In this new and compelling essay series, Nature Relaxation viewer Chris Y shares his experience with struggling to defeat anxiety and depression thanks to using Nature to battle negative thoughts and emotions.(Read time: 5 minutes)
Tags: depression relief, anxiety relief, depression cure, depression treament, anxiety treatment, mindfulness, nature as therapy

Anxiety & Depression - A Personal Story of How it Started and How I Learned to Treat It

Part I: Using Nature As a Therapy for Anxiety & Depression

"Anxiety and Depression are emotional subjects which can be as hard to write about as it is read so thank you for persevering. As stated previously these disorders are a very personal experience and will differ from person to person but there is much commonality and people who suffer can learn much from one another on how to cope and manage, in this second part of this article I will write about what I have learned in the management of my conditions in hope that it may help others.

Scientists are researching the causes of anxiety and depression and for example there is there is currently promising research being undertaken in the field of brain inflammation, but whatever the causes, what triggers anxiety or depression varies from person to person. For some it can be environmental such as seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.), however, for many of us living in a modern lifestyle we are surrounded by many stressors big and small. For those of us that have a disposition to anxiety and depression the accumulation or combination of these stressors can make us prone to triggering the onset either or both.

What are these stressors? Simply put they are our individual perception and rumination about events in our lives which make us worry; it could be financial, boredom, low self esteem, grief, lifestyle, loneliness, relationship issues, illness and so on - the list is endless. But in essence if you have a worry, you have attached a negative thought to a negative emotion, and mind is going to feel stress. That stress is in certain people inclined to depression and anxiety can begin a negative loop that can be hard to escape.

Whilst the treatment for depression and anxiety disorders should always be discussed with your health practitioner, I will offer my practical experience in how I have come to manage mine with the help of nature. Let me explain what I mean before you think I’m suggesting some sort of new age hippie methodology, what I practice is in fact is a very simple and natural way refocusing your attention from your thoughts to the your senses you are experiencing in the moment. As I was latter to become aware of was I had stumbled upon the same process used by Buddhists in their meditation for thousands of years, often it is now called Mindfulnes, however there is nothing religious or spiritual about it and it comes so naturally to us that it requires no training.

There is a natural innate serenity to be found in nature, it has its own pace there are no stressful distractions, and when you're there surrounded by a beautiful vista you can't help but give yourself to the moment, focusing your attention fully to your senses of the sights and sounds surrounding you, in that moment the cycle of repetitive negative thoughts causing you misery gets broken; you have swapped your own internalising of thoughts and feelings for a relaxing calm provided to your senses by nature. When you first start to focus your attention to your senses don't be surprised or disappointed that your negative thoughts return, just acknowledge it and refocus back to your senses, with practice you will find that those moments of calm come easier, become more fulfilling and last longer.

I still remember the first time I experienced the calming effects of nature, I was at home amidst a dark bout of anxiety and depression, because my anxiety was high I was unable to settle and wandered without purpose into the garden, there I sat on a step head in hands inconsolable in my own despair, then without warning the wind picked up and blew the leaves and branches of a large tree at the bottom of the garden, the sudden rustling grabbed by attention and I looked up into the tree, there was no conscious thought I was merely observing, watching how the tree swayed back and forth to the wind, sensing I was relaxing I just gave myself to the moment and continued to observe, watching the tree sway and becoming more aware of the sounds of the wind and leaves blowing, the creaking of the branches. In that 5 or 10 minutes in which I observed that tree I was able to recompose myself and came to the realisation that I had found a powerful tool for managing my condition.

To summarise there was nothing to learn, no altered state of consciousness, the process was is so normal and natural it can barely be called a technique, it was just the realisation that by focusing my attention to what's going on outside in nature around me through my senses opposed to the stuff rattling around in my head I was able to break the cycle and find a moment of relaxed calm.

That's all there is to it. Nature provides a natural relaxing remedy, the perfect distraction from the to day to day stress, anxiety and depression. There have been many clinical and neuroscience studies of the benefits of Mindfulness and is widely used by those with mental illness, health adults and children. It has also been adapted to be used in institutions such as schools, prisons and hospitals, all of which give a broad support to its benefits.

The only issue with obtaining solace using nature is that it’s sometimes inconvenient, it can be difficult to reach because the weather can be is too bad or just too dark, or inaccessible for reasons such as mobility or location, whatever the reason there are ways of bringing nature indoors. I have experimented for years with different mediums of media, early on I found relaxation through sound recordings of thunderstorms, rain and babbling brooks. Later I tried a number nature programs but the narrator was often a distraction, however one exception was documentary called Sunris Earth though a step in the right direction it did not fulfill my needs in terms of subject matter, audio quality and too frequent transition changes, it did though leave me wanting more. Skip ahead a few more years and I then discovered David Huting’s Nature Relaxation video’s, at last just what I have been looking for, the perfect combination of crystal clear images and sounds of nature with long static shots which I can use when I feel the need and at my own convenience. Since downloading my first nature relaxation video not a day has gone by where I don't find the time to switch off and ground myself back to nature using them, as they have proven to be both relaxing and energising.

For those reading this that might be suffering from what you think might be anxiety and depression, I strongly invite you to give Nature Relaxation videos a try! I use the apps for when I need to relax regardless of where I am, and downloaded 4K videos to broadcast around my house."

 

Part II: My Background & Personal Struggle

"I turned 40 this year and being such a big milestone you can't help bet spend some time reflecting on your past, for me my earliest and strongest memories are those surrounding my battle with anxiety and depression. I have had a long and complex battle with both for as long as I remember, some of the earliest childhood memories are coupled with these powerful emotions, of course it wasn't all bad but it's these strong negative emotions often jump to the front of my mind when I recall my childhood.

Anxiety and depression is a deeply personal experience, whilst all those who experience it have very different experiences there is much commonality. However, trying to explain anxiety and depression to someone who has not experienced it or has not experienced it’s full depths can be difficult and is my motivation for writing this.  From my experience I would say that I have an anxiety type personality, which is to say that I am a worrier and when all those worries add up and they seem out of your control that's when you have anxiety, life feels out of control, full of dread and it interferes with your day to day life tremendously. At its worst anxiety can be so bad that your entire body can feeling on edge and you feel like climbing the walls to escape.

It’s in those moments that the battle seems to be lost and you feel so exhausted from the constant anxiety that depression then starts to creep in, beginning with the negative self analysis such as you're useless, unwanted, undeserving and so on, the effect being that it starts to suck the joy out of life, a colorful world can start to seem dull and uninteresting....

There are important things to understand about both anxiety and depression, that they are not not black and white, there is huge range of grey in the middle. However, the further down towards the dark end the more severe the symptoms are. They are not something that can be ‘snapped out of’, but it is something that can fought with patience and understanding. Anxiety and depression are both selfish places, there is so much concentration on the thoughts echoing through our minds that it can exclude thoughts of others, that does not mean we are not empathetic to others for often in those moments where we are not self absorbed we punish ourselves further for not being emotionally available for others when the moment presented itself. This leads us to the realisation that anxiety and depression are both self fulfilling and cyclical, for me the realisation that my anxiety and depression is not going to be cured and is something I’m going to have to manage released me from burden of worrying about when my anxiety and depression may return, as did the knowledge of knowing that as these are cyclical that when I am suffering there will come a time that I will be better.

Unfortunately my anxiety and depression was not diagnosed until well into adulthood, in fact I was probably in my late twenties before I summoned the courage out of desperation to get help from a doctor, and even before I could do that there were a number of hurdles I had to tackle in my own mind before I could really explain what was wrong with me to someone else.

In retrospect as a child growing up with anxiety and depression I didn't really know what these emotions were let alone how to deal with them, they didn't have names and wasn't able to articulate them to others. Not that I wanted to, I just wanted to fit in, be liked and have friends. To me these feelings were simply a jumble of thoughts and feelings that I had that made me feel bad, and whilst I could not know if it's was normal or not for other people to have these feelings, I did feel different and very isolated.

I was only in later life after much inward looking and research into anxiety and depression was I able to really able to unravel the mixture of emotions I was feeling from each other, up until that point as I experienced anxiety and depression at the same time they had become in essence one large jumbled and confusing feeling.


THE FIGHT FOR MY EXISTENCE

The real breakthrough moment in my life in beginning to tackle the issue of my mental health came when I decided to start putting the analytical part of mind mind to work on the problem following my first particularly nasty panic attack in my late teens which was the onset of a mental breakdown.
Again, in retrospect, I can now identify a sprinkling of small panic attacks throughout my childhood, but it had no name and for those who have experienced them they are truly terrifying experiences which in my experience feels like you are literally going insane and that you're going to be forever broken and stuck in your own insanity forever. After my first big panic attack the attacks always followed the same pattern, perhaps I'd feel a bit 'off’, perhaps nothing more than feeling overtired, I'd get anxious worrying that I'd have a panic attack, then in moment of heightened self awareness and anxiety my body would release a huge surge of adrenaline, as the panic attack then took hold the mind then spirals into ever increasing self awareness of anxiety and fearful thoughts which in themselves seemingly loop endlessly and uncontrollably in repetition, everything external to your own thoughts become very distant and blurred in the background including reality itself, it's and extremely dark and scary place. The physical manifestation of these panic attacks would also affect the body’s control and perception of temperature, feeling both extremely hot one moment and cold the next or confusingly both at the same time, coupled with cold sweats and body trembling uncontrollably from head to toe all of which could last for hours. Most of my panic attacks began when I was in bed, alone in the dark with only my thoughts, however there were occasions when the attack would begin when I would be doing something innocuous when such incidents happens I developed a negative association to that thing I was doing when the attack occurred. From that point on if I was put in the position of having to undertake that task to which I had a negative association to I would develop a very high anxiety. As an example, I had a panic attach whilst having Sunday lamb dinner with my parents, for a long time afterward I was unable to eat a lamb dinner without experiencing anxiety that it would trigger another panic attack.

Whilst I had heard the term panic attack in daily life prior to the onset of my own I knew nothing of them and certainly did not associate what I was experiencing with the term. For me this was way more than panic, it felt like a fight for my sanity. At that period of my life I had almost completely given up, believing my mind was broken as a result of frequent panic attacks I also fell into a deep depression. The fight for my sanity had now become a fight for my existence as I contemplated the hope of continuing the fight to get better against ending the suffering.  My mind was in so much turmoil during those 18 months it took me to become functioning again I refer to this period as my mental breakdown, for that period I was very reliant on my parents as I was barely able to eat and spent the majority of my time vegetating, stuck in my own thoughts.

Many will question why I didn't get help, and the the honest answer is fear. Mental health used to have a huge taboo around it, on top of everything I was fearful I would be locked up in an asylum, or that a diagnosis of anxiety and depression on my medical record would affect any future prospects as it can be seen as a weakness, or that people would find out and talk about be in hushed voices and avoid talking to me. Society at large now understand far more that an illness of the mind is not that different than any other illness, and according to the world health organisation “One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide”. When I look back I wish I had the strength to seek help from the doctor much sooner and would advise anyone that is suffering that you're far from being alone and to go seek help, you don't have to suffer in silence.

Next, I will discuss how I have learned to manage my anxiety and depression with reference to in particular the positive effects of nature."

 


Article Written by Chris Young, Nature Relaxation Ambassador & Anxiety/ DepressionResearch Partner