Hello everybody, welcome to Episode 14 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take questions you might have on the struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino.
We’ve got a very deep episode for you today. I’m very grateful for today’s question as it calls for a lot of powerful questioning and self-reflection. So let’s get to it and see how we can help out.
QUESTION: “Hey, I suffer from anxiety and recently have been suffering from depression as well. Everyday is different with the severity of how I react or feel and I'm at that point in my life where I just don't know what to do anymore. My question is: When you want to follow your heart and it seems as though the universe is giving you signs but you don't know how to interpret them…what do you do? With the anxiety and depression I feel as though I can't differentiate from what's real or not sometimes.”
Your Heart vs. The Universe
Thank you for being open like this. I know discussing depression in particular and being vulnerable can be very difficult in this kind of setting, so I just want to applaud you and thank you for trusting all of us here at Optimal Living Advice with your truth and believing in us to help you out a little bit.
So you talk about wanting to follow your heart and also the universe giving you signs to do so.
What I want to know is why do you need the signs to follow your heart? To me, these sound like two separate entities. One is your dream, and the other is sort of an instruction or direction.
If you have your dream and you want to follow your heart, then what’s worth looking into is why you feel as though you need the universe on your side as well.
Following a Dream
I personally don’t necessarily believe that following one’s heart should be free of prerequisites. Some people talk about just following your heart blindly and trusting where it takes you. I’m a little more practical; I think it’s important to ask certain questions beforehand.
But if I’m following a dream and waiting for signs to do so, which it sounds like is the boat you’ve found yourself in, all this really is a means of taking responsibility and risk away. It’s like saying, “I’m going to move to Nashville and follow my dream to become a country singer, but only if my Mom and Dad say it’s okay.”
It sounds to me like you’re looking for extra approval or the green light to follow your heart, and while this is comforting, it’s not really empowering. Therefore, waiting for signs isn’t really helping.
Let’s look at how this dynamic plays into your anxiety and your depression.
Depression…and the Loss of Hope
Your anxiety is present here because one would think it would spike the more you feel you’re risking something or putting yourself on the line. The opposite then, what would theoretically suppress your anxiety, is to have this sign from the universe on your team — something that takes the blame off of you a little bit if things don’t work out.
As for your depression, depression is the perpetual loss of hope. You summed it up very efficiently in your question when you said, “I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
Depression is just the ongoing feeling that all courses of action are doomed to failure. There’s nothing to be hopeful for.
A sign from the universe, however, is a very cosmic form of hope. It transcends who you are as a person, and because the universe or acts of God or whatever are impossible to really define, there’s hope that can come in that because nobody can disprove it. No one can prove signs from the universe are real or, more importantly right now, NOT real. So if the universe provides a sign of hope, a sign that you or no one else can disprove, that works in your favor. That instills hope in you and combats your depression.
The Hands of Fate
But what’s happening here, and what I’m concerned about, is the fact that you’re putting your fate in the hands of something besides you.
You’re saying to yourself, “I’m not willing to go down this path alone or follow my heart alone.”
I can see why you’d want the extra comfort right now since you’re currently in a more fragile state, but that lack of ownership is not really facilitating your improvement. The signs you find from the universe are not the keys to your success — you are.
So if you’re wondering how to interpret them, interpret them neutrally. You’ll never know the right interpretations, anyway. Sure, they might be cosmic signs from above that are steering your path. But they might also be placebo effect, and mere projections of the signs you WANT to see.
Does that make sense? Unless you’re also suffering from a mental illness that causes hallucinations, the signs you’re seeing could very well just be the signs you want to see.
Again, I’m not here to say that signs from the universe do or do not exist, but there is an area of the brain that sorts through stimuli to only recognize that which we want to recognize or the thoughts that are most active. It’s called the Reticular Activating System so anyone who wants a little science lesson, look that up.
In summary, taking action is important. I feel that it is useful to act in a way that counteracts your anxiety.
That doesn’t mean to disrespect your anxiety, but acting independently and putting yourself at risk for failure will thicken your skin and get you into the rhythm of not being fearful of outcomes.
Yes, you can think enough before taking action about the health of all people related to the action you’ll take, the practicality of it, but eventually, the time must come to take that leap. This is how you will find new experiences and new experiences are what change our thinking patterns.
Anxiety and depression are usually not just willed away. Taking action, making lifestyle changes, making environmental changes are means of changing your brain chemistry and developing new, hopefully healthier, beliefs which of course support a new and healthier way of living.
With depression, it’s hard to take action because we don’t believe in it. But the more we can break through that and take thoughtful action anyway, the better a chance we stand.
On that note, the last thing I can say for you or anyone else that legitimately suffers from depression, is that me answering your questions can only go so far. Looking for advice on something is different than getting treated for mental illness. Though getting outside insight into big questions can be extremely helpful, those with ongoing mental illness will find the most help by seeking out the right therapist for them. So if this is you, please start or continue work in therapy. Shake up therapists until you find the right match, meet regularly, be patient, have the right intentions, and be open.
We are always here, however, to provide some free help in our own way here at the show, so do not hesitate to send questions in.
As I’m sure you know, we’re happy to give you a boost in the right direction by giving your questions a look on the show. You can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
We read through all of them and are answering as many as we can. I hope you took something from this episode and I hope you’ll stop in for the next one.