By Margaret Wehrenberg

Overcome fear and you are on your way out of depression

But to do it, you may need to take one little step – let someone who cares help you get moving. In this blog I am not addressing change for a person who is severely depressed or suicidal. I am writing about those who are participating in life but with little vigor or pleasure.

I  am a specialist in anxiety disorders and, as most therapists know, anxiety and depression go hand-in-glove, with anxiety most often the first of the two disorders to emerge when people have them both. I know that anxiety about disappointment, failure, or health looks a lot like depression. You will have met people that fit these descriptions:

  • “She is so afraid of being dumped again that she does not want to risk getting close to anyone.”
  •   “He is so afraid of criticism because his father was always so critical that now he cannot even hear praise when it is offered.”
  • “He is so afraid of failure that he won’t even try.”
  •    “I know she is getting older, but she is so afraid she will fall again she won’t even ask for help to walk down to the dining room for dinner with her friends.”

Such fears block full participation in life. They stop people from meeting potential romantic partners, trying for a promotion at work or cause a person to get weaker and lonelier with each passing mealtime. Facing fear is one of the great challenges in life, and not facing fear is a great cause of depression. Whenever fear wins, it gets stronger. And whenever people give in to fear they feel less able, less competent, less positive about themselves, i.e., more depressed.

There are currently several popular books out about daring – daring to be great, daring to face the past, daring to achieve – and they are popular for good reason. The idea of daring applies in every way to getting out of depression. But often a discussion of daring neglects the role of support from others who can offer encouragement to try even when you are scared and offer comfort if things do not go exactly as you wish.

Daring applies to asking for help because:

  •  First of all, it takes great courage to see oneself as one is without excuses or explanations.
  •  Next, showing how you feel about your life to someone who knows you can be so reassuring because you can see that they continue to care about you. (And often others do see us as we are already!)
  •  Also, it takes great courage to take the risk that whatever one fears will indeed happen. Others can support us to take a chance.

When people are depressed, they tend to isolate themselves, pulling back from others with whom they might otherwise have spent time. The depression makes them feel unlovable or undesirable or simply just not interested in people and activities they previously might have enjoyed. Withdrawing from others also limits their contact with encouragement and with positive interactions they might have with others.

In that isolation, the world does not present as many challenges, and it is possible for people to feel safe in depression, avoiding the hurts and disappointments that weighed them down. But that is risky. If you stay safely isolated in depression you can miss the confidence-building that can come with moving out of your comfort zone to meet new people, put yourself forward at work or ask for assistance to participate with others, even though your physical abilities are in decline.

Getting less depressed is an act of courage – without en-courage-ment, it might not happen.

A depressed brain over-focuses on the negative. A person who is going to try once again to achieve a personal or relationship goal needs to borrow the optimism of a not-depressed brain. Choose people whom you respect, who have been encouraging in the past and, even if they are not the closest friends you have ever had, who appear to be positive. Borrowing the vision that person has of your success can help you literally see yourself in a different way. Borrowing their courage by accepting their support can be the thing that helps you try one more time to get what you want. Life does not come with guarantees, except perhaps this one: If you never try, you will never succeed. Trying takes courage, so borrow someone else’s for a while, and see what can happen.

The following actions take place over time, they are not a quick fix:

  1. Recognize you cannot do it alone. The word ‘encouragement’ is quite literal: gain courage from those in your life who would like to support you. The “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is a slogan that is at best unhelpful, and at worst, defeating. Of course, you will need to put in some effort, but that is what depression blocks you from doing. You need to borrow some energy from another person, whether mental energy for problem solving, hopeful energy for motivation or physical energy to literally move yourself. Find a therapist, a friend, a mentor, or a family member to help you figure out a good approach to your problem.
  2.  To do that, you might have to take a small step to connect to a person you already have a relationship with. Text, email, call – whatever is comfortable- to see if that person is free for a coffee, a movie, a meal or just a chat. In the case of the woman who won’t leave her independent living apartment to go dine with friends, she needs someone to come with a wheelchair and literally move her, but there are those who will do exactly that once they are asked. Reconnecting with a familiar person can start you on your way out of a slump.
  3.  Ask others how your situation could be better if you succeed. The negativity of depression might prevent you from forming a clear view of how you will benefit if another try works out, and borrowing the vision of another person can improve motivation.
  4.  Explore what you will lose if you succeed: Many people avoid forming friendships, romantic relationships or seeking new jobs or education because if they succeed, it might prove their depressed attitudes were wrong. If you think that you will never have a romantic partner because you are unlovable, if you found love you might have to change that belief. Ironically, you might lose your excuse to be depressed. But then, worse things could happen!
  5. Be realistic about what others can do. They cannot do it for you, but they can help you decide how to proceed, look with you at whether your goals are realistic, and they can check on whether you are progressing in your goals.They can share their confidence in you so that you can feel more confident about trying. And you shift too: you typically don’t want to disappoint those who are encouraging you, so you may feel more energy to try.

Using others for en-couragement is the first part of a process that can grow into real change. Next we will take on fear of succeeding!