How you skillfully manage your attention and how deep you go into your activities may have a significant impact on your anxiety and depression.
By Dawn Flemming
Anxiety and depression are ubiquitous in modern society. Anxiety disorders affect up to 40 million people in the US per year, or 18.1% of the population per year according to national statistics. Reports show that in many people, anxiety increases with age, hence meaning that many of the elderly are more prone with the mental disorder as they age.
Anxiety disorders are particularly problematic as people with them are five times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders and more likely to be affected by a wide range of autoimmune disorders and cancers. Women are two times more likely to be affected by Generalized Anxiety Disorder than men.
Although prescription medications for anxiety and depression are helpful and should never be disregarded by patients without the approval of a doctor, there are certain lifestyle elements that contribute to overall mental wellbeing.
Some research has shown that the skillful management of one’s attention may play an important role in reducing anxiety and depression. When one’s attention is completely immersed in a particular activity, its state is called “flow.” Flow leads to a moment where one’s emotions are suspended and worries and anxieties are often put behind people.
Not all activities are the same. The kinds of activities that are recommended are "high challenge" activities. They don’t necessarily have to be intellectual activities, they can also be forms of physical exercise. Athletes who usually enter this state call it the “zone.”
Rob Jenkins for example describes his experience of flow and its relation to his anxiety and depression:
Along with all these feelings of clarity and oneness that this flow state brought me, I felt happy. I felt at peace. My depression and anxiety had dissolved. In fact, the more I activated this state, the more my depression and anxiety seemed to fade away, and the suicidal thoughts that came with them began to quiet. These Flow States were rewiring my brain.
The Flow States, in many regards, seems almost to be an upgrade mechanism, something biology set in place for us to progress and evolve as people. And although coming out of the expansive and mystical feeling Flow can provide might seem like a comedown. Every time you are in it, your brain is changing and saving data to create a new normal. Author, Steven Kotler describes Flow as being a four-part cycle.
The cycle being: struggle phase, release phase, flow phase and finally what is called the recovery phase. The Struggle Phase is the gathering of informing and planning what you are trying to. Release phase is when you take your mind off of the task and do something that allows your mind to relax and freely wonder.
The Flow Phase is when you enter the flow state. The Recovery Phase is when you come down out of flow state, but your brain is taking the data of the things you experienced while in the state and filing it, upgrading you in the process.
It is interesting that that to be in a state of flow, it doesn’t have to be an activity you are super passionate about. It has to be a type of activity that immerses your attention to the point where you begin losing your sense of time. Losing yourself in an activity often has the effect of diminishing anxiety and depression for that time.
Dawn Flemming is Director of Business Services at Geriatric In-Home Care in Fresno, California.