Lingering Effects—The Legacy of Anxiety, Depression, Grief, and Trauma

Anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma are the most common behavioral health challenges Americans face. While each has its own diagnosis, they typically have many things in common including lingering effects, which consistently affect relationships, work performance, and even our physical health.

Frustration and irritability are two of those lingering effects. Most of the time we can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak. Because life is wrought with things that can frustrate and irritate us, we often assume it is normal to feel this way. I submit that we should consider frequency and duration when looking at these two lingering issues, which is to say how often and how long should irritability and frustration affect us?

Consider that young children typically laugh and play most of the day. It isn’t until the teenage years or, in some cases, the tweens that we start encountering considerable frustration and irritability. Some of this can be chalked up to hormones, but most of it can be attributed to challenges at school or with new relationships and performance expectations. If there is an increase and we’re looking at how often and how long we feel frustrated or irritable, then this is probably a good time in our lives to measure against. So how many times a day are you frustrated? How many times a day are you irritable? How long do you remain frustrated before you solve the problem or accept that it might be beyond your control? How long do those periods of irritability last each day?

If you answer those questions with “reasonable frequency and duration,” then you’re probably doing okay, and yes, that is very subjective. Perhaps your ability to accept and tolerate challenges is high. On the other hand, if frequency is too high or duration is too long, you could be struggling with reduced patience and tolerance as a result of anxiety, depression, grief, or trauma. Of course, the best advice is to speak with a therapist or at least your primary care physician, but there are some self-help things you can do as well.

The cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) system is based on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If you draw a triangle and put cognition, emotions, and behaviors on each of the sides, you would see the relationship between our basic human condition and how we interact in virtually every situation.

Did you know if we can change how we think, then our emotional state and our behavior are also likely to change? If we can change how we feel, then our thoughts and behavior are also likely to change. Lastly, if we change our behavior, then our thoughts and emotions are likely to change. For an even greater result, if we can change two of the three characteristics, then the third has a greater opportunity for improvement. For many people, changing behavior and changing thoughts come easier than changing emotions, but any combination will increase improvement and that can reduce irritability and frustration. It could also promote a reserve of patience and tolerance.

Bearing in mind, if the goal is to reduce the frequency and duration of our irritability and/or frustration, then a few simple tips will be worthwhile. Consider the following:

  1. Posture and the Superman pose

If you are physically able, just stand up. Changing your posture can change blood flow and other physiological aspects in our bodies. Changing physiology also affects neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in the body. If you choose to stand, then why not put your hands on your hips, put a smile on your face, and take on the Superman pose, which has been shown to change how we feel greatly.

  1. We are what we eat

If the old saying that we are what we eat is true, then we could also change what we’re putting inside our bodies. That could have a huge impact on how we feel. Alcohol is a depressant, so perhaps cutting back on that might reduce the depressant effects on our bodies. Increasing healthy foods could give us energy. Drinking water to avoid dehydration is perhaps the easiest action to take. All of these things are behaviors we can change.

  1. Acceptance, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness

Changing thoughts could include acceptance, patience, tolerance and forgiveness. Accepting those things that we have no power to change releases the burden on our emotional well-being. I typically say, “Well, that’s just life,” as a way to release my desire to control things. Patience might be a little more difficult, but parents often find it helpful to say, “Well they’re just kids, and they’re going to do what kids do.” This helps a parent feel more tolerant of frustrating things their children might be doing. Tolerance could be increased by remembering that you love your spouse or your children and that you want what’s best for them, even if their actions are difficult for you. Lastly, forgiveness is perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves. We can change toxic thoughts about ourselves or about others by simply saying, “I forgive myself for making that mistake,” or “I forgive ______ for being hard on me today.”

  1. Emotional release

Changing emotions can be a little tricky. Laughter is good medicine. If we can laugh at ourselves instead of being embarrassed, we can adapt to almost any difficult situation. The act of just smiling is a behavior that changes how we feel and could lead to laughter. If laughter is good medicine, then love certainly is good for the soul. The behavior associated with love could be a warm embrace that triggers loving emotions. Oftentimes, intimacy affects both physiology as well as our emotional state. Lastly, if the opposite of anger is peace, then taking a few deep breaths can lead to a feeling of relaxation. It changes physiology, lowers blood pressure, and releases endorphins.

There are a variety of other options for you to change thoughts (cognition), feelings (emotion), and actions (behavior). Take time to research or go see your local therapist. You don’t have to live with lingering effects of anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma. Even thinking about getting help can help you change how you feel and could lead to taking action. This is the human condition. Let us endeavor to understand it.

Curtiss Robinson

MA, Counseling

Thriveworks Owner

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