Written by Jason Marchitto, LPC, SAC, LCADC
Some days I hate me. As I prepare to brush my teeth, I look in the mirror and some of the most vile incantations about myself are reflected back to me in the mirror. There are some days that start like this and its as if a record track of statements related to fear and self doubt are being looped on repeat in my mind. Some days as I pull into work after an hour or more of this in my car, I am already exhausted and its barely 8 am. Some days the thoughts bring on a feeling of hopelessness. However most other days though it’s the anxiety that has its way with me.
See, I carry a pair of words with me that seem to be the two most powerful words in the human vocabulary. These words are disguised to look meek and harmless when in reality they are the true wolf frolicking as a sheep. The words I am referring to are What and If. When combined, what if open up a world of possibility. However, for someone like me, who deals with subclinical depression associated with OCD and a basket of other anxiety disorders, what if is the doorway to a universe filled with fear and intrusive thoughts. What if I lose my job today, what if that pain is a tumor, what if something happens to my kids at school, what if my spouse leaves me, what if I have heart attack…and sometimes the what if’s can propel me to a much darker and anxiety filled place.
However, you don’t need to have a clinical mental health issue having its way with you to be a victim of the mind and its incantations, creations and cascade of negative thoughts. Some days, it is not about being drained by your own emotional vampire then, some days we have to turn around and resist, confront and challenge ourselves to be better than we were yesterday. When sadness is repressed it comes out as anger, repressed it comes out as avoidance and when emotions are ignored it comes out as any number of real life consequences.
So what is one to do when the amygdala (emotional brain) is driving the car and our prefrontal cortex (executive function) is left wondering “What the hell is going on?” It is here that I offer you a ladder out of the primitive brain stem region and the ways back to higher order thinking.
Higher order thinking
1. Forget about being perfect at your job.
Forget about being perfect as a spouse or mother or father or employee or boss or whatever hat your wearing at any given time. You are not perfect. Cannot strive for perfection. You can however try to be a better version of yourself than you were yesterday.
2. Start your day with intention.
The SNOOZE button is a device straight from the bowels of hell. When you make a commitment to yourself to get up early, exercise, make time for yourself and you hit the snooze button, you have already told yourself that you are not in control of your day. How can you start the day off right when you’ve violated a commitment to yourself before even getting out of bed?
3. Confront your fearful thoughts & allow them to sit with you.
This one is difficult when dealing with a clinical issue like anxiety or OCD. In a short, stop trying to get certainty about your life. We take risks daily. The ultimate risk we take can result in death to ourselves or loved one. Yet we go and take risks, we take the risk of a car accident when going to the movies, the risk of a restaurant worker spitting in our food when dining out, the risk of losing loved ones when we leave them, the risk of being laughed at when we speak or when we take our clothes off at a beach. Where would you be if you never took the risks you did in your life? Imagine where you could be if you gave up your quest for certainty and embraced the unknown?
4. We all have heard exercise is natures anti depressant and anti anxiety medication.
Some studies show that for some people dealing with an episode of clinical depression, it works better than anti depressants and a placebo. This is true. It also goes back to intention. When you move your body when you are stuck you change the algorithm. Do it enough times consistently and the body and brain start becoming friends again. Then when the results become apparent its feeling is its own reward and a positive cycle of reinforcement begins. When the brain and the heart are not on the same page, your liver suffers.
5. That brings us to drugs and alcohol.
And I pizza in the drugs column. I love pizza. I love scotch. I love pizza and scotch. Do it once a week and you are living life. If you do it every day or to deal with your emotions and you are setting the stage for a very difficult battle. The older you get the less you liver is able to process alcohol. That’s why less gets you more intoxicated now compared to your college days. Ever wake up in the middle of the night after an episode of binge drinking and feel your heart racing for no reason? That’s not your heart applauding you. It can be arrhythmia, anxiety or atrial fibrillation brought on by the alcohol. Hangovers are not just for headaches anymore.
6. Are you married? Do you have children?
If so, then remember you are not just mommy and daddy anymore. You are still husband and wife. Date night is not just for dating.
I never meditated. Can’t help you there. I hear it works wonders though. Especially mindful mediation. Look it up yourself.
8. Bring new things into your life.
Stop playing the same tape over and over. If you change the scenery the loop tape of the mind can change as well. Get in involved in new activities or hobbies that involve interaction with other people. Add new stuff in. At the risk of being a hypocrite now I have to start meditating.
9. If you want to lose weight its not just about exercise.
You can work out all you want and you will build muscle but the biggest difference happens in the kitchen. Add new healthy meals in slowly. All or nothing thinking is the pathway to nowhere. You can have pizza for dinner and a salad for lunch.
10. Don’t listen to me.
As I stated earlier, I have my own issues I contend with. Daily. Yet despite these issues I have found success in work, in marriage and family. I am a practicing mental health specialist licensed and all. Therefore, I know a bit about this stuff on a lot of levels. However, you don’t have to listen. I am just impressed you read this far and if you did, that means something.
Apply these things some days, and you might find yourself feeling better and achieving more most days. Make different choices. All in all you have inside you what you need to be successful, create a vision and take steps to make it real.