In my experience, “I am feeling anxious or depressed” are the most common reasons individuals provide for why they are pursuing therapy. While anxiety and depression are very real issues, I often find they are a catch-all phrase for a more complex picture. The potential drawback to using words like anxious and depressed is they may hide a myriad of issues contributing to the challenges an individual is facing.
Just as fish live in an ecosystem in the ocean, we too are influenced by the context we live in. In order for individuals to heal it is vital for them to develop an understanding for the intricate system of influences in their own life. Exploring these influences leads to a deeper and holistic understanding of the stressors and resources each of us have in our daily lives. Additionally, there may be historical influences which now seem unimportant, but create a current within us pulling us back to old behaviors, feelings, and/or emotions. Below are some specific factors, in no particular order, to consider when working to change mood related issues:
As humans,we are in need of sustenance, shelter, and physical safety. Additionally we are in need of the right amount and quality of sleep. Having these basic needs met are the foundation for people to be able to do higher functioning behaviors such as going to school, holding a job or maintaining relationships.
Genetic predisposition, family history, and relationships speak to the fluid interplay between nature and nurture. Within this interplay one’s personality is formed, and is maintained and/or altered over time.
Personality can be broadly thought of as how the person interacts with others, what the person likes or dislikes, intelligence, natural abilities, patterns of behavior and beliefs about one’s life. Beliefs about one’s life and one’s sense of purpose create a way to understand one’s experiences. Part of what can be healing in therapy is for a person to understand one’s experiences differently and with more clarity. The way that a person understands an experience also relates to how a person may process trauma.
Two people may have gone through the same experience, but each may believe differently about how this impacts their lives. One person may believe that due to this experience his life is over, while the other may look at it as something to understand and triumph over. The way each of them understand this event will impact the person’s mood respectively. The way a person thinks or believes is also influenced by chemicals that are ingested.
This is true for both prescribed medications and street drugs. The type of substance, the amount and how the substance interacts with that person’s body are all factors to be considered. When a person struggles with addiction therefore, his or her mood can fluctuate quite a bit. There are times when a person struggling with addiction may appear depressed, however, they may instead be going through withdrawal. Prescribed medications are often given to help stabilize a person’s mood.
The quantity of food, food habits and rituals, the type of food one consumes and beliefs about food all influence mood as well. A person’s relationship with food is also part of the overall health of the individual. Body image and beliefs about one’s self tend to be related to one’s relationship with food. If food is scarce in one’s childhood, one’s relationship with food will be different when compared with a child who had access to food as was needed.
In order to secure basic needs such as food and to seek help with anxiety, depression or other issues, a person needs to have a certain amount of financial security. For some however, who they are as a person, their worth and value have been secured from earning and having money. There are times when people seek therapy due in part to a financial change in their lives, which may bring up different emotions and family of origin issues.
It is important to look at the individual items on this list, their relationship to each other, and how each of these items influence a person’s overall functioning. Clearly there are many factors that can impact someone’s mood, and this is not an exhaustive list. Even if a person is struggling with something other than anxiety or depression, the above list may provide a context from which to begin a journey towards healing and/or recovery.
By: Elijah Bedrosian, MC, LPC
PCS Staff Therapist
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