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Your Guide to Battling the Inner 'Dragons' of Anxiety and Depression

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Some people get up and go to work. Other people have to fight a dragon to get there. Or a series of dragons. Not real dragons, of course. Metaphoric ones — the dragons of despairing depression and agonizing anxiety, the dragons that burn us with shame about our supposed “not-good-enoughness” at the pit of our stomach. Those dragons.

Like the Dementors of “Harry Potter,” the dragons can make us feel as though things will never be OK again. Like the zombies in “The Walking Dead,” they can make us feel as if we are in terrible danger, and like the dark side of the Force on Dagobah, we might be forced to face our biggest fears on daily basis.

We are not weak. We are constantly in a battlefield. On some days it might feel like we are “not strong enough,” when in reality more dragons might have jumped into the fight. A swarm of monsters, who specialize at hurting us at the very core of our soul, they might multiply in certain situations, such as when we are tired, hungry or alone.

However, there is hope. We can learn to train these dragons, to tame them, to cast our own Patronus charms, to use the Force. One way to do that is to recognize we are in a battle, and in a battle that is not supposed to be easy. Recognizing that we are, in fact, fighting our own inner dragons is a way to practice mindfulness — or awareness of our internal and external experiences. Acknowledging that we are facing our dragons and therefore, like anyone else in that situation, might have a more difficult time fully focusing on other things or functioning at 100 percent, can therefore reduce the shame of going through that struggle. Of course you’re going to have a hard time working on your project, you’re fighting a freaking dragon!

The next step in practicing taming our dragons is to try to recruit a team of warriors/superheroes/wizards to help you. This might mean joining a depression support group, talking to your friends about your anxiety (they might be going through it too!) or seeing a mental health professional (your very own Yoda). The dragons might make you want to believe no one cares about your problems and that you should not “bother” anyone with your struggles, but in reality, many people might experience similar emotions as you do, but might be too scared to talk about it. In working together, feel better you might.

Finally, it’s important to remember the big picture. The dragons might make it more challenging for you to see it, but you matter and your story matters. You are loved and you are needed, more than you might realize. Somewhere out there is a person right now who needs exactly what you have to offer. Connecting with individuals, groups, pets, projects or situations that are meaningful to us, is likely to dampen the dragon’s fire and like a mushroom in Mario Party or the Red Healing Potion in Zelda, can (at least temporarily) give us the boost we need to focus on what’s really important.

Interestingly, the more we focus on these meaningful connections, as opposed to on trying to fight off the dragons, the more tame the dragons might become. Sure, they still might be moody sometimes, but the less we fight our inner emotions, and the more we focus on the people and things that are most meaningful to us, the easier it might become for us to function.

Please know it is always OK to ask for help, whether it is by contacting a mental health professional or texting a mental health crisis line: 741741.

So, if you’re battling a dragon today, remember you’re not alone. Remember you can get help, and remember you matter.

May the Force be with you.

Dr. Janina Scarlet is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, a scientist and a full-time geek. A Ukrainian-born refugee, she survived Chernobyl radiation and persecution. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her family and later, inspired by the X-Men, developed Superhero Therapy to help patients with anxiety, depression and PTSD. She currently works at the PTSD at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management in San Diego. Dr. Scarlet’s books include: “Superhero Therapy,” “Harry Potter Therapy,” “Therapy Quest,” as well as numerous contributions to the Psych Geeks Books Series.

This post originally appeared on Psychology Today.

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Thinkstock photo via AYDINOZON.

Originally published: August 29, 2017
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