Learning Lab

Coaching, Anxiety, Depression and Neuroscience

By Amy Brann

1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem each year. Often those who suffer from depression have issues with reduced serotonin and dopamine levels. As a Coach you may have been taught not to work with people with any form of mental health challenge. However, it is likely today that you probably are. Here are some strategies that everyone can benefit from.

Step 1: Breathe

Stepping back from a stressful moment and practice mindful breathing. Taking a deep breath may sound a bit cliché, however, it is the perfect first step when dealing with a moment of loss of emotional control. Mindful breathing as a skill that a person can be trained in and is known to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in stressful situations. When the client is able to take deep cleansing breaths, the body chemistry begins to change and feelings of threat and anxiety can be brought down significantly, marginalized, and in some cases even neutralized.

Step 2: Visualize

During a moment when things feel that they are not going well and possibly never will, as is the case with some episodes of depression and anxiety; it is important to have a visual place to go in one’s imagination that can begin to trigger endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and other happier brain chemistry. This visualization is a place of mental focus and attention that can be used when the actual mental environment that the brain wants to create is unpleasant. It can be tough to do but practicing when you’re feeling good can lay down some pathways to make it easier in times of challenge.

Step 3: Project

Another useful technique to use when one is feeling pain from any negative state is to project thoughts and feelings into the future when the painful episode will be over. This can be a few minutes, hours, or days ahead. It is important to project thoughts and attention to a time when it can be reasonably believed that things will be better, until the reality can unfold when the situation is indeed better.

Step 4: Engage

It can help to engage in the world outside of one’s brain. To “get out of your head”, in the moment, there may not be any control over the factors triggering anxiety and depression however, there may be a possibility of helping someone else. Helping others can trigger feelings of accomplishment and gratification that can stir up more positive brain chemistry.

To volunteer or help another to have an easier time of it by engaging in the world can be a fantastic approach to a better outlook because it demonstrates that a person can have a positive impact on the world. This adds good feelings to the pleasure sensors and can therefore make better feeling come along.

Step 5: Release

The release step goes like this, a person can take inventory of what s/he has control over in a particular situation, what is not in her/his control, or what may need more time to sort out. Beginning to sort out the triggers is a way of regaining a sense of control over one’s surroundings. A person can stay busy with tasks to improve the things that are in his/her immediate control; and accept that some things will take more time to work out. Additionally, some things in life are unable to be resolved and each individual must come to terms with this reality in his or her own way. There are things to do now, and things to do later, and things that must be put in the past and forgotten to the best of one’s ability. When a person can be patient and allow themselves to release control of things in their lives it is a step toward feeling better.

Step 6: Plan

Plans can be a great motivation for hope and excitement. Hope and excitement help to combat feelings of anxiety and depression. It gives a person something to look forward to. Choose an event to make happen in the future. Do not worry about the practicality of the event because the power is in the distraction of the planning. The finding of information and the looking forward to the possibility.

Use attention to plan how this event will happen and what needs to occur to make it a success. This is not meant to add more stress; if it begins to be stressful simplify the planning and make it a more casual experience. The point of the activity is to create something to get excited about and look forward to which then can trigger happy chemicals in the brain and make the world feel like a better place to be. Perhaps a massage session, a trip to nature, or going out to treat yourself in a way that is unique and meaningful. Simple carefree planning that adds something special to your future.

Step 7: Discover

Discover what makes you happy so that you can complete Step 8. Many people never take the time to really take inventory of what they find pleasure in in life. Often it is easy to become so caught up in daily existence that there is no time to discover what brings authentic happiness. However, this is important in our lives’ work. A person cannot add more happiness to life unless s/he is completely open and honest about what brings feelings of joy and life satisfaction. Time must be put into this self-research. It can be one of the most rewarding research projects that a human can be a part of.

Furthermore, an additional benefit to researching personal happiness is that it can be expanded to the group of people that mean the most to you. When you have happiness it can then be shared with others and that is very fulfilling.

Step 8: Add

Once you know what feels pleasurable and joyful to you, be sure to add some of those happy things to each and every one of your days! Deliberately and mindfully sprinkle happiness across your week which gives the brain a steady diet of pleasure-reward stimulation and that combats anixiety and depression and replaces it with warm feelings of hope and joy that can be savored alone or shared with people that are special to you.

With these steps base in neurological theory a person has the power to make each and every day a better one.

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