- Emotional spectacles
I wonder whether you realise that you wear emotional spectacles?
We only tend to notice things that fit in with our moods; when we are feeling depressed, we only notice things that are fairly negative. When we are feeling happy and bouncy then we notice the positive things. We tend to only pay attention to those things that confirm our mood of the moment.
You can test this out for yourself very easily, because we delete a huge amount of information coming in from all our senses all the time.
For instance, until I mention it, you are probably not aware of your left foot in your shoe, maybe not aware of the feeling of your collar on your neck.
If we are depressed we tend to focus on the past and if we are anxious we tend to worry about the awful things that might happen in the future – in both conditions we miss the present.
One of the ways we can begin to turn this around is to notice things; notice the taste, temperature and texture of whatever you are eating, notice the feeling of the water on your back when you are having a shower, the little things that we usually take for granted.
Notice the three best things that you notice every day. Write them down. It could be that you noticed a flower, a bird singing, someone smiling, the taste of a good cup of coffee…..
If you tend to feel low, then by each evening writing down in a notebook the three best things you noticed that day, you will begin to change your focus of attention, and at the end of a week have 21 good things to look back on! And people actually do this as a family exercise. If they eat together they all come to the table and discuss the three best things that each of them noticed that day.
So, go for a walk and really look around and notice things. Look and notice the chimney pots and the clouds, notice the sounds and smells. This will begin to connect you with the present, and will actually help you from always focusing on the negative if you are feeling depressed.
I remember once, someone came to see me, telling me how awful her holiday had been. Her husband had got really drunk, and she had felt very upset and embarrassed by his behaviour. On closer questioning, it transpired it was only on two nights out of the whole two weeks that there had been a problem. All the rest of the time had been fine, but she had forgotten it.
Do you get upset with red traffic lights? Feeling agitated and waiting impatiently for them to turn green? Why not turn that feeling around by using each red light as a signal to put the brake on, take a deep breath in and allow yourself to relax and let go on the out breath. When each red light means a moment of relaxation it’s surprising how few red lights you meet!
We do tend to have selective memory, and only notice things that confirm how we feel. So begin to connect yourself with the present, notice the three best things every day, and write them down. Go for a walk and look around you and notice the things you can see and hear and smell.
2. Born worrier?
Do you think you are a born worrier because your mother was a worrier and your grandmother was a worrier? Is there any way that you can possibly change now?
I would like to suggest that you are not a born worrier. When you were a toddler you weren’t afraid – you would run into danger without a second thought. But you have learnt worry really well. You have learnt to protect yourself. But unfortunately, sometimes we get things out of balance and rather than being protective it starts to cause a problem. But the good news is that if it’s learnt we can start “unlearning” it.
What I would like to suggest you could do, if you’ve got persistent worrying thoughts that go round and round and round your head, is that you have a notebook in your pocket, and when you start getting on that worry wheel write the worry down, put it in your notebook. And then say to yourself, “Well, I’ve put it in my book, I don’t need to worry about that now”. Each day allocate yourself half an hour at some time of the day when you can have a worry time, when you can take out your notebook and look at the things that you’ve written down, and then I would like you to ask yourself three questions…
Is it your problem that you are worrying about?
Can you do anything about it and if so what? Can you perhaps change how you are doing something?
Will it still be important in a years time, in ten years time, in the history of the universe?
Write down your worries, try and break them down into small chunks to make them more manageable, ask those three questions and then when you have done that, at the end of your worry time, tear up the page you have written the worries on and burn it. Throw it away. So you can begin to turn around this pattern of worrying that you’ve learnt. Try it and see.
People who feel anxious or stressed and develop all sorts of physical symptoms, what’s happening there? What’s happening is that they are producing adrenalin. Your caveman ancestors, if they were threatened by a sabre toothed tiger or a woolly mammoth would have had to run like blazes or fight, and they needed adrenalin to help them. With increased adrenalin the heart beats faster, there is increased blood flow to the arms and legs that gave them the strength to fight or to run away. Unfortunately in some ways, our bodies still have that reflex. We still produce adrenalin whenever we get anxious, whenever we feel threatened by anything, and if we don’t use it up in physical activity, the adrenalin just goes round and round our body causing symptoms.
If I was to give you an injection of adrenalin the effects would disappear in twenty minutes, but what tends to happen is that we have anxious thoughts about our anxiety, and each anxious thought generates more adrenalin. So we build it up, and we get the various symptoms of adrenalin release, physical symptoms like muscle pains and headaches because we are holding muscles tight and tense, sweating, or palpitations when our heart races. Skin irritations such as eczema and psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, and allergies are all common manifestations of anxiety and stress.
These kinds of symptoms then give us further anxious thoughts so we produce more adrenalin and think we are seriously ill.
The biggest symptom of all is feeling tired all the time. Many people come in to my surgery and say ‘I am feeling tired all the time’ and a good way of deciding whether that tiredness is down to anxiety or not is this. If you feel very tired and you push yourself to do something or to go out, do you feel better or worse? Usually, if you feel better, it means that your tiredness is due to your producing a lot of adrenalin because you have been getting worried or anxious.
There are lots of other symptoms of anxiety and stress as well- poor concentration, losing your sense of humour, having difficulty making decisions, increased irritability, having a short fuse, mood swinging up and down quickly. We also tend to make more mistakes, our nervous habits increase and we tend to use more tobacco and alcohol.
Stress, of itself, is not our enemy, it motivates our performance. The problem comes when our stress levels increase out of line with our abilities to cope with it.
So why don’t you begin to notice how you do anxiety, because we all do it slightly differently. I know that when I feel anxious I start to get a queasy feeling in my stomach, but somebody else might start to get palpitations, someone else might develop a headache or the feeling of a lump in their throat. If you notice how you start to feel, as you begin to be anxious, use that as your “smoke alarm”, so that that gives you one way of realising “I need to do something to help myself to unwind”.
And there are lots of ways that you can help yourself generally.
If you are anxious or stressed you tend to hold your body tense, your muscles get tight and then they start to ache. It can be very useful, every now and again, to scan down your body and let your muscles go, as you breathe out… just let them go.
4. Breathing Exercises
If you are tending to be anxious what often happens is that you breathe badly. You tend to breathe very fast and shallow in the top part of your chest. At its worst you get hyperventilation where you actually blow out so much carbon dioxide that you get tingling round your mouth, tingling in your arms, even up to getting cramp and paralysis in an arm, because of the disordered breathing pattern.
A useful exercise is to put your hands so that the thumbs are just underneath your lower ribs, and then imagine that you are breathing in and out through your fingers. What happens then is that you are using your diaphragm to breathe. Now if you were hyperventilating when you did this, you would actually hyperventilate even more, because you would be breathing deeper. So it is important to breathe in for a count of whatever is comfortable for you, maybe three, maybe four, maybe five, hold it for the same length of time and then breathe for one count more, so you breathe in for three, hold it for three and breathe out for four. Or breathe in for four, hold it for four, breathe out for five. And after a while, when you get used to doing it, you won’t need to put your hands on your chest, you can just imagine the air going through into your chest at the bottom there.
Some people like to imagine a nice colour, maybe the colour of calmness flowing in with the air, and flowing round their body as they breathe out.
Another exercise that you might like to do to help yourself is a breathing exercise; it’s actually a yoga exercise originally. Simply sit yourself down, and be with your breathing, don’t change your breathing at all. You just notice your breathing, you follow the flow of air in and out, you just become aware of the rise and fall of your chest. If there is a part of your body that’s particularly uncomfortable then direct your out breath into it and let it go. After a little while of doing this you can then begin to focus on the air flowing in and out through your nose. There is a slight temperature difference nearly always there, and the air that you breathe in is cooler than the air that you breathe out, because the air that you breathe out has been warmed as it has gone through your lungs. So there’s nearly always that temperature difference, and you can focus on it. It’s quite surprising how calm and relaxed you can get just purely focusing on your breathing, and not doing anything at all.
So, I would like to recommend that you actually start, if you are feeling anxious, to learn to do diaphragmatic breathing, letting the air flow in through the bottom of your chest, maybe using your hands there or not, depending on what you want, and if you do it several times a day when you are not feeling very anxious, then you will train yourself so that it is easier to do when you do feel anxious; or you could do the yoga breathing exercise and just use that as a way of helping yourself to feel calmer.
If you’ve got the feeling of so many things that you ought to be doing that you feel overwhelmed and paralysed by the thoughts of not being able to do them, what could you do about that? Especially if you are feeling depressed, it’s really difficult to motivate yourself to do anything, and there are all these things pressing in on you that you’ve got to do and it just makes you feel worse and worse.
So, what I would like to suggest is that you perhaps write down the things that you need to do, and then have a look at them. Are there things that you can ditch? Are there things there that you don’t really need to do? Cross them off. Other things you can delegate to other people to do. Very often people will help if you ask them. Or are there things that you really do need to do. And if there are things that you really do need to do, then you need to prioritise them, decide which are the most important. Sometimes when you’ve got difficult jobs to do, you need to do them at a time when you are at your best. Some people are larks and work much better early morning, and other people are owls and are much better in the evening. So make use of that if it’s appropriate for you.
It’s really important to take breaks as well. If you are feeling stressed, one of the first things that happens is you feel time pressured and you really feel you can’t take the time to do other things. So make sure that you take a break, take your lunch hour, take a few minutes out every hour or so if you can – you will work much more effectively.
Just as you press the reset button on your computer if it is starting to play up, you need to find ways to reset yourself if you are getting stressed.
And if you are feeling overwhelmed by everything and feeling depressed, then don’t set yourself too many goals. Set one goal every evening, a small achievable goal, and give yourself a tick when you have done it the next day. Everything else you achieve is a bonus, and just notice how that feels.
One thing that separates happy people from people who are not, is not their personality or the life events that have happened to them, but whether they’ve got goals.
Someone once told me a story about two slugs that I think is quite a nice metaphor for this. If you can imagine in a garden two metal drain covers, and there was Harry slug on one drain cover and Sid slug on another, and the sun got up and it got very hot, and those drain covers got extremely hot too. Harry slug got hotter and hotter, and he kept going round and round in circles saying “Oh I’m hot, I’m hot, get me out of here”, and of course he frizzled up and died and that was the end of Harry slug. Sid slug on the other hand decided “Right this place is getting hot, I want to get out off here”, and so he crawled off, in his slug-like way, off the cover into the grass. It didn’t really matter which direction he went in. He got out of the hot place and, as slugs do, he saw there were some nice bedding out plants across the lawn and thought “I will have some of those”. So he started to crawl across the lawn, but the day had finished, the sun went down and he had to stop for the night. But then he carried on the next day and after two or three days he reached the plants and had a good meal.
And really the goals that we set ourselves may not be attainable in one day, and it may be that we need to take steps upon the way. These small steps are much easier to take than one giant leap. You get what you focus on, so you need to focus on what you want. You need to see the end result in your minds eye, or at least be aware of the direction. How often do you tell yourself ‘I can’t do it” and then give up without even an attempt? What would happen if you tried?
A very useful exercise is to close your eyes and imagine yourself doing the thing that you wanted to do and seeing the end result. Maybe seeing yourself coming out of the dentist if you have dental anxieties, seeing yourself coming out of the dentist feeling calm, pleased with yourself. And then, when you can see that in your minds eye, step into that you, imagine actually being there, so that you feel it. If it feels right for you, then go for it.
There is an exercise that I teach many people to do, that I call the mirror exercise:
You close your eyes and imagine behind you a full length mirror, and in it an image of you looking the way and feeling the way you don’t want to look and feel, maybe looking anxious, feeling panicky, feeling that you can’t do things. Don’t spend too long on that image, because I want you then to imagine in front of you a full length mirror, with you feeling, behaving and thinking the way you want to think, feel and behave. Make this image as clear and as vivid as you can and then step right into it, and feel it. Say something appropriate to yourself like “I know I can do it”, and then open your eyes. And then close your eyes again and do the same thing, the mirror behind with the way you don’t want to be, the mirror in front with the way you do want to be, and when you’ve got that image clear, step in to it, feel it, say something appropriate. If you do this four or five times, opening your eyes after each cycle, what happens is that you are giving yourself a goal, improving your self image, and giving yourself positive suggestion that will help move you to be the person you wish to become.
7. Panic attacks
If you are a sufferer of panic attacks, what tends to happen is that something (often something you are unaware of consciously) triggers an immediate outburst of adrenalin, and you recognise the feeling that that produces. That then gives rise to such thoughts as “Oh no! It’s happening again.. I’ve got to get out of here!” and this builds up the adrenalin further.
People who have panic attacks are often afraid that they are going to faint or even that they are going to die, but I have never, in thirty years of being a GP, known anyone die in a panic attack, and if you stop to think about it, when you produce adrenalin, when you get anxious, we talk about our blood pressure going up and that’s exactly what happens. When you get anxious your blood pressure goes up. So it’s even less likely that you’d faint because if you faint your blood pressure has dropped and is low, and the action of fainting means that you fall down so that you are lying down so your heart doesn’t have to pump against gravity.
You know, we only have one arousal state in our body and that’s produced by adrenalin, and that adrenalin is the same whether it’s a panic attack, whether it’s the excitement on going on the “big one” on Blackpool pleasure beach, or whether its that feeling that you get when you’re a teenager and you’ve got a crush on someone and you see that person. The feeling of flushing and lightheadedness, the heart pounding, the rapid, shallow breathing, and all the feelings that you get in your body are exactly the same whether you are in love, whether you are having an adrenalin burn or whether you are having a panic attack. It’s just that the label that we give it is different because the context is different.
So if you realise that it’s the adrenalin that’s causing these symptoms then you know that it’s going to settle down unless you keep feeding it. If I was to give you an injection of adrenalin all those symptoms that you get in a panic attack would be there but you would settle down within twenty minutes. So you can just accept the fact that you’ve got that feeling, but don’t focus on it.
One very good thing that you could do if you have a panic attack or the beginnings of a panic attack is to sing a nursery rhyme in your head. This may sound absolutely stupid, but if you think of a very familiar nursery rhyme such as “Baa, baa, black sheep” and sing it in your mind, then the words occupy one part of your brain, the melody occupies another and there is no room for the panic attack.
You could use visual imagery to help yourself with panic. Imagine the word “calm” painted in the air above you and watch it slip down into your body pushing the anxiety feelings out through your feet. Maybe as you say the word “Calm, calm, calm” in your mind.
You can focus on your breathing, breathing in the colour of calmness, letting go of the anxiety as you breathe out.
Allow yourself to accept the feeling, but not to build it, and then just focus on something else.
If you always avoid the places where you get panic attacks what tends to happen is that the avoidance gets more and more because you are rewarding the panic attack by not going to the places that trigger it you feel better. It then gets worse as the places where you feel safe get less and less. By actually going to those places that you are apprehensive and fearful of, maybe starting with the one that’s the least challenging, and actually staying there, calming yourself down until you feel calmer and then leaving, you’ll find then the next time you go it will be easier. If you run rather than staying with it, it gets harder rather than easier.
And do have a try singing the nursery rhyme, using your breathing, or using some visual image or sound that helps you to calm yourself.
8. Relaxation techniques
If you are very, very anxious then it’s very difficult to sit down and expect yourself to relax, you just can’t do it. So I’d like to suggest that if you have difficulty relaxing, that you think of some activity that perhaps you used to enjoy, like swimming or cycling or horse riding. Sit yourself down, close your eyes, and imagine taking yourself back into that time, into that activity. Because when doing that activity you were using adrenalin, it’s matching the adrenalin that you have in your body when you’re anxious. So, for instance, if you were imagining swimming you’d swim really, really fast, feeling the temperature of the water against your skin, seeing what you would see, hearing what you heard, smelling the smells perhaps, feeling the feeling in the muscles of your body. And then gradually as you feel it’s right, you could slow it down, so that eventually you could perhaps turn over on your back and float supported in the water. Maybe if you were cycling or horse riding you could dismount and rest under a tree. And by doing this, using your imagination, you can actually help yourself to relax without even trying.
There are lots of other ways that you can focus your mind and relax. You could use your breathing as a focus, you could imagine just relaxing your body bit by bit, maybe from the head down, maybe allowing a colour to flow down, if you feel a colour of calmness is right for you. Taking yourself, perhaps, to some imaginary place, or maybe even some real place, where you have felt really calm and relaxed. And really being there, not just seeing it, but actually imagining that you are there, so you can reach out and touch things, hear things, smell things that would be there.
And without actually having to try and relax at all, by focusing your attention, or by closing your eyes and taking yourself off in your imagination, you will find that the relaxation follows automatically. In fact, “trying” usually means you can’t do it, so just allowing yourself to focus your attention and then maybe to drift off into visual imagery or focusing on your breathing, these kinds of methods can help you to relax, when sitting down “trying to relax” fails.
Another very useful exercise is to take a deep breath in, and then just let your body relax, let go of the unnecessary tension in your muscles as you breathe out. And it really helps if you get used to doing this several times throughout the day. Just odd times when you notice that you are holding a muscle tense, take a deep breath in, and let it go on the out breath.
9. Pattern interrupts
Someone said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you’ve always got. All our behaviour, or most of our behaviour is patterned, we do things in a particular way. When we get up in the morning we dress in a particular order, we brush our teeth in a particular way and these patterns extend into all parts of our lives. If what you are doing isn’t getting the result that you want, then you need to break the pattern and do something different.
For instance, children often are very good at winding each other up. I know my son was always very good at winding my daughter up, and she would get very upset until I suggested to her that maybe she broke the pattern. She could change her response. So next time my son tried to wind her up she applauded him, she gave him a clap and said “Oh well done, you are doing well” and that completely threw him.
So if you always shout at the kids to try and get them to do something and it’s not working, why not try whispering or writing them a letter. Do something different and you will get a different result. It may not be the result you want, but you can at least try and experiment and see what happens.
It’s very useful to break a pattern a day. It builds flexibility. Breaking patterns that aren’t really important; maybe walking a different way round to the shops, maybe sitting in a different chair.
If you’ve got a particular pattern that you can identify as to how you do anxiety or how you do depression, then changing that pattern, doing something slightly differently will help. If you have trouble with an eating disorders, changing the pattern will help. Try it. Experiment, enjoy breaking the patterns.
10. The Worry Wheel and insomnia
Do you lie awake in the early hours mulling things over? Do you find that you wake up and the problems that you have are going over and over and over in your head?
How often is this helpful? Does worrying solve the problem? Sometimes worrying about something can mean that you get a good idea, a good solution, so it’s quite handy to have a pencil and paper by your bed. Sometimes you wake up remembering things, why not write them down and then you don’t need to hold them in your consciousness, so you can allow yourself to go back to sleep.
If you find that you are going round and round and round particular worries, you need to do what we call thought blocking. You need to break in to that vicious cycle of worry. One way that is very effective if you try it, is to count backwards from three hundred in sevens. If you do that, that’s guaranteed to block any worry pattern! Some people when they have worries going round and round their heads during the day have a rubber band round their wrist they can ping and that interrupts the cycle. You can start thinking about something else quite deliberately, but it’s often useful to actually get up out of bed and then get back to bed and start thinking about something else. If you are used to doing some relaxation techniques that can be useful.
People who have difficulty going to sleep tend to “try” to go to sleep and then the trying gets in the way; because the trying generates adrenalin, and that of course makes it harder to go to sleep.
But if you begin to focus your attention on something else, maybe on how comfortable you feel, or focus your attention on your left big toe and really concentrate on your left big toe, that can help. Another exercise that you could do is just allow yourself to direct your attention around your body bit by bit, right thumb, right index finger, right middle finger, right ring finger, right little finger, the palm of your right hand, the back of your right hand, right writs, right forearm and so on, all the way through the body. Not doing anything with it but merely directing your attention to it, and then maybe directing your attention to your breathing, and just letting that go.
Another way that you can help yourself if you’ve got an image of a special place that’s your calm place, you could see yourself falling asleep in that place, and that will often help you drift off. Allow yourself to focus your attention on something else rather than on “trying” to go to sleep.
11. Using imagery to help with emotions
People sometimes tell me that they understand why they feel particular feelings but they don’t know how to get rid of the feeling, and I like to teach people the use of imagery to get rid of negative emotions and to get hold of good feelings instead.
The way you could do that is by “going inside”, imagining a place that you would like to be, where you feel calm and relaxed, and finding in that place some way of throwing things away. Maybe throwing the anxiety away, maybe throwing away the craving for cigarettes, anything that you are wanting to get rid of, maybe down a rubbish chute, maybe on to a bonfire, maybe putting it on to a cloud and blowing it up into the pale blue yonder, but getting rid in your imagination of whatever it is that you are wanting to get rid of.
But then, once you’ve got rid of something negative, you need to put back in its place something positive, good feelings that you want for yourself instead. You could do this by imagining a pool, with pebbles around that represent all the good feelings that you want, that you can drop into your pool. Then you can connect with your pool, maybe swimming in it, maybe allowing yourself to drink some of the water. Or you can find something else to represent the good things that you want.
Some people like to write on the sand below the high water mark on an imaginary beach, and then watch the water wash the things away that they want to get rid of, and then they will find a pebble or stone on their beach that represent the good things that they want to take back with them.
There are all sorts of ways that people can use their imagination to help themselves. One very useful way of getting rid of anger is to imagine yourself in a rocky place, miles away from anywhere, and to find something there, a big rock or a boulder, to represent the anger that you want to get rid of. Project your anger into the rock and then find some way of smashing it up. Maybe a pickaxe, maybe a pneumatic drill, maybe dynamite, but smash it up into tiny little bits and get rid of it. Feel pleased when you have done that, but it’s really important if you do use imagery to get rid of some negative thing like anger, to go and find somewhere calm in your imagination afterwards. To really connect with the peace and calmness of the place you have chosen.
By using your imagination to help yourself with your feelings, you’ll find that you’ve got more and more control over how you feel rather than feelings controlling you.
12. Mind reading
Are you a mind reader? Do you have a crystal ball? We often think we have. We often jump to conclusions about why people do what they do, and we often think the worst. Maybe a group of people talking at work suddenly stop as I come in “Oh, they must have been talking about me, they can’t like me”, but what might the alternative explanation be? Maybe they were planning a birthday party in secret. You need to look at the evidence.
I would like to tell you a story about a lady who wanted very much to have Christmas day on her own with her family, and she had a mother-in-law that she quite liked and she invited every Christmas to come and stay with them. This Christmas she really didn’t want her mother-in-law to come and she was really getting so anxious and wound up about how she could tell her mother-in-law that she didn’t want her to come on Christmas day. The mother-in-law was going to really feel upset and she was imaging how awful the atmosphere would be and lying awake at night worrying about it. Eventually she decided to ask the mother-in-law if it would be alright if she came another day, and the mother-in-law said “Oh, I am really glad you said that, because I was wondering how I was going to tell you. I really didn’t want to come on Christmas day because I’ve got a friend coming to stay”. So both of them were mind readers thinking they understood what the other person was thinking.
So if you have a good imagination, and you are always running through the worst possible scenarios in your mind, why don’t you use your imagination to help yourself and think of the other alternatives? Why limit yourself to just one alternative?
Why should you always think the worst? Would you bet £5 on that worse thing happening if you really had to give the £5 to charity each time it didn’t happen? Why don’t you try and imagine the alternative, the positive alternative and see whether that’s more likely to happen?
If someone’s late from work does that mean that something dreadful has happened, or could it just be that they are late because they have been stuck in a traffic jam?
13. Negative self talk
How often do you tell yourself ‘I must do this’ or ‘They should do that’? Who says you’ve got to do it? What would happen if you didn’t do it? Why don’t you try and replace the “musts” and the “shoulds” with in your mind with “like to”, “prefer to”? Something might have always have been done in a certain way, but does that mean that it’s always got to be done that same way forever? So instead of must and should, think like or prefer. Instead of saying “Always”, qualify it. “I always do this, except when I don’t”. “I never do that, except when I do!”
Are you always putting yourself down? Are you always talking to yourself in a negative way telling yourself you are a failure, saying that you can’t do it? Do you have an internal saboteur? Many of us do, and many of us have found ways of dealing with that internal dialogue.
Some people find that the best way is to distract themselves from it, to do something else, push it away. Some people like to argue with it, if they have a negative parrot on one shoulder saying negative things about a situation, they put a positive parrot on the other shoulder to counterbalance it.
Another very useful way of helping yourself with negative dialogue is to change how it sounds. If you’ve got some voice in your head whether it’s yours or somebody else’s, why don’t you try changing it. If you’ve ever listened to someone when they have been breathing helium and the voice goes all squeaky and strange, you could change it like that. You could make it a mickey mouse voice, you could make it a low slow drawl. Would it have the same emotional impact upon you? I think you’ll find it wouldn’t.
If you get persistent thoughts running through your head write them down, and then try changing the odd word or two words. See if that alters how it feels. Imagining singing it, would that change the feeling?
We all have negative internal dialogue, it’s something that most people have, but it doesn’t always have to make us feel bad. Most people have a reasonable degree of self-confidence despite their internal dialogue. So try distracting it, try arguing with it or try heliumising it to change it.
When you think of something that’s happened, you get the memory of the event, but you also get some feeling attached to it, don’t you? Good times have good feelings attached, bad memories have bad feelings attached. And all sorts of things link us with these memories. It could be something we’ve seen, something we smell, something we hear, that takes us back to those particular memories and the feelings that are attached to them.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a link to those good memories and feelings that was there all the time? You can build that link for yourself.
You could close your eyes and allow a memory of a time when you had those good feeling surface. Imagine re-experiencing that event, seeing what you saw, hearing what you heard. Connect with the feeling, really feel the feeling, built it up as strongly as you can. And then put in a link, maybe a visual symbol in your minds eye, maybe a sound, maybe pressing a finger and thumb together, and actually use that link to connect yourself again with the feelings.
If you don’t want to formally build it up in that way you can use the things that are around you as links to good feelings. If there’s a picture that makes you feel good put it on your office wall, have something by you that reminds you of a good time. I’ve got a picture of a lake on my wall, and that takes me back to good times that I had in Canada. Other people have pictures of dolphins and they imagine themselves swimming with the dolphins, and that helps them to feel good. Find things that link to good feelings and help you to feel happy.
15. Taking time for self
One of the first things that happens when people feel stressed is they begin to feel time pressured; they begin to feel they haven’t got time to do things. So at the very time that they need them most, they start to reduce the number of times that they go to the gym, or do exercise, or play an instrument or go out. They feel that they haven’t got time for these things so they stop doing them.
If you build a house one of the first things the architect does is to make sure they build good drains, so that the rain and the snow that falls on the house can drain away. You need to build your own drains, and these are usually either physical activity or something creative.
You need to do something each day that you enjoy. It doesn’t need to be for a long time, but you need to take time for yourself, and then you will be able to find that you’ve got the emotional wellbeing to help other people.
People often feel that it’s bad to take time for themselves, they feel guilty. If you have a car you wouldn’t run it into the ground. You would look after it and take it to the garage every now and again; and we need to do that for ourselves.
If you think about the people around you, then they would appreciate you taking time for yourself, if it means that you are feeling less irritable, if it means that you are feeling happier, and you’re working more efficiently.
Each day do one thing you enjoy, schedule an activity for yourself that you enjoy every week; but time won’t be given to you, you have to make it.
16. Perceptual positions
Sometimes it can be very useful to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
I was at a meeting a while ago with two people who were very tall and well built, and I am rather short. As we stood having lunch I felt quite threatened by these two big people, one either side of me. They couldn’t understand why I felt as I did, until I asked them to sit down, which they did. They sat down and I stood up. They were down to my size and I was up to their size respectively, and they were then able to understand how I felt.
So actually imagining yourself stepping into someone else’s shoes can be quite useful.
If you are having a lot of rows, or you are having difficulties with somebody, it can be useful to take a step back and to look at what’s happening between the pair of you. Taking that step back gives you a different perspective.
If someone cuts you up while you are driving and it gets you angry, imagine squirting them with spray paint; but then take a step back, and wonder why they were cutting you up. Were they really stressed because their mother was ill in hospital and they were dashing down the motorway to get there. You don’t know what was happening in their lives, you don’t know what was going on behind what you saw.
Taking that step back, imagining yourself in their shoes, can help you to cope with other people’s problems.
I’m going to tell you another slug story.
Once upon a time there was a chequerboard in a garden made with green and white squares. There was a slug on a green square and he said “The world is green” and there was a slug on the white square next to him and he said “No, no, you are totally wrong. The world is white”, “It’s green”, “It’s white”, “It’s green”, “It’s white”. “OK” said the slugs, “We’re obviously not going to agree here and we don’t want to go to war over it. Let’s ask the seagulls flying above what the answer is. So they asked the seagulls and the seagulls looked down and said “Oh, you silly slugs, the world is green and white”.
So taking a different perspective can actually help you solve problems. There is very little in this world that is black and white, although when we are very young that is often how it seems to be.
17. Acceptance and expression
When we have feelings, especially if they are negative or bad feelings, we tend to try and push them away. Have you ever seen a child clammering for attention from its mother and the mother saying “No, don’t bother me just now, I’m busy”. The child, of course, shouts more and more, gets more and more insistent. And this is what happens with feelings when we ignore them and push them away. So it’s important to be able to express your feelings.
But sometimes it’s not appropriate to express the feelings to the person that is triggering those feelings. So what can you do then? Well, you could write a letter, not sending it to anyone, but letting out how you feel. You can paint a picture, draw the feeling, the negative feeling that you want to get rid of. You can go and smash some plates, you could get some bread dough, pound the bread dough and make some really good bread, and at the same time get rid of the angry or upset feelings you have.
But it’s important that when you get rid of these negative feelings that you get hold of a calm feeling afterwards.
Allowing yourself to accept you have the feeling and then helping yourself to express it is very useful. We need to express how we feel calmly, we need to own the feeling.
If someone is upsetting us, maybe to say “I feel very upset when you don’t let me know that you are going to be late”, and then you need to state what you would like the other person to do. “If you’d let me know that you might be late”, then you tell them how you would feel had they done that. “I wouldn’t then need to worry, and then I wouldn’t start to feel cross”. So, by expressing how you feel and saying what you would like the other person to do, and then how that would help you to feel better, can often resolve such problems.
18. Criticism and praise
Do you tend to over generalise? When something goes wrong do you feel a complete failure? Do you feel you are always to blame if anything goes wrong around you?
For instance: Mary’s manager shouts at her and Mary retreats to the toilet in tears thinking “It’s all my fault, I’m useless, I’m sure I’ll get fired”. Take a look at what might be going on, take a step back. Has the manager had a difficult day? Was he feeling stressed or feeling ill? Was the shouting really towards Mary? Was Mary really the one that was at fault?
You need to separate the person from the behaviour. When we criticise a child for doing wrong we let them know that we love them, but that we don’t like what they were doing. But then we forget to do that for ourselves as we grow older. When someone criticises us we take it on board, to identity level, we take it to heart. We forget that what’s being criticised is something that we’ve done. We are more than just the things that we’ve done. And the way we learn is by making mistakes.
Somebody who acts like a bully is somebody who really has very poor self-esteem. They don’t really feel that they are worth very much so they try and feed their feeling of importance by bullying other people and dominating other people.
And one way that you could perhaps help yourself deal with somebody who’s bullying you, is by realising they are the one having problems, and maybe starting to feel sorry for them. Alternatively, you could always dress them in a pink tutu and welly boots. Would they still feel as threatening?
So when you are criticised remind yourself that it’s something that you’ve done that this person doesn’t like or disagrees with, it’s not you.
And what about praise? When someone praises you for something that you have done well, do you discount it or do you take it onboard? If someone gives you a beautiful present wrapped in paper with a big bow do you say “Oh, I don’t want that” and throw it back in their face? Of course you don’t, so why do you discount praise? Why don’t you, when you have done something well, acknowledge you have done it well to yourself. Give yourself a pat on the pack when it’s appropriate, it’s not boasting. Boasting is blowing up what you have done out of proportion, but praising yourself is how you can encourage yourself to do even better.
We all sometimes say we will do something when our intuition tells us we should really be saying “No”. Can we say “No” with a smile? What are the reasons behind always saying “Yes”? Is that you are doing it out of a sense of caring or are you just being a doormat who will do something but feel resentful afterwards? Are you doing it to win approval because really you don’t value yourself enough?
Would not having to do something be worth the momentary discomfort of saying “No”?
What would be the likely consequences of saying “no”?
How would we feel if the situation was reversed and someone was saying “No” to us?
We often give other people less credit for tolerance than we would show ourselves in the same situation.
Give yourself time to consider. Practise a couple of phrases so that they can be used easily to buy yourself time. “I will need to check” “I will get back to you on that”. If you decide to say “No” then do so, but don’t play “Persuade me”!
Practise saying no when appropriate if you have trouble doing so – do a mental rehearsal.
If 10 is how you want to be and 0 is the opposite -where are you now?
What is keeping you from being lower down the scale?
What do you need to do to get one step higher?
Close your eyes and go inside – imagine stepping into 10 – what advice would 10 give you as you are now?
One small step is a lot easier than a giant leap. Small steps also seem to have a knock-on effect. This can be likened to a snowball – it grows larger and gathers momentum as it rolls down the hill.
Quite often pretending to feel the way you would like to feel or imagining how someone you admire would feel somehow starts turning into reality, and you suddenly realise that you are acting and being the way you want to be.
Each day, maybe before you go to sleep, review where you are on the scale and decide what you are going to do tomorrow to help you move a little way further towards your goal.
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