Manage stress by living in the present

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Manage stress by living in the present

By default, we are all in the present, but not necessarily present, if that makes sense. This is where much of our stress rears its gnarly head.

We’re burdened with the constant pressure of what’s to come in a world that is almost exclusively forward focused. 

  • Create your own future!
  • Prepare for retirement!
  • Get ahead at work!
  • Develop a life plan!
  • Raise healthy and productive children!
  • Become the ____ you know you can be!
  • Get stuff done!
  • Be happy!
  • Change the world!

No pressure. 😳

What’s cool is that we have more opportunity now than at any other time in human history to actually accomplish these noble tasks. 

Previous generations didn’t have access to the technology and freedom that living today can bring. This particular age would have blown their minds.

To accomplish any one of these noble tasks would have been enough for them, let alone all of them at the same time.

We are in uncharted territory.

We scoot around, sometimes mindlessly, to try to take advantage of it all. We are so anxious to “get there.”

But once we get there, how then do we appreciate who we are in that moment and what we’ve already become?

Where are the master classes for that?

We just keep going to the next task, the next forward motion. ⏩

So many of our anxious and depressive thoughts stem from this constant focus on an ambiguous future moment.

These future moments can feel like a moving target. As we grow, change and develop new abilities, we decide we may want different things. 

So we may change and pivot.

Our future feels like it’s always “out there” because it is.

And even if you achieve all that you want, that future moment you aspire to will — one day — become your present moment.

Ah, the irony.

How will you even appreciate that moment? Have you thought about how you will mark and celebrate it?

Here are a couple of things that work for me:

Enjoy a “Done” list

There are a million and one ways to keep a to-do list. You can track it in a sweet little app that classifies, tags and whatnot. Or write out a list on a steno pad and keep it on the fridge (old school, I know, but it works).

But what about a list that captures what you ACTUALLY did?

Do you feel anxious and annoyed when you see how many things are still left on your list at the end of the day? Where did the time go?

You immediately start plotting those things for tomorrow, giving short shrift to your little worker bee 🐝 tasks that buzzed around so hard for you today.

The things you did get done you relegate to a checkmark or a strikethrough. Or worse, tag them as “Completed” and watch them disappear from your list completely.

Don’t just look at the checkmarks or the line throughs on your list. Separate them and give them their own list. They deserve it!

Those are the things you got done! ☑️

The present moments that you engaged.

So now you know you have the ability to take advantage of your present moments!

Master today

Today is here, and you are apparently already awake and moving around. Nice job! 😎

What are the things you can do TODAY that will move you toward those future goals?

Focus on just those things, and shove the rest aside for now.

Don’t let the future steps, which don’t matter right now, encroach on your present.

If this day is particularly challenging, maybe you can just focus on what you need to do in the next HOUR.

What is the literal next step on your list? 👟

Don’t worry about this afternoon or where you’d still like to be at the end of this day.

Muster your energy and focus toward just this present moment and see where it goes.

Stop moving

Sounds simple, but in order to focus on the present, you may have to stop moving for a minute.

Do you have to go right on to that next thing? 🏃 Or can you take a minute to enjoy a little self-imposed buffer zone?

I like to daydream in these moments. It gives my brain a frickin’ break from all that analyzing and planning and lets me imagine myself doing something ridiculously fun.

Do this when it’s super inconvenient and you feel like you just can’t spare the time.

This is probably when you are feeling most stressed about the future.

The present IS your life. 

Right now, as it’s happening. 

Enjoying the present isn’t hard but it does require intention. There will always be something in the future calling you out of it.

Learn to engage it on your terms.

How do you enjoy your present moments?

 

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Answers from the trail

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Road lined with trees

One of the advantages of having a few professional years under your belt is following the trail of your own actions and decisions.

Sometimes it can be validating to see where your head was in the right place.

Other times, it leaves you scratching your head, wondering how you missed so much that was so obvious.

There’s good data there if you allow yourself to mine it.

We leave breadcrumbs behind with every project, interaction and new venture.

We can go back and discover clues about how we view our work and how we really feel about our work.

That trail usually leads back to our early days in schooling, how we interacted with our classmates or early friends.

And how our parents or caregivers modeled authority to us.

  • Does your boss remind you of a parent? Consider how you respond to them.
  • Does your work environment mimic the playgrounds of your youth? You may see some familiar patterns and behaviors.
  • Maybe you look at your work as a challenge to be conquered, like a science project. Or just a problem to be solved and dealt with, like a math test.

Many of us move through the day in reactive mode, putting out fires we didn’t cause. We’re out of gas at the end of the day, but not sure exactly why.

How can you even think about changing the way you think about your work if you’re just trying to keep the embers from catching again?

You have to be the one to chart your new course.

Document your actions and decisions at work for a month.

Don’t judge it. Just write it down, warts and all.

At the end of the month, go back and read it. See what reveals itself. 

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What worked but singed your eyebrows in the process?
  • How did you respond to all of it?
  • How do you wish you had responded to some of it?

Patterns will jump out at you when you are removed from the immediacy and urgency of a specific circumstance or situation.

Now you know what to work on.

How anger at work affects you and what to do about it

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Anger at work

Few things are as destructive in the workplace as anger.

And it’s quite stealthy.

I’m not talking about the kind of anger at work that wells up when you open the break room fridge and find your lunch MIA. This has never happened to me. I suspect it’s largely because my lunches contain mostly quinoa and avocado.

I’m not even talking about the yelling, slamming-fists-on-the-table kind of anger. I know realistically we’ve all worked with someone like that at some point. The person who name-calls and yells, is visibly infuriated, flies off the handle when they don’t get their way, and makes everyone uncomfortable.

Some people say you should just let this kind of anger out, that catharsis is healthy. I’m not so sure about that, domestic violence being what it is.

Silence is rarely golden

No, I’m talking about a more silent anger. One that hides behind smiles and professionalism, but drives many of your behaviors and decisions at work.

You may not even realize you’re angry. Maybe it really feels more like frustration. But if left unchecked, frustration can boil up and surprise you when you can least afford it.

Suddenly you’re saying and doing things that are out of character for you.

Then what?

  • Good relationships get pummelled because things were said that can’t be taken back.
  • Trust erodes when anger at work rears its head because we assume the worst about people and their intentions. People like our bosses.
  • Projects don’t get finished because no one can focus on their actual work and companies make less money.
  • Good people quit good jobs when they get angry at work because they feel powerless to make change.

The work game can set you up for anger

Work sometimes reminds me of the game called Keep Away (Piggy in the Middle, for my British friends). Did you play this game as a kid?

There’s one ball and three people. The object of this game is to toss the ball back-and-forth between two people and keep the third person, who finds himself in the middle, from getting the ball.

That’s pretty much the game.

Great laughter and sneering ensues while the third person flails around pathetically trying to catch the ball.

Maybe when you were a kid you were athletic, tall, aggressive, quick, crafty or Lebron James but in my storied past, this is how I looked when this sad game went down.

I remember being seriously ticked off playing this game.

Those two knuckleheads tossing the ball were blocking me from what I wanted, and it made me so angry.

But being a good Southern girl, I smiled and laughed it off while downing my sweet iced tea with lemon.

Anger is an obstacle

Anger usually presents itself when something or someone is standing in your way to a goal or a status you are trying to achieve.
  • You might be angry because you didn’t get the promotion you thought you deserved.
  • You may be angry because a coworker didn’t finish their part of the project and now the whole thing is in jeopardy.
  • You may be angry because you feel disrespected in spite of the value you bring to your team.
  • You may feel angry because you don’t have the resources to be successful.
  • You may be angry because you feel invisible, or you feel like you’re too visible and take the rap for everything bad that happens.
  • You may be angry because you can’t find peace to get your work done.
  • You might be angry because the changes never seem to stop and you just can’t get your legs under you.

No one may even have a clue you’re angry about these things. You’re good at hiding it because you don’t want to be yelling-and-slamming fists guy (or girl, girls can slam fists). That’s unprofessional.

How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.

So if you’re all smiles and giggles, how does this anger show up?

  • Have  you ever dropped sarcastic remarks in response to someone’s input on something?
  • Have you ever removed yourself from others in an effort to “show them?”
  • Have you ever asked deliberate leading questions to get someone to admit something or to make them look bad?
  • Have you ever talked about someone behind their back?
  • Have you ever withheld information someone might need to do their job?

These kinds of behaviors are all passive aggressive.

Meaning, you’re angry, but you act like you aren’t and use unrelated actions to communicate it.

Like when your spouse slams the dishes around while cleaning the kitchen you were supposed to clean. There’s a message there, but she’s not being terribly clear about it. But she is being loud.

And like that game of Keep Away, staying angry and flailing around about what you’re not getting isn’t going to get you anywhere.

At some point, you have to take action or nothing will change. In fact, your anger could give way to things like anxiety and depression.

So what can you do?

Stop letting anger block you

Anger is an excellent indicator that something is wrong. It wraps itself around and protects things like fear, vulnerability and hurt.

Anger can give you useful data to find out what you really need to work on. Anger is a beetle (What!? More on that here.)

Understand what you’re angry about

Take an honest assessment about what is making you angry. Write down each thing that you get upset about.

A good way to know when something has made you angry is if you sit at your desk and ruminate about it constantly and can’t get your work done.

Write. It. Down.

Then, rate from 1-10, how angry that thing makes you:

  • 1=”not so much,”
  • 10=”off the freakin’ rails.”

Look for patterns in the things you rated as off the rails, or close to off the rails. What common elements do they share?

Use this data to find out what you’re wanting and not getting.

You can also review your list and see if you can identify any other possible scenarios that might explain the situation.

Your boss ignored your email?

  • Perhaps it’s in her spam folder.
  • Maybe her daughter had to go to the ER and she’s been a little busy with that this morning.
  • Maybe she drafted a response and got sidetracked and forgot to hit Send. That happens to me soooo much.
  • Maybe she actually doesn’t care about your email. The negative response is always a possibility but it doesn’t have to be the first thing you come up with.
  • Try to explore all the possibilities before you go all Walter White on her.

Be brave and communicate it directly

Now that you have some idea of what is making you angry, give some consideration as to how you might communicate it to others so you can speak honestly about your experience.

In a work environment, this can be tricky. Most organizations have mechanisms to deal with slamming-fist people, but many are not that skilled with the finer emotional events that drive everyday work.

You will have to be the one to take the initiative, and it will be good for you because initiative is the anti-passive-aggressive.

So who should you talk to? Your manager?

You have to gauge this one based on your relationship with your manager. Many managers want to know when their people are unhappy, but just as many don’t know quite what to do with it.

Give some thought as to how your anger might sound on their side of the table and see how you might frame it in a way that will help them help you.

One way to do this is to communicate your concerns using “I” statements.

Speak from your own experience, describing the emotions you feel and how it has affected your situation.

And, this is important: you do this without casting blame or trying to assess the other person’s motives.

For example, NOT this:

“I noticed my accomplishments were not mentioned in last month’s report to the CEO along with everyone else. How could you disrespect me like that? I worked so hard and sacrificed a lot of personal time to get it done. I can’t believe how little you care about me and my work.”

Dang! No…

Try this instead:

“I noticed my accomplishments were not mentioned in last month’s report to the CEO along with everyone else. Gotta be honest, that made me feel a bit angry because I worked extra hours and sacrificed personal time to meet the goals. My goals and my team’s goals are really important to me. Help me understand what you need from me. What could I be missing?”

In the last scenario, you speak to your anger, but not in a way that puts the other person on the defensive. Instead, it’s a call for more information to improve the process, and ultimately, it’s more collaborative.

“I” statements are a powerful way to communicate with anyone who may have a real stake in your life: coworkers, spouses, kids, friends, the geniuses at the Apple store.

If you can’t talk to your manager, is there someone else in your internal network who can hear your concerns? Maybe someone in a different department who has a voice in the organization?

Don’t be a jerk, let it go

Whether you address your anger with someone else or not, you are still faced with the prospect of letting your anger go.

Anger is exhausting and doesn’t really serve anyone, least of all you. You may not get your justice, and you may have to be okay with that.

Letting it go serves to start with a clean slate, for everyone. This is a great foundation to build trust and can actually strengthen your relationships.

There is great value in exploring and processing anger, but the road always leads to the same place: to move forward you have to release it.

This is the part you can control

Letting go of anger is a decision and a commitment. There’s no magic trick that will distract you from it or make it seem better than it is.

It is an act of humility that says the greater good is bigger than my feelings in this moment.

It’s easy to look for others to be the cause of why we’re struggling at work, but we forget that we hold so much power over our emotions.

Anger is tricky because it seems like it’s mostly caused by something or someone else.

But the decision on how to deal with anger is largely left up to us.

That’s not fair, but that seems to be the way that particular cookie fell off the sheet.

We can choose how to perceive others’ actions in our workday, and we can decide what role we might play in the solution.

Who knows how that might change the outcome?

What about you?

How have you experienced anger at work? What has helped you? Please share!

 

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How to weather change at work without stressing out

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How to weather change at work without stressing out

Change has always been a part of the workplace.

But in the last five to eight years it seems it has reached a fever pitch in many organizations. You can expect something big to change every two or so years, sometimes even way less.

Have you experienced this lately? Change can be one of the biggest causes of stress at work.

Reorganizations, leadership changes, new regulations and legislation that require big changes to workflows and processes, automation that makes cherished roles redundant.

Don’t get me wrong. Change isn’t necessarily bad. New developments and innovations can take an organization in a new and exciting direction.

But it’s still an adjustment because motion creates friction. (Hey, look who was paying attention in Mr. Rieger’s 10th grade physics class.)

The catalyst for change runs the gamut but the results can be the same:

  • What’s going to happen to me?
  • When will I know what’s going to happen?
  • What if I’m not comfortable with the changes?
  • Will I have to take on even more?
  • Am I still needed?
  • If I don’t like the change, should I stay and wait it out or get out now?
  • This isn’t what I signed up for.
  • This isn’t fair.

Emotions like fear, uncertainty, anger, and frustration can drown you and your coworkers in times of change.

You may feel powerless, which can cause you to think and act in ways outside of your character.

That certainly won’t help.

And you may lash out at leadership, even as they may be experiencing the same emotions and fears.

Many organizations haven’t mastered how to effectively coach their employees through change. 

So developing a healthy attitude and adaptive responses to changes at work largely falls on your shoulders.

To thrive in today’s work environments, you have to expect that change will come knocking on your door.

And part of that expectation is being prepared ahead of time. You can decide now how you will engage so when the change occurs, you can remain flexible and productive.

Here are a few things to consider as the winds of change start blowing at work.

1. Don’t take change personally.

Reframe your perspective. Don’t be paranoid. It’s not about you.

It really is “just business.”

Change or die is kind of a very real thing now facing organizations (Blockbuster, anyone?).

Change can result from new industry advancements, higher expectations from technology, excitement about the future, or a desperate attempt to salvage something that’s just not going well.

And this would probably happen whether or not you were sitting in your cheerily-decorated space.

Do this instead: 

Choose to view yourself as a business. While “just business” is still “kinda personal” — because, after all, business changes can affect your livelihood — you can decide to use the power you do have to make your own change.

The change door swings both ways.

While your organization is assessing, hypothesizing and consulting, you get to do the same thing.

  • What’s working for you?
  • What’s not working?
  • What skills would you like to continue to develop or deepen?
  • What other levers could you pull to achieve your career goals?
  • What do you want to do?

Honestly, you should always be on the hunt for answering these questions, even if everything is perfect at work.

Exploring these questions can help you feel a little less powerless because you can generate some tangible options for yourself.

You don’t have to act on those options necessarily. But it’s a real mood booster to know you have options, like finding that surprise $20 bill in your jeans on laundry day.

Plus, assessing your skills and experiences is a huge validator. Sometimes in the day-to-day we forget how awesome we are.

2. Don’t ruminate about all the negative possibilities.

Rumination is a dastardly thinking habit that’ll take you right down the road to depression and anxiety. If you only have the mental budget to stop doing one thing, pick this one, please.

When you entertain distressing and negative thoughts over and over and over, without challenging them, stewing over them at your desk and casting blame on others like Thor’s hammer, guess what?

Your mood totally tanks. Your mental state spirals down into a mess of obsession over every little comment, side glance or email.

Now you feel hopeless.

You may look up and realize a half hour has gone by and you haven’t done anything.

So, in a time of great change, you’re not getting your work done.

(If you prefer a description of rumination that involves cows, and really, who doesn’t?, click here.)

Do this instead:

Rumination is a habit and one you can absolutely change. It’s easy.

Instead of fuming, write down your most distressing thoughts, right there at your desk. Then, under each thought, write a possible explanation you may not have considered.

Be a detective. What else could be going on that you haven’t considered, Sherlock?

It can be completely plausible or involve aliens. As long as you’re generating ideas.

Bonus: Now you have distracted yourself, probably made yourself laugh because we all know how funny you are when it comes to aliens, and interrupted the aforementioned dastardly rumination.

You have also considered a different perspective on your experience, which is gold. You get 10 points!

3. Don’t get caught up in the rumors and the riff raff.

Note: If you don’t know what riff raff is, you’re probably part of it.

This one is really, really hard. I know your mother and all the career literature says, “Thou shouldst not partaketh in gossip-eth.”

But in an organizational change vacuum, where reliable information may be like finding a free restroom in Manhattan, sometimes gossip feels like all you have.

However, priming the rumor pump is a nifty way to keep anxiety and fear constantly churned up — for everyone.

Of course, you naturally want to share and process your feelings and fears with others who are going through the same experience. This is normal and healthy, to a degree.

But there’s a point where it becomes damaging and counterproductive. Sharing information that you heard from someone else is one thing.

Fortune-telling and mud-slinging from that information (which may or may not be accurate, usually not) is a whole other enchilada.

And in many cases, your predictions are way off anyway.

Do this instead:

Decide to be a safe person for your coworkers. Determine ahead of time how you will engage with new information that presents itself from unofficial channels.

If you are uncomfortable with something, say so. If a group discussion starts going askew and you start getting that icky feeling, excuse yourself and walk away.

You may not nail this 100% of the time because some conversations just evolve. But do your best.

Most importantly, find simple ways every day to encourage your coworkers who may be struggling even more than you.

Make this your “shtick” as your organization progresses through the change. People do appreciate it, and it will help keep you encouraged as much as it helps them.

4. Don’t abandon your self care regimen.

Now is not the time to stop exercising, eating right or sleeping.

Focusing on these three tools in your toolkit is the key to building resilience for everything life throws your way.

Stress at work takes its toll on you physically by jacking up your adrenal system. When you’re under stress, your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate increases, your muscles constrict, and your pupils dilate.

The hormone cortisol becomes the general who barks orders in your body as it prepares you for the “danger” ahead.

Staying in this constant state of “fight or flight,” though, is too much wear and tear on your adrenal and cardiovascular systems.

This is why at the end of the day you have headaches, heart palpitations, indigestion, irritability and difficulty sleeping.

Do this instead:  

Intentional self care is the foolproof antidote to stress at work. It won’t change your stress but it can change your outlook on it and how you respond.

Exercise: Find time every day for some form of movement. Go for a run or walk, ride your bike, do yoga, play a quick game of basketball with your kids, pull some weeds in your yard, whatever. Just move.

When things get hot at work, take a break and go for a 10-minute walk. You’re allowed.

This is a great way to let off steam in the moment and has the added advantage of reducing your blood pressure on the spot. (I know this because I’m now in that phase of life where taking my blood pressure has become a sport.)

Eat right: Make a planned and deliberate effort to nourish your body with healthy foods. It doesn’t matter if you are doing keto, paleo, Weight Watchers, you’re a vegan or you just eat when you’re hungry (is that a thing?).

Simply focus on making healthier choices every day and staying away from the processed junk and sugars that we all know by now are bad for us.

Don’t make your marvelously adaptable body have to work harder to keep you all together.

Sleep: Sleep is a discipline. It’s not something that happens upon you like bonus fries at the bottom of the bag. You may have to work for it to get it to fall in place.

Make bedtime the main event and focus of your evening. Anything that distracts you from getting to bed on time shouldn’t make the cut. This won’t make you a hit at the parties you’re not going to, but the results will make you feel like a rockstar.

Do we not do this with our kids when they’re young? If you were like me, your whole nighttime schedule revolved around getting your kids to bed on time. Woe be unto any person or activity who tried to impede that.

Make that same commitment to yourself. Maybe your evening should involve more snuggling and someone reading you a bedtime story.

For more grown-up tactics on how to get better sleep, Google “sleep hygiene” and “bedtime rituals.”

Stay flexible, my friends

None of these things will keep changes at work from affecting you. But the secret sauce of weathering change, at work or at home, is giving yourself the best shot at staying flexible.

What doesn’t bend will break. You’re not helpful to yourself or anyone else if you’re broken.

You can’t be adaptable by being paranoid about the future, letting your emotions run amok, giving others room to determine your perspective and allowing your body to get overwhelmed.

You have more power than you know to not just survive change, but to thrive beyond it.

What about you?

What are some ways you have dealt with change at work? What has worked for you? Do share!

 

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Monday Check Yourself: No one’s thinking about you

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It’s not what people think about you, it’s what you think they think about you.

But here’s the thing. No one’s thinking about you. Not like you think.

You worry what people might say if you step out into the spotlight a bit.

You focus on making everything perfect so people will think how great you are and how you never seem to mess up. (oh my!)

You get worked up wondering how people might be plotting “evil strategery” against you in their spare time.

All eyes up front: No one but you is thinking about that right now.

How much are you thinking about other people in this very moment? Yep. You’re thinking about yourself.

And that’s okay. So is everyone else.

We’re all worried about doing a good job at work and managing everything on our precariously-balanced plates without freaking out on those we care about. And we’re trying to look cool while doing it all.

All of us.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should go about committing dastardly deeds because you think no one’s paying attention to you. Simmer down, Dr. Evil.

But stop wasting your time — your most valuable commodity — wondering what others think about you.

It’s Monday. Go be you.

What’s the worst that could happen?

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I love Saturday mornings because I let myself feel okay about taking my foot off the gas for a bit.

No hair, makeup, or desperately-packed lunchboxes. Just me, my coffee (oh my gosh, lots of coffee!) and my thoughts for a couple of hours.

I don’t know about you but the older I get, the more I need little “coasting” breaks like this.

I use this time to reflect back on the week and try to glean some little nuggets.

What did I do well? Did I move anything forward even just a little? Did I help someone? Did I step outside my comfort zone in any way? I try to always give myself credit for something, even if it feels like I’m reaching.

I walk the fine line between finding the good in every week because it’s a healthy way to live, and knowing that I need to challenge myself to do better.

This week was a bit of a struggle, which I didn’t expect because I just came back from a relaxing vacation.

There were no particular failings, but I went toe-to-toe with an old nemesis: perfectionism.

 

The villain I thought I had battled and won over years ago has re-entered my story. In sneaky, small ways.

  • I didn’t publish any real content.
  • I went down rabbit trails and spent too much time on the wrong stuff.
  • I’m not making my practice a priority.
  • I always wonder if I’m making a difference with my clients.
  • I didn’t have exactly the billables I needed.
  • I still didn’t clean out that stupid linen closet.
  • I rolled my ankle at the gym on Tuesday and won’t get enough workouts in this week.

#firstworldproblems

Oddly, I conquered perfection in the throes of my corporate experience. I worked eight years in a Fortune 100 company with high expectations for high performers. I woke up most days to at least 15 urgent outputs every day.

I didn’t have the luxury of perfection. Done had to be better than perfect.

So I mistakenly thought I was done with trying to be perfect.

Here’s what I know: Perfectionism is not a character flaw or narcissism.

 

It’s anxiety. It’s fear. It’s worry about the future.

If I don’t take care of every detail, something bad might happen.

And when I feel that way, one thing works. I play the “What’s the worst that could happen?” game.

I take every perceived shortcoming and walk it through to its bitter end.

I didn’t publish any real content to support my business, so I won’t get new leads online, which may affect how many new clients I get, which may dry up my revenue, which may mean that my business doesn’t make it, which may mean I have to close up shop and do something else.

Guess what? I can live with that. It may not be pleasant, but I can surely handle it. I’ve coped with a lot worse.

Most of what we fear might happen never does.

So I’ll push the reset button for next week and give it another go.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Stop chewing your cud

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“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

– William Shakespeare

Do you ever have days when you just can’t stop thinking about something that really got under your skin? Maybe it was something that happened yesterday, or maybe even 12 years ago.

Or maybe it’s just a thought you’ve always believed about yourself.

Like you’re not smart, or you’ll never amount to anything.

And no one wants to hang out with you.

And that’s why you’re not in a meaningful relationship.

Which means you’ll always be alone.

So you may as well stay home tonight.

And people who are alone don’t amount to anything.

Aaaand we’re right back where we started.

Let the chewing begin.

Welcome to the downward spiral of a dank little mental process called “rumination.”

Technically and all scienc-ey, rumination is the leisurely and regurgitative digestive process our four-stomached bovine friends must endure to better process their food. Apparently after enjoying their breakfast from Chik Fil-A, they must bring it back up and just keep on chewing.

Charming.

Mental rumination, however, can be a sure fire catalyst for depression.

Every emotion we experience starts as a little seed of a thought that we entertain. If it’s a healthy thought, it leads to feeling happy or content, which leads to smiling, laughing and other positive behaviors.

Life is good. Chips and salsa all around.

But an unhealthy thought we tend to chew on over and over and over. We don’t challenge the thought or look for any evidence of it actually being valid or true. Instead we entertain it just long enough to let it lead to another, more unhealthy thought.

Which takes us down the path to what’s now a damaging thought.

Keep in mind, we’re not looking for a solution when we do this; just focusing completely on rehashing the bad parts.

We keep chewing that bad boy until we’re now furiously obsessing over what’s happened to us, something we probably had no control over anyway.

And now we’re angry, sad or maybe even feeling hopeless, the diagnosable stuff of depression.

Swallow. That. Cud.

While cud chewing is healthy for cows, it’s a maladaptive pattern for those of us with just one stomach. In order to stop ruminating, you have to deal with the thoughts you keep coughing up.

Write down the very first unhealthy thought, and be a detective. See if you can find evidence of its truth.

If it’s true, fine. Make a plan to address it. You might be alone not because you’re a loser but because you really haven’t put yourself out there. It’s hard not to be alone when there are no other people around. Just sayin’. Find ways to engage more with others.

If the thought’s not true, find a way to reframe or restate that thought in a healthier, more positive way before it gets you all worked up. Yes, you appear to be alone right now but you have a plan to join your church’s young adult group so you can meet people whose interests you share. And there will probably be pizza.

Either way, you’re processing the thought just the one time.

With the time you save, you can then use your new healthy thoughts to launch you into healthy and productive actions.

What about you?

Is this something you’ve struggled with? Please do share.

 

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