Transcending the Epidemic of Anxiety and Depression
Tens of millions of people in the U.S. suffer from anxiety and/or depression. The enormity of these numbers suggests that we are dysfunctional at levels that usher in a new norm, one of mass disquiet. Given that this malaise has indeed reached epidemic proportions, we might well reconsider the very nature of this phenomenon. Millions of individuals spend billions of dollars on psychotherapy and medication, which generally fall well short of alleviating the problem. Our society is rapidly turning into a drug addicted culture, albeit by prescription. Yet, no one is asking why this epidemic is occurring. Therein lies the greater problem.
It’s essential that we inquire why such disquiet has engulfed our lives. After all, these questions will direct where we focus our attention. If this question isn’t posed, we are simply treating the symptoms and not inquiring as to why they occur in the first place. When dysfunction no longer appears as an anomaly, but becomes commonplace, it suggests a deeper, more systemic issue. Our inclination is to confront a wide array of issues without looking at how we may have participated in creating these problems. If we don’t see our role in co-creating what assails us, we’ll never solve the problem. From this limited vantage there arises a dominant belief that instructs us that the best you can do with anxiety and depression is to manage it. This thinking is limiting, self-fulfilling and damaging.
A newly referred client came into my office some months ago and shared with me that she had struggled with anxiety her entire adult life. She had been in therapy with the same therapist for well over six years and had made little progress. I inquired as to what she had learned from their work together. Her answer was poignantly revealing as she responded, “He told me the best that we could do, would be to try and manage my anxiety.” The majority of mental health professionals are literally trained to believe that matters of anxiety and depression can at best be managed, and often with the associated medication to achieve the lessening of symptoms. This speaks to their mindset of pathology and the absence of a deeper understanding of the relationship between our worldview and pathology. The limitations of such a worldview are directly evidenced by the state of epidemic under which we suffer.
Pathologizing of a culture
I’ve come to consider that pathology is a state of mind. Learning to shift the mind in fundamental ways provides the healing for such dysfunction. Regrettably, remaining mired in an outmoded paradigm rooted in causality and analysis not only fosters these pathologies, it is inherently part and parcel of the difficulty and cannot heal them. In other words, traditional bio-medical approaches toward emotional and psychological afflictions are part of the same worldview that paradoxically gave birth to them. The tools that are used to treat these illnesses are the byproducts of the same thinking that caused the problem. Therefore, the natural conclusion of this line of thinking is that the manner in which we think and live, promote psychological pathology, and we as a culture tend to promulgate pathology rather than healing.
I am proposing that this avalanche of anxiety and depression is the natural result of our operating worldview. These disorders reveal a society that has gone terribly amiss, wrongly informed by an outmoded paradigm. The very manner in which we experience life is essentially informed by our worldview. This filter not only paints the external canvas of life, but moreover influences our psychological, emotional and relational processes. The worldview informs our operating belief systems and further instructs our thinking and life experiences. It imposes upon us the manner in which we interact with the world, with others, with the environment and with ourselves.
“The majority of mental health professionals are literally trained to believe that matters of anxiety and depression can at best be managed, and often with the associated medication to achieve the lessening of symptoms.”
Notwithstanding the startling and wondrous discoveries of the emerging sciences, notably quantum physics and complexity theory, we continue to cling to the basic tenets of 17th century science. This paradigm, rooted in classical Newtonian thinking, informs us that the universe should be pictured as a giant, lifeless machine. This is known as a mechanistic model. As such, all parts are separate from one another, only tangentially connected. The stuff of reality is reduced to objects and things. Analytic and causal thinking are the appendages of this worldview. This imagery has no place for human integrity. We thus become strangers in our own universe. This soulless universe literally impoverishes us. From this disenchanted mindscape we have little choice but to live disenchanted lives; which not coincidentally tend toward anxiety and depression.
From this outmoded paradigm, the tenets of analytic and reductive thinking soar to a position of deity. And perhaps, most noteworthy of all, there is no meaningful place for human existence other than by sheer accident. Meaning and purpose are obscured by the machine’s quest for objectivity. There is little room for valid human participation in this cosmology. We have become the cogs in the machine. This reality appears resoundingly depressing as it evokes an utterly disenchanted worldview. As such, what might we ultimately expect of our emotional, psychological and spiritual experiences? They simply mirror our worldview. These beliefs not only inform our reality, they create our reality. Not surprisingly, anxiety and depression would appear to be natural outcomes of such a mega-belief. Let’s look a bit more deeply at the consequences of the Newtonian paradigm.
One of the presenting symptoms of depression is often a profound sense of alienation, of a disconnection whereby people suffer from an existential sense of isolation. This detached experience deprives people of the essential relatedness so necessary to thrive in their lives. In a machinelike universe, our roles in life become programmed and our creative participation is typically limited to early childhood, although that experience is quickly disappearing as well. We are further encumbered by the lack of any meaningful sense of belonging or purpose, which is profoundly consistent with Newton’s machine-like universe. Newton’s worldview appears to be a primary foundation informing the legion of depression that abounds. Notwithstanding depression that is due to one’s personal biographical history, I’d suggest that most cases of depression correspond to this operating worldview. People who enjoy meaningful, participatory lives don’t often succumb to depression.
“We have become cogs in the machine. This reality appears resoundingly depressing as it evokes an utterly disenchanted worldview.”
One of the salient characteristics of anxiety is the relentless and fragmenting tendency of one’s thoughts. In such distress, people become addicted to measuring themselves in contrast to others. This measuring is the natural outgrowth of a worldview whereby a sense of separation rather than connection reigns sovereign. From Newton’s perspective, the further one could reduce and analyze, the more they could predict future events. As a result, measuring became a prized skill. People inclined toward anxiety lose themselves in the measuring tendency of their thoughts, all the while further separating themselves from the joy of a coherent flow of life. The compulsion to compare and measure, so prevalent in the competitive, individualistic culture in which we live, leads to a further estrangement from others. Fear, which is at the core of anxiety, becomes a predictable outcome from such a framework. Without a sufficient reverence for life, there is an inordinate emphasis on material consumption, triggering many addictive behaviors. In these circumstances, relatedness to others withers and the self further isolates.
Anxiety and depression appear to be the result of a deadened, non-participatory life experience, mired in the old
mechanistic worldview. This visage is rooted in separation, fragmentation and purposelessness, rupturing the connectivity and wholeness so vital for humans to flourish. From this servitude to analytic, reductive and mechanistic reality, we became the victims of our own worldview. The epidemic of anxiety, depression and general disconnectedness that engulfs us may be traced to this outmoded worldview. The inexorable measuring, analyzing and fragmenting of our thinking undoubtedly leads to these and other psychological, emotional and spiritual challenges. Essentially, our lives became meaningless and disenchanted.
The emergent worldview
While this attachment to an outmoded worldview binds us in a spiritual and psychological straitjacket, transformation can be found in the discoveries provided by the emerging sciences. Over the last century, science has revealed a universe that is fundamentally inseparable and wondrously interconnected on all levels. Additionally, this reality is in the perpetual process of evolving, whereby all parts co-participate. Movement and flow, rather than objects and things become the new order of this reality. From this cosmology the universe is fully participatory. And so are we, once we open to this possibility.
Although many authors and self-help gurus suggest that if we simply change our thoughts our lives will thus change, I have found that it’s not quite that simple. From my experience as a therapist I’ve come to see that this process of transformation is a bit more complex. A simple alteration of our thoughts, without sufficiently appreciating how they are informed by our operating worldview, leaves us dealing once again with the symptoms, rather than larger influences. The greatest leverage for transformation occurs when we shift our mind to embrace the spirit of the new vista, for its messages are indeed as spiritual as any ancient teaching.
“Anxiety tends to retreat when we sever the thought’s need to fragment and measure. Depression wanes when we introduce connectivity, relatedness and meaningful purpose into our lives.”
In devoting myself toward this goal, I have developed a process which I have named Emergent Thinking®. This approach integrates the remarkable discoveries of the emerging sciences into our beliefs and thoughts. This process teaches the mind to resist the temptation to separate and fragment, quieting the desire to analyze and reduce and reawaken to the enchantment of inseparability. This is achieved on deeply fundamental levels by coming to appreciate and see flowing wholeness operating. From that vantage we can then align our beliefs and thinking in accordance and experience life free from the encumbrances of dysfunction. Many of those who have engaged in this process have re-oriented their perceptions to embrace these participatory views, with very encouraging results. Anxiety tends to retreat when we sever the thought’s need to fragment and measure. Depression wanes when we introduce connectivity, relatedness and meaningful purpose into our lives.
The emerging worldview reveals that reality is in a perpetual process of becoming, as opposed to being stuck in a state of being. As humans, our lives flourish when we embrace processes of becoming. One is no longer a person afflicted with the pathology of being depressed or anxious, but one who is experiencing feeling these states. As such, we become amenable to quantum shifts whereby we can liberate ourselves from such dysfunction. The notion of psychological pathology is rooted in Newtonian states of being, rather than the process of becoming. When we embrace the flow of this unfolding reality-making, the epidemics of emotional and psychological malaise retreat and we can embark upon the transformative process, and thus transcend the epidemic.
When the anchors of the old dogma lift, there is an emergent quality to life, whereby we become the artist of our life and the paintbrush is in our hand. We are no longer a meaningless cog in a machine, but a vital and vibrant participant in our life experience and the universe at large. This worldview is not inclined toward anxiety and depression. The more participatory one feels in their life, the less inclined they are to psychological and emotional stress. Life becomes an unfolding process, rich with meaning, connection and a creative participation. This serves to heal the fracturing of human experience informed by the mechanistic worldview. The world is not a machine, but a living, evolving organism. This shift of mind provides the pathway for healing. Anxiety and depression return to a virtual anomaly again, and the epidemic retreats.
Tips for overcoming anxiety and depression:
Watch your thoughts—what are they informing you of? Don’t confuse your thought with being reality. Your thoughts tend to construct your reality. Learn to appreciate the difference.
Say to yourself, “It’s just a thought.” Begin your thought by saying, “I’m having a thought, which is telling me….”
Are your thoughts measuring and analyzing? If so,witness the process but don’t attach to them.
Analyzing is a skill that we should utilize, but we need to be the master not the servant to it.
If you are judging yourself, whose voice is doing the speaking?
Are you feeling separate and isolated from others? If so, recall that the universe is essentially inseparable. Choose to participate in the flow of the universe.
Coming out of your comfort zone provokes disquiet.Change your relationship with this anxiety. Make the disquiet your ally, signaling that you’re on the right path as opposed to your justification for remaining in the comfort zone.
Mel Schwartz, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, professional speaker, educator and author of The Art of Intimacy, The Pleasure of Passion and A Shift of Mind: Rethinking the Way We Live along with articles on relationships, anxiety, depression and self-actualization. He is the founder of the Emergent Thinking® process, a landmark approach to personal evolution. melschwartz.com