I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how anxiety, fear and depression make us feel. One of the things we feel when we fight all of these is SUCKED DRY. We feel like doing NOTHING.

The days can turn to grey, our energy seems like it is taking a long vacation someplace, and even when our rational mind says we should be up and trying to do something, our bodies seem to take control, and we stay in the chair, on the couch, in the bed, feeling stuck and tired and defeated.

I know that feeling. It dogged me for years and years, took away time that I am sorry I lost, made me think of myself as lazy, weak and helpless. That’s a crappy way to feel, as I suspect you already know –

One immediate thing to say is that this can be a big clue that you are fighting depression. And depression springs from anxiety that has begun to give up (or has given up.) But it isn’t sufficient to stop at depression. Depression is, at least at the start, a RESPONSE to our anxiety.

Which means we need to sort out why we are giving up, feeling like it is all pointless. Understanding what is behind that feeling of who cares, and identifying what we can do about it, can be a good set of weapons against the gray sense of feeling defeated.

We Don’t Get What Feelings MEAN

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The first thing to get a handle on is the nature of feelings. I know I’ve beaten this drum a LOT on this blog, but it’s worth some more discussion, given how poorly most of us understand what drives emotions.

Say it with me: feelings spring from thinking. We learn, somehow, that feelings are these mysterious, rootless, out-of-the-blue creatures that sweep through our life. We learn also that we don’t really have any control of them, these mysterious creatures, and so all we can do is ride them out, endure them, and hope that they get better/happier.

But that isn’t true. Our feelings come from our thinking. Remember that it doesn’t have to be conscious thinking! And it can be a fast and vagrant thought – something triggered from a smell, or something someone says, or even just the time of day.

Feelings are NOT mysterious. They may be, in this present moment, not clearly linked to a specific thought yet in your mind, but they don’t just fall out of the sky. So if they are generated from thoughts then we really do have some control over them – in fact we have a lot more control over them then we commonly understand.

So now let’s make those thoughts fearful thoughts about the future, imagining dark scenarios of what could happen, what disasters are waiting for us out there someplace, or a sense of being trapped. What kinds of feelings will show up? No mystery there, right? We FEEL anxious because we are having anxious thoughts.

Which means when we FEEL like something is pointless it is because we have been making assumptions in our thinking that things are pointless. Here’s the million-dollar question – is our thinking accurate? Because our feelings can only be as accurate as our thinking.

So, for instance, if we have assumed that an activity is pointless then it will FEEL pointless to do it. If we believe that something won’t work for us then we will FEEL that it isn’t useful to us. Just because we are not aware of our thinking, or that it isn’t in the front of our skulls right now, doesn’t change the truth that our feelings are springing from our thinking.

We Are Mammals!

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There’s a second piece about our lethargy that’s insanely simple, yet most of us don’t get it. We’re mammals. Why does that matter? Because adult mammals are creatures that tend to conserve energy whenever they are not working for their survival.

Do you have a zoo near you? Or own a cat or dog? What those adult mammals manage their day. What do they do when they are not eating, or taking care of baby mammals, or amusing you with funny animal tricks? THEY ARE TAKING IT EASY. Dozing, sleeping, sitting down, not doing anything. That’s because mammal biology says save your energy for when you need it.

What happens when you get home from work and you don’t HAVE to do something? Isn’t it often tempting just to plant your butt on the couch or in a chair and stare at the TV? Sure, you’ve passed it off as lazy, selfish, unambitious, whatever – but what you’re are is just being human.

Combine that with depressed or anxious thinking and now it gets VERY easy to just do nothing. For long periods of time. We’re already tired, we don’t really FEEL like doing it, so we (too often) don’t. Except that even small amounts of work on our anxious thinking begins to pay off in large ways in terms of our renewed interest and energy in our lives…

We Carry Insanely High Expectations of Ourselves

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Yet another energy suck that pulls at us down is our absurdly high expectations of ourselves and what we’re supposed to be able to do, manage, accomplish, etc. in our lives on any given day. It seems to be one of the traits of anxiety-fighters to set incredible personal standards of best and good enough, and then be deeply frustrated with ourselves when we don’t measure up to those crazy standards.

(In fact I’ll bet right now a lot of you are living with insane personal standards and feeling badly for even questioning whether or not your personal bars of success are set a smidge too high. Am I right?)

Standards are good. Setting milestones for measuring progress is a great idea. But there’s also a lot of room for setting pragmatic, achievable, rational standards for personal success. And there’s a lot of room for making sure that we are setting standards that work/make sense for US – as opposed to what we think other people want from us.

It is savagely discouraging to consistently fail at our own standards. It becomes very easy to just give up. What’s the point if we can’t get there in the first place? Talk about setting ourselves up to fail!

I still wrestle with this, 16 years on after getting over chronic anxiety and panic attacks, but I’m slowly getting better at this work. Motivation and willingness to try, even when we don’t feel much like it, comes more easily when the goals are at least somewhat possible to attain –

We Can Make a Start – Every Day

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OK, so these are the vampires of our energy when we fight anxiety and depression. What then to do about them?

1) Get clear on what specific thinking is making you anxious in the first place. Do that unpacking work I keep talking about in this blog. Until you’re clear what specific issues you’ve turned into crises in your thinking all the effort and energy in the world to manage your anxiety won’t do you much good.

2) Take small steps. Sorting out anxious thinking just won’t get done in one push (as you’ve heard me say here before.) Do 2 or 3 10-minute sessions a day with your journal or laptop, addressing one or maybe two specific “what if?” thoughts that are generating anxiety for you. Do a little work discounting your Flight or Fight responses when you do that unpacking. Then get on with other parts of your day.

Expect it to take time. You’re acquiring new skillsets, and practice over time will do you a lot more good than a 3-day marathon effort, most of the time.

3) Practice doing #2 above especially when you DON’T feel like doing the work – but only push back for that 10-15 minutes. Don’t plan to spend 45 minutes when you can barely focus for 10. In other words, be both patient and kind with yourself.

4) Enlist the support of other people in the work when you can. Some of us have to fight this fight essentially alone. (And if that’s one of you then by all means send me an email – I’m happy to help and encourage you that way.) But if you have someone who can play cheerleader and encourager, then by all means do so.

It might be as simple as just asking them to check in with you daily to see if you’ve done your anxiety work for the day. It might be someone to go get kudos from when you have done the work. It might be someone to remind you when you just can’t muster any interest in the work why you want to do this work in the first place.

The Price of Liberty is WORK

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That doesn’t mean 24/7/365. It mean steady, patient, consistent work, even when we don’t really feel like it. In a sense we have to take our lives back from our tired, anxious, worried, drained feelings. We have to not let feelings be our only driver – or even slavemaster.

Anxiety isn’t invincible. It’s actually pretty vulnerable to patient work, increasingly clear thinking and a determination to take our lives back from fear and worry. You don’t have to stay drained and tired and defeated – not with a little work.