So here we are careering towards midsummer and here in the UK, it’s felt like Summer 2022 hasn’t even got started yet!
One upside of all the rain and the little sunshine that we’ve had, is that everything is looking lush and green in the garden – the grass, flowers, veg AND the weeds are all growing at an amazing rate. It’s that time of year where it feels important to do a little and often in the garden, to keep on top of things.
I do love a good metaphor and ‘looking after my garden’ always feels like a great way of thinking about taking care of your mental health.
For me focusing on ‘little and often’ is a great way of thinking about what we can do to manage the unhelpful and distorted thinking that can easily take root when we’re struggling. Irrational thoughts are like those pesky little weeds in the veg patch, which look innocuous enough, but can easily take over if not managed.
When we’re feeling up against it, worried or stressed our brain is hardwired to spot problems and flaws and sees danger around every corner. So the irrational or distorted thinking that takes over when we’re struggling is a natural response – albeit not very pleasant or helpful for the most part.
I know at times it can feel like we have no control over our thoughts – but that just isn’t true. The one thing that we can ALWAYS control is what we think. As a start we need to REALLY notice what we’re thinking – as the cheesy saying goes “what we focus on grows.” If we let the unhelpful, irrational thoughts take root they pretty much overshadow everything else.
How do I be more aware of my thinking in that case Gill? I hear you ask.
Great question – and as I say to clients; it’s finding a way that works for you. Here’s a few ideas which might get you started.
- Write them down – getting into the habit or writing down the thoughts that hijack you gives you something to look at afterwards. Looking back at what you’ve written gives you a more ‘arms length’ perspective and you’ll soon spot the ‘weeds’ that regularly pop up!
- Quick scan – take a few minutes to listen to yourself. How am I feeling? What’s dominating my thinking? What’s running around today? What’s worrying?
- Say it – I’m a lover of saying things out loud. Whether it’s to yourself or a trusted friend speaking what you’re thinking can also give you a fresh perspective. You could use the questions above to just express what’s taking up your headspace.
Getting awareness of our irrational thoughts or beliefs is a bit like checking the veg patch for shoots. What’s in there? What unhelpful thought patterns keep cropping up?
Being aware of our irrational thoughts is the first step in tackling them – we then give ourselves the chance to challenge, dispute or disprove the thoughts and beliefs that are hijacking us…and which are probably making us feel worse by the way!
Going back to my garden metaphor, challenging our thoughts is like the little and often weeding I need to do in my veg patch. Every time one of those irrational or unhelpful thoughts pops up, we need to find a way to stop it in it’s tracks. Which I know can feel much easier said than done.
Again, you might be asking how?
Here’s a few pointers;
- Be kind – challenging our thoughts isn’t being critical or judgmental about the fact that we’ve got them. Everyone gets them – it’s not a sign that you’re broken; need fixing or that there is something wrong with you.
- Be prepared – think about the types of questions that you could use to get a more balanced view. Here’s some examples;
- What evidence is there to support this thought?
- Is there ANY evidence to back this up?
- What really is the worst that could happen? How bad would that be?
- This thought I have how big a deal is it really? On a scale of 1-10?
- Look back – again writing this down can be helpful. Not only can it help you to do the above, but you also begin to collate some evidence that however you felt at the time ‘this too does pass’ and you DID deal with it!
Much like tending my veg patch, managing irrational thoughts is a work in progress for all of us. It’s perfectly normal and natural for them to pop up – AND you can do something about them.
Just like that satisfying feeling when I pull out a massive weed that’s really taken root; you can examine each thought and decide whether it’s something you want taking up valuable space in your head. Otherwise, my advice would be chuck it on the compost heap and find something else beautiful to replace it!
If there’s any of this that has resonated with you, or you would like to have a further chat with me. Please feel free to get in touch!