How repeated failures can lead to depression and anxiety
Have you ever observed a pack of dogs, a flock of chickens, or a herd of cows?
They may be very different in appearance and behavior, but they all share one similarity: positions of power - who is at the top, and who are those beneath.
This positions of power, a dominance hierarchy, is common among herd and social creatures. This includes us, human beings, of course and there exist many dominance hierarchies in a person’s life; be it at home in the family, at work, among friends, or in school.
A person may be confident and outspoken among his or her group of friends, but meek at work, for example. These hierarchies are non-verbal and mostly determined through social cues and behavior: the confident usually gets to lead, while the meek tend to follow and prefer to stay silent.
When a person is consistently low in his or her hierarchies, they tend to feel helpless and even hopeless. This is because, the lower down you are in such hierarchies, the less access you have to resources, and the less secure you would feel about yourself and your future. It is not a pleasant feeling.
There are many ways in which one would perceive a drop in the position of a hierarchy; an important one being consistent failures.
You see, our brains are much smarter than we think. The primal, animalistic, instinctual part of our brain keeps a tab on where we are in the dominance hierarchy. You see this in simple animals such as chickens: their dominance hierarchy is known as the pecking order, where they fight to establish their positions.
The part of your brain, the hypothalamus, that keep tabs on homeostasis - the balance in the body (i.e. am I hungry, thirsty, too hot or too cold), also keeps a look-out on internal mental resources. With each failure you experience, these resources dwindle, and the hypothalamus sends a signal to you in the form of fear, worry, anxiety, and low confidence; a heightened sensitivity to sensitivity and pain. The bigger the failure, the most drastic the results.
This happens because although you may not be consciously aware of it, the primal, instinctual part of your brain knows that the next failure that happens may just exhaust whatever mental resilience or resources you have left. Thus, we now see how failures after failures could lead to one becoming depressed and anxious, and possibly develop fully blown clinical depression or anxiety disorders.
Having someone to talk to, to express your sadness, fear, grief or worry about the failure, helps to let you recover mental resources and develop resilience, and is a healthy form of resolving failures; to carry on fighting and giving another go at reaching your goal.
There are healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with failures.
Keeping your emotions to yourself, bottling up your negative emotions, would lead to the consequences mentioned above. Having someone to talk to, to express your sadness, fear, grief or worry about the failure, helps to let you recover mental resources and develop resilience, and is a healthy form of resolving failures; to carry on fighting and giving another go at reaching your goal.
To learn more about the healthy ways of dealing with failures, share your worries with a friendly Hear Bud for free, or make a request to see a counsellor-intern or resident counsellor to address your issues together if you need additional help.
Contributed by our volunteer hear bud,
Chris Lai (PhD Psychology-in-progress)
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