06 May 3 Simple Mental Shifts to Avoid the Downward Spiral
If you’re dealing with psychological problems, then you know it’s easy to fall down the spiral of depression, anxiety, and an overall sense of hopelessness.
A flashback of a painful moment in high school that happened 5 or 6 years ago can still leave me ruminating for hours. But, I’ve read that our self image can be as far behind as 5 years of our actual age, especially with people in their early/mid 20’s- So that’s hopeful.
My mental health is better now than ever before, but there’s still a long way to go. It doesn’t take much social activity for me to freeze in anxiety.
But I’m getting there. And here are 3 simple mindset shifts I’ve picked up and use when I feel myself going over the edge into self-loathing.
1: Avoid Rumination
A couple years ago I realized I was constantly ruminating about things I’m ashamed of.
So I bought a book called Rumination-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Depression. I only read the first 50 pages because it was written for therapists, so it was really clinical, and boring.
Strangely, this was the only scientific book I could find about rumination and depression. And, when I stumbled onto this book it wasn’t even published yet. I actually preordered it and waited a couple of months with hope because I thought this book was the answer to my prayers.
So I was all the more disappointed when I couldn’t force myself to plow through the book.
I ended up selling it on Amazon a couple weeks ago.
Even though I only read the first few chapters, this book reinforced the idea that negative rumination can be a crippling mental habit. It also gave me hope because the therapist assures the reader that this habit can be overcome.
This rumination habit is still entrenched in my mind (for now), so I’m constantly looking for new ways to break out of it.
One simple and effective way I’ve found to stop it in the moment is:
- Realize I’m ruminating
- Give myself compassion by saying things like “Ruminating is just going to make me feel worse. Instead I’m going to focus on this [activity].”
- Then I focus on relaxing my body. Also, I try to notice how breathing can be effortless by focusing on the comforting sensations of my abdomen rising and falling.
Rumination needs a post of it’s own because it’s such a loaded topic.
2: You’re Probably, Basically OK
I don’t know you, but if you have time to read this obscure blog right now, then you’re probably, basically ok right now.
You’re probably physically safe in an apartment, house or wherever you are. Also, your brain is working well (especially if English isn’t your first language!) because you’re able to read these words.
Being basically ok doesn’t mean not suffering. I still feel incapable of finding a girlfriend, and I’m still taking Prozac. But at least I’m basically ok right now while I’m sitting in my bedroom editing this post at 10PM. And at least I’m on the path of progress.
3: Use Your Resources
I don’t a video-game console, so I get excited when I get to play Fortnite at my friend’s house. Thanks to Halo 2, I have good aim, but I still don’t use resources to build walls when I’m getting shot at. I forget to in the excitement of a fire fight.
So, when I inevitably get killed I have a lot of unused wood, metal, and brick.
I just finished reading Hardwiring Happiness. In it the author suggests that when you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed it’s good to remember times in the past that you’ve gotten over similar hardships, and what internal resources you used.
I’ve built a lot of emotional and mental resources in my life by doing things like learning to sell on eBay, wrestling for 10 years in my youth, majoring in engineering, establishing a meditation habit, and self-publishing on Kindle.
Remembering the obstacles that I’ve overcome, and the internal resources that I’ve cultivated provides me with inner strength and grit.
Don’t let these inner resources go to waste by not using them to build.
Is it mental illness?
I’m always hesitant to say that’ve I dealt with mental illness. It’s not that I’m ashamed- I’m pretty open with people about my difficulties with depression and OCD.
It’s that the term mental illness seems to be a life sentence. Most doctor’s talk about managing depression or anxiety instead of actually curing it.
But I don’t think it’s fair to blame the medical establishment for this prevailing mindset.
Depression and other mental health problems are so complicated and individualized because of the variety of flavors.
Each of us have a different bowl of genetic, cultural and lifestyle experiences. And out comes our own unique flavor of distress.
But, because we’re all human we can do things that’ve worked for other people to get over depression and other mental dis-eases.
Things like therapy, meditation, self-compassion, exercise, socializing, sunlight, fish oil, helpful and positive books, stretching and yoga, and the hundreds of other habits and techniques that’ve helped others can also help us.