Tuesday, March 3, 2015
A Secret Weapon in Preventing Anxiety and Depression
Becoming whole instead of aiming for less negativity and more positivity
published by Todd B Kashdan Ph.D.
If you could give someone one piece of advice on how to be happy, what would it be? My answer has been consistent for over a decade - the ability to tolerate pain.
The amount of scientific research to support this point continues to grow. Just today, a study was published on what predicts whether or not an adult develops generalized anxiety disorder or depression in their life. The researchers studied 347 adults seeking psychological treatment. What did they find? Adults with a strong ability to tolerate the presence of negative emotions (high distress tolerance) and a willingness to experience fear openly without worry about what these thoughts and sensations mean (low anxiety sensitivity) only had a 3% chance of meeting criteria for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. In stark contrast, adults with an inability to tolerance discomfort and a strong fear of fear had a 38% chance of meeting criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. The findings were nearly identical in predicting who ended up with a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
People who lack the capacity to withstand physical discomfort, negative emotions, frustration, and uncertainty are at a marked disadvantage in life. When faced with challenges, they react with greater emotional distress but this is not the problem. Instead of dealing with the challenge at hand, their energy gets diverted to worrying, procrastinating, and pursuing harmful activities to take away the pain - from excessive alcohol and drug use, binging and purging behaviors, and verbal and physical aggression toward others. Essentially, instead of living their lives, people with a low tolerance for discomfort, spin their wheels trying to rid themselves of pain and avoiding situations that might arouse frustrating, ambiguous, tense, or uncomfortable. What do you think happens when you attempt to remove yourself from uncomfortable situations? Your mind, body, and spirit start to atrophy.
Read the groundbreaking research by Dr. Steven Hayes, Kelly Wilson, and others on psychological flexibility, and you will discover one important fact: the cultural message that "you should feel good and try not to feel bad" is among one of the most toxic processes known to psychology.
When we attempt to divorce ourselves from pain, we end up feeling nothing pleasurable or meaningful at all. When we better understand, tolerate, and harness distressing thoughts and feelings, and become aware of the situations when they are helpful, we become empowered. We gain vitality. We become whole.