If you deal with the symptoms of anxiety or depression, you might view them as scourges that hinder your day-to-day well-being. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, if you’re able to view your symptoms in a different and more positive manner, you may actually learn to live with them instead of in spite of them.

Nevertheless, the greater the urge for relief, the harder it can be to actually lift the veil, according to Andrea Jaffee, a Katonah-based licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Jaffee says that this approach is a lot less “all or nothing,” and a degree in psychology isn’t needed to follow the logic.

“If you say, ‘I don’t want to get rid of all of my negative feelings, I just want to decrease their intensity,’ that’s much more manageable,” Jaffee explains. “It’s helpful to feel anxious and unhappy sometimes, but we don’t want it to get in the way of our daily living, causing us consistent unhappiness or discomfort.”

Dr. Richard Catanzaro, the chair of the psychiatry department at Northern Westchester Hospital, agrees. 

“It’s basically looking at something from a different perspective,” he explains. “It’s taking something that might seem negative and looking at the positive aspects.” 

Embracing your feelings

Seeking out the positive sounds easy, but an anxious person may beg to differ. However, what you might not realize is that your symptoms reveal positive aspects about you, and Jaffee says those should be embraced.

If we don’t see the positives or benefits, then we’re working against it. If we keep saying this is bad and there’s nothing good about it, we’ll never be able to manage it. 

For instance, a person who is anxious about going into their boss’s office to resolve an issue is probably an employee that’s good for business. They care about their job, seek necessary change and are aware of their surroundings and the people in them. 

“Anxiety lets you know that something’s wrong,” she says. “If you didn’t have any anxiety (about the problem), how would you care or have the motivation to fix it?” 

“Additionally, anxiety can protect you from potentially dangerous situations and motivates you to study for that test,” she continues. “While social anxiety demonstrates that you care about others and what they think, which is a good thing.”

Catanzaro also sees the issue in a larger sense. 

“If people don’t have some amount of anxiety, how much work will they put into a big task,” he asks.

When it comes to depression, if you experience any symptoms of this condition, whether officially diagnosed or not, there are benefits to being aware of your own suffering. For example, depression can mean you’re more empathetic towards others because it’s something you’ve experienced yourself. 

Depression demonstrates that you’re willing to wrestle with pain and deal with it instead of running from it. It also shows that you have high standards for what is (or who creates) a good, positive environment for you.  

But that certainly can’t be the case if your negative thoughts and feelings cause noticeable frustration in stressful situations, right? Not so fast! Jaffee points out that emotionality can translate into a real desire to hit the high notes and/or explain your unquenchable drive.

“It motivates you to take action and stick up for yourself,” says Jaffee. “It also shows that you value fairness, integrity, kindness and honesty.”

Preventing the downward spiral

Reframing also makes it less likely that people will engage in harmful, distorted thoughts. ‘I’m a loser; I’m a failure; I’m no good at this’ – these types of thoughts are called labeling. 

“That can cause depression,” Jaffee explains. “Instead of labeling yourself, ask yourself, ‘How are these thoughts and feelings beneficial to me and what good things do they say about me?’” 

Reframing is a practice, and the more you can think of it in this way, the fewer negative thoughts and feelings you’ll have during intense moments, and in general. Soon, you’ll begin to understand where your thoughts can get in the way of functioning and what your trigger points are. 

“You owe it to yourself to consider those positive attributes about your thoughts and feelings,” says Catanzaro. 

But, when your negative thoughts and feelings do take over, reassess the situation. Catanzaro recommends doing what’s called a chain analysis which involves asking yourself the following questions:

  • What went wrong? 
  • What went right? 
  • What was I thinking and feeling as the event unraveled?

Then in therapy, the process lends itself to a reflective mindset that helps you unpack.

“So, you begin to learn, ‘This is who I am, how I behave and how I react,’” he says. “Then, you can try and tease what factors you brought to those moments.” 

With all this information now at your disposal, you’ll no longer struggle with regret.

“It impacts you in so far as recognizing that the situation wasn’t a failure,” he explains. “You’ll be able to say, ‘I learned something about myself by putting myself in this situation, and I may do something differently next time.’”

As for when to do the work, that depends on the person and the incident. But Cantanzaro says that doing so in the moment is often not the best time to sort out and reframe. Nonetheless, self-awareness and mindfulness are the quickest routes to lessening the burden. 

“Our society is all about multitasking,” Jaffee points out. “If we could just slow down and do one thing at a time, then we’ll enhance our ability to be mindful.” 

However, even when we’re mindful, we won’t be able to reframe our distress in real time. But being in the present makes us more aware of what occurred so we can process it later. 

Practice, practice, practice

Additionally, meditation, a common “trick” of the therapeutic trade, shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s an integral component of long-term success.

“Meditation helps you see your thoughts, and when you see your thoughts, you can change your thoughts,” Jaffee explains. “Eventually, your mind sort of corrects itself.”

Thus, the more you practice, the easier it becomes. You’ll begin to rationalize your distorted thoughts, and with repeated application, it will become a habit.

Catanzaro agrees and sees reframing as an effective way to grow. But the work must be put in. 

“It takes time, effort and patience,” he concludes.

This article was published in the May/June 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.

Rich Monetti
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Rich Monetti grew up in Somers and studied computer science at Plattsburgh State. But after about a decade in the field, he discovered that writing was his real passion. He’s been a freelance journalist since 2003, and he also dabbles in screenwriting. For this issue, he wrote about reframing your mental health struggles, which he found helpful. “In the past, OCD was a major issue,” he says. “But now it mostly amounts to an inconvenience. However, interviewing experts for this article made me realize that my compulsion to check and recheck things has an upside. By nature, my attention to detail and being able to remain a step ahead of potential pitfalls is beneficial for me and others.”