Anxiety label

Imagine a world without labels

If you are reading this blog there is a good chance you are concerned about your own mental health or that of a loved one. Perhaps you have already sought help from doctors, therapists, friends, family and even Facebook. By this point you may well have had a diagnosis and be wondering what the label you have been given might mean for your future.

I remember my own experience of getting the label of being depressed. My diagnosis was very sudden. The morning it happened, I had gone to work as normal but by mid-morning, I had walked out of work, gone to the doctors, and been diagnosed with depression. This led to a year off work from my job as a Headteacher and in fact meant that I never actually went back.

Perhaps you remember the first, time you heard your diagnosis, that label of mental ill health. Maybe you remember how that felt. Do you remember how that impacted on how you viewed yourself?

Once I had that label of depression, I spent a lot of time looking for answers. For the whole year I was off work, I was reading, seeing therapists, and absorbing self-help content. I was trying to ‘fix’ myself because I thought that my diagnosis confirmed that I was broken. This continual seeking also gave me a truly clear picture of how someone with depression might behave and feel. I could spot those symptoms easily and ended up reinforcing that label repeatedly. I continued with this way of looking at mental ill health when, a year after walking out of work, I resigned, and I was invited to train as a hypnotherapist. I then began my own journey to ‘fix’ people, who at that time I viewed as broken.

As I began to meet clients and other people, I would tell the story of what happened to me. After a while, I noticed that I would use the phrase “my depression” or “I was depressed”. Then I realised, that it was not mine and I did not want it back. When I started saying “the depression” instead, I noticed how I became more detached from it.

Over the last few years, I have helped many people to feel better and a lot of my work has been focused around helping people attain mental health. Early on, I realised that labels like anxiety and depression, were not supporting people on their healing journeys and that people saying “my anxiety” or “my depression” were not being helped by these labels.

More recently I have come to understand this even more deeply. No-one is anxious or depressed or any other label. People who have been given the label anxiety have anxious thinking which leads to anxious feelings. People who have been given the label depressed have depressing thinking which leads to depressing feelings. Our thinking does not make us who we are. We are not our thinking. We are not those labels we have adopted or been given.

The impact of this is significant in how we view ourselves and those labels. As soon as you have a label, there is a good chance that you will be noticing the aspects of your responses to life and feelings which support that view. You will not be doing that consciously, but it will be going on; that is just how the mind works. The firmer you are in that label, the more thinking like the label you will experience, and this will reinforce those feelings over and over.

It is similar to how we were trained to speak to children about their behaviour when I was headteacher. The guidance was to never label the child e.g. as ‘naughty’ but always describe the behaviour, e.g. ‘What you did then was not kind’. This is because, the more the child hears the label, the more they believe that to be true about themselves. They then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Perhaps you can see how that might work in terms of mental ill health labels.

Now imagine a different way of looking at mental health.
Imagine that every single one of us is innately well.
Imagine that we are all just one thought away from mental health.
Imagine if we are not our labels.

Imagine if every single person you ever spoke to on your journey to find relief from your symptoms really believed that you were healthy; that you were just experiencing some thinking that had taken you away from your innately well self for a while.

I wonder how that would change things for you and every other person who has fallen into the belief that they are broken and need fixing. Imagine the language around mental health just changed slightly from ‘You have anxiety/ depression etc’ or ‘You are anxious/ depressed’ to ‘You are experiencing anxious thinking/ depressive thinking etc’. How much of a difference would that make to how we treated people and ourselves around this issue?

There are two things which I would like you to take away from reading this article. Two things which I suspect might start to change how you view mental health.

1. You are not your thinking; your thinking is something which you experience but is not you.
2. You are not your label; you just have some thinking which sometimes takes you away from who you really are.

If there is just one thing for you to do, just begin today by noticing how you speak about yourself in term of labels. Try ‘anxious thinking’ or ‘depressed thinking’ instead of ‘my anxiety (anxious)’ or ‘my depression (depressed)’ and see how that feels.

And if you would like to talk more about this different way of looking at mental health, please get in touch.

Clare is a Transformational Coach, who uses her own lived experience to help professionals who are experiencing stress and burnout to improve their wellbeing and live a more balanced and less stressful life.

Visit her website here for more information

Clare Downham - Stress and transformational coach