Depression, Anxiety, and Flow States

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Depression, Anxiety, and Flow States

by Rob Jenkins,
Mind Flow States Anxiety Depression

For those of you that have read my latest book Death of The Dead or have read the Letter to The Reader in the back of my book Angles of Danger, you might know that I have dealt with both depression and anxiety, and even contemplated no longer living at several times in my life. Things reached a head for me in fall 2009. I was experiencing such a feeling of isolation and such disgust and dissatisfaction with my life and myself; I remember I gave myself a week to live. But strangely enough, and at the risk of sounding morbid, the thought of giving myself a week to live gave me comfort. I had felt so powerless in my life up until this point, giving myself an expiration date made me feel empowered and immediately at that moment, individual goals became a bit clear to me. Now, these goals weren't clear as day, they were quite vague at the time, but it was just a point of insight.

I had been someone who loved to write stories since before I knew how to write words. But for some reason when I got to high school, I stopped. I can honestly probably chalk it up to the pursuit of other interest I was exploring at the time. I had always loved production- both theater and video and was learning more about both at the time. But nonetheless, I had stopped. And as I was walking one cold dark rainy day through New York City, it occurred to me that I need to write a suicide note and then with that thought, stories began to almost pour themselves into me, and every story was attached to all these feelings I had felt. It was like a storm or explosion. I rushed home, opened my computer and began typing. And suddenly, it was like my whole being had clicked into another mode. If you have ever seen the movie Limitless, 2011. It was like the scene when the main character, Eddie Morra took NZT for the first time in his life. It was like windows in my mind opened. I felt extremely clear, yet I could feel everything intensely. My creativity felt dynamic and unlimited. My intelligence felt quick and fast. My awareness seemed almost out of the body, meaning I felt like I was intimately in tune with everything going on around me, even without having to look. This feeling was coupled with a powerful sense of awareness of things happening inside of my body. I was one with my body; I was one with my room, I was one with the city, I felt one with the universe.

Now I am very aware that some of you may read that and think either that I am crazy or that I am lying, but it was this experience and other experiences like it that helped save my life and gave me what I would end up calling “my spiritual reawakening.” (The reason I say “reawakening" will be explained at another time.) It was this experience I later learned was called a Flow State.

What is a Flow State you may ask? A Flow State is a state of consciousness. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the man who coined the term “Flow,” describes it as a time when “Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.” Steven Kotler, the author of the book The Rise of Superman, defines flow as an “optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we both feel our best and perform our best.” People from all walks of life and professions experience this state, but some call it by different names. Athletes may call it “the zone,” musicians may call it “being in the pocket,” gamers may call it “enlightenment.” I called it “channeling” because when I was in the state, it felt like I was connected to something larger than myself, it felt like a was a conduit for it.

Along with all these feelings of clarity and oneness that this flow state brought me, I felt happy. I felt at peace. My depression and anxiety had dissolved. In fact, the more I activated this state, the more my depression and anxiety seemed to fade away, and the suicidal thoughts that came with them began to quiet. These Flow States were rewiring my brain.

The Flow States, in many regards, seems almost to be an upgrade mechanism, something biology set in place for us to progress and evolve as people. And although coming out of the expansive and mystical feeling Flow can provide might seem like a comedown. Every time you are in it, your brain is changing and saving data to create a new normal. Author, Steven Kotler describes Flow as being a four-part cycle. The cycle being: struggle phase, release phase, flow phase and finally what is called the recovery phase. The Struggle Phase is the gathering of informing and planning what you are trying to. Release phase is when you take your mind off of the task and do something that allows your mind to relax and freely wonder. The Flow Phase is when you enter the flow state. The Recovery Phase is when you come down out of flow state, but your brain is taking the data of the things you experienced while in the state and filing it, upgrading you in the process.

 

So to put these phases into perspective, let’s just say for example you are writing a song. The Struggle Phase would be you taking notes on all the things you want to cover in the song, thinking hard about the subject matter and what you want the song to sound like. Next is The Release Phase, this would be when you put the notepad down, step away from your instrument or get out of the studio and take a walk. With these two phases executed right, when you come back and begin to work on writing the song again, you would click into the flow state. Now the Recovery Phase will start, this phase is the phase when you come down from the flow state. In this state you might go home from the studio to relax your mind as it files all the data from your flow state, changing you, developing a new level within yourself.

I feel that through this process, I was constantly healing myself layer by layer, as well as learning new things about who I was and who I wanted to be. Flow States have been a form of therapy. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:

“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”

 

Now, this is critical. Whenever I have ever entered a flow state, I was doing something that I loved. I was following my passion, even at times when I may not have been conscious, that’s what I was doing. I was motivated by an intrinsic drive, meaning; I was doing something simply for the love of doing it. This was my experience with the Flow State, along with others that I have conversed with about their Flow State experiences. They seem to share the same sediment. When in Flow, you feel like your best self and as the cycle of Flow rolls, I feel that I am becoming my best self.

“From a quality-of-life perspective, psychologist have found that the people who have the most flow in their lives are the happiest people on earth.” - Steven Kotler, The Rise of Superman

Getting into a flow state has helped me tremulously with healing my depression and anxiety. What started out as a suicide note for me, was a just the beginning of a new strange yet exciting journey, a journey that I plan to write more about. I haven’t even scratched the surface, but I thought this was a cool place to start.

For more information on the Flow States, I recommend these books The Rise of Superman - Decoding The Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler, Drive by Daniel H. Pink and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. And if you have ever experienced Flow, I would love to hear about your experience. You can email me at AnglesofDanger@gmail.com

Well, that’s all for now, so until next time.

Cited works:
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. Print
Kotler, Steven. The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance. London: Quercus, 2015. Print
Pink, Daniel H. Drive. New York: Riverhead, 2009. Print

Rob “RobAqua” Jenkins is a writer, award-winning filmmaker within the genre of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and action.  He is a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College, with a BA in Communication Arts and a member of the National Communication Association’ Lambda Pi Eta (LPH) and an Emma Bowen Alum.