Just when we thought it couldn’t get any faster-paced, the world around us seems to be speeding up more and more each week - sometimes each day! Trying to cope with the world around us whilst balancing our daily responsibilities can be overwhelming, confusing, and lonely. Too much of this often leaves us with mild-to-moderate symptoms of anxiety, depression, mood shifts, and disconnected feelings.
This disconnection is a big problem, because the truth is we all need to feel connected to something. Whether it be family, friends, a sports team, meet-up group, church community, or volunteering activities - a sense of fulfillment and purpose is what allows people to find strength and resilience when the winds of a turbulent social or political climate gain velocity.
At the risk of stating the obvious - Something has to change! But since we cannot control most of the world around us, I am going to teach you three simple ways you can become empowered when you feel as though you are losing grip of your life.
1. Gratitude: OK, seems simple, but when was the last time you mindfully stopped what you were doing and effortfully thought about all you have to be thankful for? Often times when we get overwhelmed, it is our mind shining a spotlight on all the negative things that have happened or COULD happen. So let’s bring up the lights and shine some reality on the positive, or even just tolerable aspects of your life right now. Making a gratitude list daily for one week can really begin to set the wheels in motion for meaningful change in your life.
2. Be Mindful: I mentioned mindfulness above and we hear that word thrown around a lot today. But what the heck does it mean? Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a monk to master mindfulness and NO - it’s not meditation (though there are mindful meditation techniques that I highly recommend, but that’s not on today’s agenda :) Being mindful is very simple, which is likely why we often try to overcomplicate it. Simply put, mindfulness is the act of being present in the current moment without judgment. For example, I can be mindful as I type this piece, by engaging my senses and focusing my attention on the tapping of the keyboard (and my dog snoring), the bright glow from my computer screen against the backdrop of a dark room, I can feel the warmth of my house heat kick on, and the smell of dinner lingering in the air. As I engage my senses I make an effort not to judge this experience as “good” or “bad,” “productive” or “a waste of time.” Instead I am a willing participant in the activity which allows for a rich, grounding experience. If you’re conscious you can be mindful! Try eating, driving, walking, showering, or brushing your teeth mindfully this week.
3. Challenge Unhelpful Thoughts: So I threw you a curve ball with number three (I bet you thought i was gonna say BREATH…) Well, yes, I am a big supporter of breathing but most people know that slow, full deep breaths help to calm and center us. But what most people DON’T know is that our thoughts and beliefs actually have a causal relationship with how we feel. That’s right, it has been scientifically proven that what we tell ourselves, the mind’s inner dialogue that is always chattering away in our heads actually causes us to feel the way we do at any given moment! We often don’t even realize that when our anxiety rises it’s because we are telling ourselves things such as “I’m an adult - I should be able to pay my own bills without help from my parents” or “What if she rejects me - I can’t deal with that,” or “We’re gonna be late and everyone is going to stare at us and think we are irresponsible morons who can’t tell time!!” Here’s the deal people - of the 50-70 THOUSAND thoughts we experience in any given day, they can mostly be divided up into the categories of “helpful” and “unhelpful.” So next time your sensing a decline in mood or a spurt of anger, stop (try the first two techniques to help with that) and take a screen-shot of your inner-dialogue. Once you identify these thoughts, you can challenge them and replace them with more helpful rational thoughts. For example, you can remind yourself that “Everyone is late once in a while. People will probably understand that we are adults with hectic lives. And even if someone does judge our tardiness, that’s OK because I know I’m not perfect. No one is perfect. So if someone judges us for being late, it’s probably more of a reflection of their own issues with lateness than anything to do with us or me.”
There…Now doesn’t that feel a bit better?
Katie Bingner is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, providing individual and couples counseling to the Carroll County community. She specializes in anxiety, depression, and adjustment disorders and is trained in evidence-based treatment modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. If you’re seeking individual counseling, you can contact Katie at KatieBingnerCounseling@gmail.com for more information or to set up a free 15 min phone consultation.