What is really causing you to feel so horrible today?
I’ve experienced a lot of distress from depression and anxiety. I’ve been in and out of depressive periods since I was at least 14, and started having some lovely panic attacks when I was 21.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with these feelings, or perhaps are familiar with the feelings but don’t identify with the scary labels of ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ 🤡 (they’re really not scary), this was basically a pretty pooey numbing feeling where I frequently wanted to be alone & not engage in activities and a feeling that everything in the world was out to harm me — namely that I was going to have a heart-attack every time I was stressed #banter.
For you, these feelings might be a lack of interest in things you used to enjoy. Or it might be a constant CBA (can’t be arsed) when it comes to social events. It might be a feeling that everything is greyer than normal. It might be tears. It might be self-harm.
It might be an inability to sit still and quiet without your mind pinging off to thoughts of you leaving the oven on or that you’re going to get sacked or never find friends/ a partner.
SPOILER ALERT: you didn’t leave the oven on, you’re not going to get sacked and I’m sure plenty of people have love for you 💪
The feelings range.
Of course, they can be a lot more severe than what I mention, but to be honest, I figure for most of you reading this it might be a lot milder. Your low mood and restlessness might just be a part of you now and you grin and bear it. You frequently hibernate, avoid social events or pushing for the goals you want because you automatically think “what’s the point” or “I’m not good enough”. In turn, without even realising it, you start to feel 💩.
These thoughts and feelings might be so automatic that you might not even get as far as pulling yourself to have ambitions. Instead, you’ve probably settled and think thoughts like “Goals are for ambitious people” or “I’m not worthy enough to achieve X, Y and G”.
If you’re anything like me, you probably never even considered that there might be a more empowering alternative. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure when you hear terms ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ you quote the great philosopher Skepta and scream #ThatsNotMe.
As I mentioned in my previous post, we aren’t certain what the causes of bad mental health are, but I can tell you from my experience that conceding I was just someone who ‘had’ depression/anxiety was not helpful.
It took me a long time and a lot of energy & enough pain to kick my body into wanting (& needing) change, but when I realised my mood was manageable and discovered the link between my thoughts-feelings-mood-behaviour, my life really changed.
We often believe that the feelings and emotions we experience are because of external events, situations and the behaviours of others. Have you ever heard yourself saying “work is so stressful”, or “my partner is a 🍆” or “all this Brexit chat is making me want to bang my head against 15 walls” (🤦♂️).
This wrongly assumes, however, that something other than ourselves directly determines how we feel.
We accept this belief automatically, without realising that there is a step in between — one where our sneaky lil minds create some freaky thoughts and make us feel the way we do.
Take a scenario:
Your partner has gone to a party. It’s your birthday in 2 weeks and you’re planning a holiday together. You’re ill and spending the evening alone. They haven’t responded to your message.
You think to yourself:
“I can’t believe Alex. Why hasn’t she responded to my message? She’s been acting a bit distant lately, maybe she’s stopped loving me. I can’t believe she’s at the party and I’m here all alone”
In turn, how do you think you’ll feel? You’ll probably feel upset, anxious that Alex is with someone else, and lonely.
Alternatively, you might say to yourself:
“It’s good I’m not going to the party tonight, I’m feeling ill so it’s nice to rest. Alex and I will finalise our holiday tomorrow and I’m excited to go to Mars, I hope he’s having fun”.
In turn, how do you think you’ll feel? You’ll probably feel happy, excited and loved.
Another example is the real world of WhatsApp group chats. It’s 15:42 on Thursday and Tom sends the House Boys a cheeky message saying ‘we need to talk tonight’.
I get all excited that Tom has some tasty convo to share with us, Josh gets a bit anxious that Tom is going to call Josh out on the fact he’s probably left every light in the house on… again… for the 16th time, and Jas reads the message and just thinks ‘ok’ because he’s not in the house tonight anyway.
Complicatedly, these reactions are normally super quick and done without us realising. Just as we are not conscious of the way we walk (I got swagger though) or how we breathe, we are often not aware of our thinking. These ‘automatic thoughts’, however, play an important role in our emotional well-being.
There are three kinds of automatic thoughts:
Neutral thoughts — Alex is going to a party.
Positive thoughts — Alex is soøòöoo amazing.
Negative thoughts — Alex. Is. Horrible.
Because Josh’s automatic thoughts here were Negative, he‘s feeling anxious.
Because my automatic thoughts here were Positive, I’m feeling excited.
Because Jas’ automatic thoughts were Neutral, he’s feeling, well, neutral.
Automatic thoughts often reflect worries and concerns, however they can be about anything at all, anything we have ever seen, heard or learned. People who are going through a period of bad mental health tend to think negative thoughts about themselves, the world around them and their future.
It is these thoughts that can be changed to improve your mental fitness. Find out next week how you can become more aware of your thoughts and, in turn, change them.
For now — have a think about some scenarios where you might have been feeling some kinda way, and how the thoughts that you were having which caused this, might not have been accurate.