By: Laura Groulx, MSW, RSW
Change can be hard. Like really hard. There are some people that thrive in a changing environment, however, many (like me!), prefer structure, routine, and predictability. Unfortunately for us structure-lovers, life isn’t always so predictable.
Managing when you find your thoughts getting out of control is a necessary tool to master for positive mental health.
I wish people knew how much control they have over how they feel. Life is not about what happens to us, but about how we perceive our experiences. Our story is created in the way we define it, and this story is about how to take control of the thoughts that hold us back.
I’ve always wanted to do something important. As a kid, I dreamt of singing in front of thousands of people, writing books, and inspiring and motivating others to create a better world. But I didn’t. At least, I haven’t yet (fingers crossed!). When given opportunities, I let my pounding heart and shortness of breath convince me that it was safer to pass rather than speak up.
I used to tell myself that if I wanted to lead people, I had to be about 50 pounds lighter first, with better hair and clothes. I told myself that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. I was worried about alienating people who didn’t agree with what I had to say. When it came to the really important moments, there was too much risk, and in the end, I was convinced I wouldn’t make a difference anyway. It sounds cynical, but it was purely a fear of rejection.
Your greatest foe and most powerful advocate is your own mind. I realize now that the greatest obstacle is the battle within. What if that nagging voice had been rooting for me instead of tearing me down? What if I had told myself that the worst-case scenarios weren’t really all that bad? Imagine how many incredible things I could have done if I had been willing to make mistakes. When you are conditioned to criticize yourself, it doesn’t seem possible to change the tone of the conversation. But it is.
Throughout our lives, we often create undue stress by placing people or situations in “either/or” categories, such as thinking things are either right or wrong or as successes or failures. We create a world that is limited to black-and-white thinking. We do this because it gives us a sense of security and control over life’s uncertainties. This kind of thinking tricks us into believing we have everything figured out; which feels good, but only temporarily.
The truth is black-and-white thinking actually narrows our vision and creates insecurity. It colours all of our experiences, pressures us to live in extremes, and does not account for the “gray area.” Thus, if your performance ever falls short of perfect, you will be inclined to see yourself as a total failure. As you can see, this type of thinking can be emotionally and physically damaging. The fact is life does not work that way. Life is actually full of subtle balance and varying degrees in every area. In fact, there are really very few situations where gray areas cannot be considered.
I used to call it “piling.” The books refer to it as “the Snowball Effect.”
It’s the sense that negative experiences continuously add up to make you feel completely hopeless and overwhelmed. Like a stack of assignments that piles up. Each one adds a little more stress, and eventually it gets so high that you feel you'll never get through it.
We spilled the coffee. Bam.
Someone makes a snide remark. There’s another one.
Car won’t start. Ouch.
Dog decides to make a fort out of toilet paper.
You face another rejection, and it reminds you of all the other ones that have bothered you since the dawn of time and then it feels like life isn’t worth it and everything sucks…
This is when you have to stop. Breathe.
Notice what’s happening as the slippery slope of negativity takes over. Do you feel the pull?
Allow yourself to put those thoughts on the shelf for a moment or two while you appreciate the colours on the walls around you. Someone took the time to pick out those colours. Imagine how they must have looked, standing in front of the colour cards, comparing minute differences between shades, wondering which one was really going to transform the room. Think about the way the chair beneath you presses up against you. someone, maybe a thousand miles away from you, took the time to experiment with chairs to find out the best way to support the human body, and their effort is quietly working beneath you every day, allowing you to focus on what’s really important.
Snowballing or "piling" is a common cognitive distortion, and it’s one that we face when we are too focused on the bad stuff, when we haven’t gotten enough sleep, when we face too many disappointments all at once and don’t have adequate time to recover.
Next time it happens to you, force yourself to take the time to recover, because you can. you are in charge of you. Take 30 seconds, ground yourself, and things will seem far more manageable.
How you feel is within your control.
Written for you, by local therapists.
NWO’s source for all things relationships, mental health, wellness, and lifestyle: Kelly Magazine is a mental health outreach initiative created by Kelly Mental Health and supported by Kelly Mental Health Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the community in the area of mental health.
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