to allow them in. We learn when to listen to our feelings and when to calm them down. Once we understand the connection between events in our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings, we can better anticipate our own reactions, make better choices about how we spend our time, and prepare for emotionally “high risk” situations.  We can also use mindfulness techniques or cognitive reframing strategies to take a step back and see the issue from a broader, wiser perspective.

Psychotherapy can provide you with expert guidance, coping strategies, and emotional support to experience and express your own feelings, while staying grounded and present.  The effects of allowing in your natural, healthy emotional emotions can be transformative and empowering. You need to face your own feelings to get back in the driver’s seat of your life.

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To contact Dr. Greenberg or to find out about her services, e-mail her at melaniegreenberg@comcast.net , visit her website http://melaniegreenbergphd.com/marin-psychologist/ or read her blog – The Mindful Self-Express  http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express.

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Please visit http://www.marincountypsych.org for more information about our association and membership benefits or to locate a licensed clinical psychologist in Marin County.

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Blog Disclaimer:

The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Marin County Psychological Association. The information posted on this blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional mental health services.

Deconstructing Lust

by Mary Lamia, Ph.D.

Lust may be experienced as intense desire, ardent enthusiasm, or unbridled sexual longing. This passionate craving is attention directing and a motivational force as is the experience of any emotion. When untethered, lust can lead to actions that may appear irrational.  Even so, it can be regarded as a manifestation of unconscious emotional memories.

Like love, technically lust is not considered to be an emotion, but involves emotions such as bliss, excitement, joy, and interest, as well as the erotic anticipation of sensory pleasure. People who are in the throes of lust may lose their sensibilities, since lust seems unable to recognize the reality of a situation or motivates one to neglect it. Lust is an octane for the relentless pursuit of another person in spite of intellectual reason and sometimes regardless of emotional barriers such as guilt or shame.

At times lust is unbridled sexual attraction that seeks expression, where the physical appearance and attributes of one person ignite emotions of intense interest and excitement in another.  Yet whatever is triggered in your psyche regarding the lustful qualities of another person is something specific to your own history.  As a result, a friend might confess to you that he lusts after a certain person, and you may be baffled by his interest in someone who seems unattractive to you. Additionally, lust can lead you to fill-in unknown information about the object of your desire, assigning them perfection in your fantasies.  This is because such passion is a construct of implicit memory that becomes enhanced by conscious imagination.

Implicit memory plays a primary role in the process of falling in lust and can be considered akin to what resides in you unconsciously—emotional memories concerning early attachment and love that direct your behavior, goals, passions, and interests in the present. Phenomena regarding implicit memory have been reported as early as Decartes’ 1649 work regarding The Passions of the Soul where he observed that childhood experiences remain imprinted on the brain (cited by Schacter, 1987). Since that time, numerous philosophers and psychological researchers have found that people are affected by early impressions that are not consciously remembered. In A General Theory of Love contemporary theorists, Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (2001) describe the limbic connection that occurs in intense human relationships and how we are driven by our implicit memories. Such unconscious emotional connections that are based on attractors—patterns imprinted on the limbic system— can serve to regulate human physiology and emotional health. So limbic resonance, even in the form of reciprocated lust, serves an evolutionary purpose. Psychologist Lynn O’Connor (2002) contends that limbic resonance (unrelated to lust), such as in friendships or the relationship between a therapist and patient, results in physiological regulation.

However, early limbic connections that are less than optimal also tend to be repeated throughout life (Lewis, Amini, Lannon, 2000). Therefore, lust and the implicit memories that determine its object can be the result of either healthy or unhealthy early relationships.  It is possible that the nature and outcome of a relationship can illustrate whether a passionate interest is based on implicit memories that resulted from healthy attachments or pathologic ones.  However, the fact that relationships involve at least two individuals, each with unique implicit memory, distorts the picture and adds great complexity to deconstructing lust.

The ineffable quality of lust may be the result of another person matching the template within your implicit memory and the emotions associated with it. Lust provides a rare window through which you can view your vulnerabilities as you are swept away by your imagination.  And if you are able to face and endure the shame and disappointment that are often the outcome of such attraction and subsequent disconnection, you will have ample opportunity to learn about yourself.

For information about my current book for young adults, Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings (American Psychological Association Magination Press, August 2012), see my website: http://www.marylamia.com

References

Lewis, Thomas L.; Amini, Fari; Lannon, Richard (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House.

O’Connor, L. E. (2002). Review of A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon. Human Nature Review. 2: 89-91.

Schacter, D. (1987). Implicit memory: History and current status. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 13(3),  501-518.

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Please visit http://www.marincountypsych.org for more information about our association and membership benefits or to locate a licensed clinical psychologist in Marin County.

# # #

Blog Disclaimer:

The opinions expressed by the authors are their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Marin County Psychological Association. The information posted on this blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional mental health services.