What If My Anxiety or Depression Increases During Treatment?
When it comes to depression and anxiety, the path to healing and wholeness is not always straightforward. There can be ups and downs, progressions and regressions, lessening or intensifying of symptoms, emotions, and experiences.
However, when we first embark on a psychedelic therapy program, it’s easy to get caught up in fantastical expectations or ideas of how this process will go —reminiscent of the “magic pill” stories that can be found online in modern times.
Though rapid healing is the case for some people, it is short-sighted to assume that this is the standard experiential arc that will happen for everyone. There are periods throughout the therapeutic program in which symptoms or experiences of anxiety and depression may in fact increase, or become more noticeable, before they begin to subside.
This resource will explore why that happens, what to do if you notice that these symptoms or experiences are increasing in frequency or intensity, and the strategies you can use to navigate this and help continue the healing process.
It’s important to note that if this experience does occur for you, or if it has occurred for you in the past, this is all part of the process. It does not immediately mean that the treatment is not working for you, or that you have made some form of mistake during the process.
The Nature of Psychedelic Therapy
Right from the beginning, even the etymological root of the term “psychedelic” prepares us for the fact that symptoms or experiences of anxiety or depression may arise or show up during our healing journey.
Psychedelic means “mind-manifesting.” From the Greek “psyche” for mind, and “delic” for revealing. The psychedelic experience shows you, either conceptually or directly, what your mind is like, and what the nature of mind itself is like.
Stanislov Grof, a pioneering figure in the field of psychedelic therapy and transpersonal psychology, coined psychedelics as “non-specific psychic amplifiers.” They simply serve as a tool to amplify the internal mental states that are already present within you.
Your current state is reflecting itself
If you are currently experiencing symptoms or feelings of anxiety and depression regularly, and you take a psychic amplifier that reveals that present nature of your mind to you, it is reasonable to assume that you will be confronted with feelings of anxiety and depression. It is also possible that these feelings may come on with greater intensity, or more conscious awareness, than before.
Fortunately, you can rest assured knowing that this is actually a beneficial part of the process. If you continue to engage throughout the rest of the therapeutic program, you can come out stronger, calmer, and healthier, and more whole on the other side.
You may experience your full emotional range
The psychedelic experience is capable of showing you the full range, depth, and intensity of the vast array of emotional and mental states that can manifest within the mind. This is part of the profound power and potential that these compounds and experiences contain. The mind and emotions are capable of more than simply joy and positive emotion. They are capable of more challenging emotions, like anxiety, anger, sadness, uncertainty, or fear.
Coming face to face with some of these emotions, both within a psychedelic experience and throughout the course of a psychedelic therapy protocol can be challenging. It also presents a fantastic and powerful opportunity to explore and work with your emotions, to come to deeper levels of self awareness, and learn to control and manage yourself on a much deeper level than ever before.
When Treating Anxiety and Depression, Awareness is Your Ally
One of the core reasons these amplified emotions can be so beneficial relates to a hidden assumption we often overlook.
In order to change any behavior, you must first be aware of it.
It sounds extremely simple, but it is very important in this work. If you want to change your anger, or how you speak in your relationships, you first need to see what exactly triggers your anger. This includes how you respond, and how you would like to act differently when those situations happen. Conscious awareness is the first and foundational step before even being able to make any semblance of behavioral or personality change.
When a psychedelic experience brings these challenging emotions up to the surface, you are being presented with an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to look closely at the mechanisms of your behavioral patterns, how you operate, and the things that trigger these responses. It’s also important to recognize how others react to the way you react.
Map out a plan
Only with this clear seeing of your inner workings, can you begin to map out a plan for addressing and changing these patterns.
If you are in an experience or in a psychedelic therapy program, and you notice that your feelings or symptoms of anxiety or depression are more noticeable, say thank you! Thank the medicine and the experience for giving you such fertile ground to work with. Plant the seeds of behavioral change with a clear vision of where you currently are and a direct sense of what you’d like to change moving forward.
None of this is to downplay the intensity of experience of these emotions. Yes, they can be challenging in the moment. However, psychedelic therapy can be a field of short-term discomfort for long-term benefit. Sitting with this discomfort in the short term can light the fire within you to make real, solid, long-lasting changes, so that you don’t experience these emotions at this level in the future.
Sometimes, taking a clear look at yourself as you are in this moment is the greatest gift you can give yourself. This deep self-awareness serves as the foundation for all future growth and development, and is one of the reasons psychedelic therapy can be so powerful at making rapid and sustained behavioral change.
There is a traditional saying in this work, ”What’s coming, is going.” This can be a great support for you if you are experiencing increased anxiety and depression symptoms. The things that arise in awareness, whether visions, memories, emotions, sensations are coming up so that they can be released. You don’t have to carry the weight of these emotions or experiences with you any longer.
These experiences are coming from within your body, your psyche, and through your conscious awareness, so that they can be forgiven and released.
Using this Opportunity to Examine and Experiment
There is another benefit to being presented very directly with increased emotional sensitivity and awareness: the opportunity to examine what interventions, actions, behaviors, or habits help to remedy them!
The process of deep behavioral or personality-level changes can be challenging or demotivating, because it can be difficult to see clear progress. It’s natural to seek a deep sense that what you’re doing is actually working to move you in the direction that you want to go.
This increases emotional sensitivity, presence, and awareness of these states that can be brought on by psychedelic therapy gives you an opportunity to work with this.
Learn to understand your emotions and behaviors
By becoming increasingly sensitive to your emotions, you have a much more sensitive instrument to gauge whether certain actions, habits, people, or behaviors positively or negatively influence your emotional state. In becoming more sensitive to your anxiety, you can see very clearly what brings on more of it, and what helps reduce it.
Getting clear insight on which activities or events help or hurt your emotional states is invaluable. You can integrate these lessons simply by doing more of the things that reduce your undesired emotional states, and less of the things that increase your undesired emotional states. All of this was made possible by the brief period of time that you became much more sensitive to your emotions after these psychedelic experiences or therapeutic protocols.
Reframe these insights as a gift
So yes, while it is certainly possible that symptoms, feelings, and experiences of anxiety and depression may increase in frequency and/or intensity throughout your psychedelic therapy protocol, this can be a gift.
Consciously releasing heavy emotions, memories, or experiences, and becoming more sensitive towards activities that help remedy these emotions, helps create the recipe for long-term, sustainable positive behavioral and personality change within you.
This is what we mean by short-term discomfort for long-term benefit when working with powerful psychic catalysts like psychedelic compounds and psychedelic therapy protocols. They can be challenging at times, but it is a small price to pay for radically changing the trajectory and potential of the rest of your life.
Take Advantage of Your Additional Support
Don’t forget that you are supported throughout this process, and that you have resources and additional support available to you if you feel like things are becoming too challenging or the path forward is not clear enough.
There are a number of ways you can receive additional support throughout this process.
Consult your care team
Working with trained and expert care teams and clinicians throughout these experiences is essential. You can speak with your Guides and Clinicians and ask for support, best practices, and new perspectives to help you process and relate to the experiences you are having throughout your program. They are always available to help should you want external support.
Find a community
There are many in-person and online communities centered around psychedelic therapy, personal development, psychedelic experiences, and integration practices to help you.
Hearing the stories and receiving feedback/ideas from others is immensely valuable and shouldn’t be overlooked. Just the act of sharing your personal story can go a long way to alleviating some of the intensity or challenging emotions you may be feeling.
Embrace your practices
Always come back to the basics. Keep up with your personal practices, such as good hygiene, adequate sleep, good clean food/water, getting out in nature, doing things that excite you, and cultivating relationships while being with people.
All of these actions create a supportive scaffolding that can make the presence of more challenging emotions easier to handle. Conversely, the absence of these supportive practices can make what could have been manageable emotional states much more difficult to work with and move through.
Lean on relationships
Just being present and engaging with your relationships —taking the attention off of you and putting it onto others— can go a long way. Reach out to friends, family, community, and join a discussion, ask for love or support, or just engage in friendly and loving conversation.
We are social creatures, and your relationships are extremely helpful when working through psychedelic therapy programs.
Seek the wisdom of the collective
You are not alone in your journey. For thousands of years individuals have embarked on healing and growth journeys which included working through intense emotions and feelings of doubt or fear.
Their experiences and the wisdom here is contained in books, teachings, communities, and philosophies. Whatever you’re going through, you can always find best practices, hear other stories, and learn from the wisdom of the collective by seeking out these sources.
If this is your first psychedelic therapy program or your first psychedelic experiences, it can be challenging, frustrating, or demotivating when emotions like anxiety or depression come up. Particularly when you joined these programs to reduce the presence of these emotions in your life.
However, these emotions, experienced within the safe container and structure of the psychedelic experiences and psychedelic therapy protocols, can be a catalyst for massive and profound long-term behavioral and personality changes.
By embracing the process, in seeing these emotions as opportunities for self-knowledge and increased awareness and capacity, you can work with these emotions as teachers and guides to help enact real change in your life.
And as always, you are never alone in this process. You have the support of communities and relationships and the wisdom of humanity at your side.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
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