Anne Lamott writes that there are people in this country who are worried, depressed, dancing as fast as they can; their kids are sick, their retirement savings are gone, and there is great loneliness among us. Each year, 19 percent of adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with anxiety disorder and more than 30 percent will experience it in their lifetime.
Being depressed, sad, irritable or losing interest in most things for most days over a two-week period is known as major depressive disorder. The lifetime prevalence for depression is more than 16 percent. Other symptoms are changes in weight, slowed movement, feelings of worthlessness, changes in sleep, excessive guilt and suicide.
Lamott is correct in the dancing metaphor, but in a positive way. Exercise might be as effective as medications or psychotherapy. Research findings in the American Psychiatric Association’s Practice Guideline show that exercise is a first-line treatment. They note that the patient should also be monitored by a licensed mental-health professional. Most encouraging is that both aerobic and weight training can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
We can handle negative experiences
I lost my right kidney three years ago, and survived a middle-brain aneurysm the following year. Prior to that, I would tell you that nothing was wrong with me; things were good. Complaining is not helpful. It’s been said that there are enough cracks in the world, and we don’t need to create more of them.
We all want positive experiences and things to go smoothly. Yet, there is no escaping negative experiences from the mundane (e.g. being late) to the most awful (e.g. death of a child). You can yell or scream “Why me?” all you want, but when things go bad, it’s not the worst thing to happen to you. Negative experiences can give, or increase, meaning in life.
Research suggests that negative experiences help us understand how the event fits into a broader snapshot of the self, relationships and the world. Psychologists see this understanding or discovery as the pillar of meaning in life.
If you’ve ever gone through something unpleasant, unexpected and disruptive to your life, you might have seen a hidden benefit. Those unwanted or unwarranted negative experiences can actually offer rich insights. (However, I am not talking about the horrors and heartbreak of war or terrorism.)
Think of a time when things took a turn for the worse, like a sudden fall. Maybe you avoided the hospital because you’ve been going to yoga and your balance has improved. Always look for the silver lining.
Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.