This is a guest post from Philip Coler, a member of our Agile Best Self Community. I appreciate his honesty and transparency. – Michaele
For those with anxiety or depression, each day can be a challenge to get by. Between constantly worrying about the littlest issue and the debilitating sorrow that can knock a person out for days, anxiety and depression suck. If a person suffers from anxiety or depression, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel may feel extremely dim and unattainable. I am writing this to help give people some tools to move closer to a better place. I want to mention that most of the experiences below will be coming from me, as I suffer from anxiety and depression. Writing that last sentence was a challenge. Bear with me while we go over anxiety, depression, and how to leverage the Agile Best Self Values and Principles to help cope with anxiety and depression.
Before getting too deep into the topic, I need to clarify that this will not eliminate anxiety or depression. It may help manage it. If you feel you are suffering from anxiety or depression, please seek help from a medical professional. The aim of writing this is to share potential mechanisms and principles to help people cope. If you have feelings of suicide, please use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help. The number for the lifeline is (800) 273-8255.
Alright, let’s go. Even before I started writing this, my anxiety reared its ugly head. I could not decide whether I wanted this to be in a post format or a paper format. Should I do this in an entirely different form? From there, I started to spiral. Should I even be writing something like this? I’m not an expert when it comes to this topic. Why would people want to listen to me? I’ve reached out to numerous people to review this because I was anxious about writing this. That anxiety caused me to take a longer time to write this than I would’ve liked. I hadn’t even set a deadline, and I was freaking out about it being late. Even for the simplest things, anxiety can cause huge issues.
Anxiety can land anywhere on a scale, from being slightly nervous to outright crippling anxiety. People who suffer from anxiety may not show it on the outside, but inside they are dealing with some of the most burdensome emotions they have.
Depression, on the other hand, can be defined as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest” (Mayo Clinic). Depression can cause a person not to be their authentic self. They may have had days where they were unable to cope, and it showed.
Now pair depression with anxiety, and you are going to have a rough time. As I said initially, if someone suffers from these ailments, they might feel life offers little light. That is putting it lightly. (Puns help me cope.) At times, I have felt that way as well. Along with working with my doctors (seriously, they are here to help), I have found the Agile Best Self Values and Principles to be helpful guides in alleviating my anxiety and depression.
The Agile Best Self philosophy comes from the minds of Michaele Gardner and Brian Hackerson. Both have found themselves profoundly interested in how Agile and neuroscience are related. They derived the set of values and principles from the Agile manifesto. I’ll begin with the four values.
Value #1: The ability to be our authentic selves over figuring out how to fit in.
Many people with anxiety and depression can worry about how they appear to others. They may not want to be a burden to others. When they worry about this, they tend to hide the signs of having depression or anxiety. Striving to be oneself can allow the closest people to see when things may not be going as planned. Being their whole self instantly is easier said than done.
Growing up, I was a self-proclaimed “jock” in high school. I forced myself to fit the mold. I wasn’t always successful. Sometimes my authentic self came through and would jeopardize my cover. I’d worry about whether or not someone noticed my continued love of playing with Lego or if my enjoyment of anime was something my peers needed to know. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that being my authentic self was a better place. Even as a self-proclaimed “adult,” I sometimes worry because I will hide my inner child. But knowing what I know now, I can recognize what is going on and how I can cope. The challenge with being your authentic self right away is where value number two can come into play.
Value #2: Iteratively creating our next best self over following a plan.
Trying to implement a long-drawn-out plan can cause stress. It can feel like a major failure if a long-term plan goes wrong. Making adjustments to a short-term goal, on the other hand, is much simpler. Here individuals can focus on what is right in front of them rather than trying to achieve the big goal at the end of the road right away. Smaller increments can make it easier to pursue change. Easily consumed smaller increments allows someone to get them done fast. That speed helps a person get the satisfaction of completion earlier.
In my coping with anxiety and depression, this comes in the form of little victories. Having a drawn-out plan causes every failure to hit me extra hard. Finding the little successes in life gives me the boost I need. When I’ve had a good day, that’s a minor victory. Not feeling as anxious giving a presentation or leading a meeting, that’s a minor victory. Acknowledging that I am nervously bouncing my leg and stopping myself, that is a near-microscopic victory. No matter how small, recognizing those little victories is an excellent way of iteratively creating one’s best self.
Value #3: Getting and sharing energy from like-hearted people over relying solely on self-motivation.
Having support and knowing who those people are can be a real difference-maker. The act of talking to someone can have profound results. Talking to someone or a professional helps get things off your chest and to get the perspective of others. It also helps keep a person’s support team in the know of your mental state of mind. Surrounding oneself with their life’s cheerleaders can give them the motivation and energy to get through some of the most challenging problems.
As a Scrum Master, I can feel alone at times. There have been moments in my past where I have felt secluded because I was the only Scrum Master on a team. That loneliness led to a loss of motivation, and my work suffered. Luckily for me, I was able to find ways to share energy with like-hearted people. It started by realizing that there weren’t always other Scrum Masters on my team; there were Agilists. Finding that common ground and means to share energy was a significant first step. From there, I was able to find ways to surround myself with other Scrum Masters by building up a community. I hope you noticed with that example that I implemented value number two. I did not have a master plan in mind. I iteratively approached the problem by working on one thing at a time. That leads me to value number four.
Value #4: Mindfully adapting over-prescriptive self-improvement.
Take time to think about what you are doing rather than blindly following. This value may seem ironic as I type this since I am offering advice on coping. I’m saying one shouldn’t follow my advice without taking time to think about it first. Take the time to reflect on implementing what I am saying. Doing it alone won’t help. Take the time to reflect and adjust.
One thing that has always affected me and caused me stress is my weight. When it comes to my depression, at times, I have found comfort in food. This comfort in food caused me to overeat whenever I ate. Keeping up with my kids was becoming a challenge. I found myself wanting to lose weight to help me be physically healthier and boost my mental energy.
I searched for different ways to lose weight. I found fad diets, workout plans, and superfoods galore. Blindly following these plans was not something that worked for me. I discovered that many workouts were hard on my joints. The foods and diets weren’t things I enjoyed. What I was able to do was to adapt mindfully. I took pieces of these plans and made them my own. I found that minding my portions and no late-night snacking were small things I could do to help fad diets. When it came to exercise, I found ways to work exercise into my daily life. An example of this is taking the time to share my favorite activities with my kids. I have lost some weight and found mental energy to do the things I love with mindfully adapting.
Along with the four values, there is one last statement.
“There is a time and a place for the items on the right; however, we frequently value things on the left more.”
An easy mistake to make is to completely forget about the things on the right side of the four values. At times, someone may find they need to follow a plan or motivate themselves to do something. The values on the right are still important but not always more so than those on the left. Another thing to keep in mind is that the values themselves are not inclusive. Someone may be leveraging one value to work on another, as I shared in value three.
There are twelve Agile Best Self Principles to help supplement the values. These are a little more straightforward.
Our highest priority is to be our best selves and enable others to be their best selves.
Welcome change with curiosity.
Build daily self-care habits.
Engage your trusted circle daily.
Create the best self-environment of motivation, trust, and support for yourself and others.
The most effective way to be your best self is to be mindful and intentional.
Investing time in yourself is the primary measure of progress.
Prioritize “being more” over “doing more” for sustainability.
Continuous attention to scientific research enhances best self.
Simplicity— focusing on what energizes your best self —is essential.
The best inspirations and insights emerge from like-hearted communities.
At regular intervals, reflect on how to become your best self, then tune and adjust behavior to be in alignment.
By keeping the Agile Best Self values and principles in their back pocket, I hope people can cope and fight back. If you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help at (800) 273-8255. Remember, there are others out there you can reach out to. You are great, you are doing the best you can, and the help is out there. If you are struggling to find the light in life, you are the light.
Symptoms of Anxiety:
- Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
Symptoms of Depression:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches