Recently, one of my friends experienced a significant tragedy. Afterward, I would wake in the morning and the thoughts would immediately rush to my mind. Throughout my day, various things would trigger the thoughts of tragedy and accompanying emotions. My perception of the world had been altered. What I noticed was that if I allowed these thoughts to linger, one thought lead to another and they worsened. I finally realized that it was becoming intrusive in my day and I had to purposely stop thinking about it and do something else. This is easier said than done, however.
It’s very difficult to not have things enter your mind against your will. It got me thinking about how I challenge my clients to do this on a daily basis and how truly difficult this can be, especially when it involves our health or our loved ones. After repeated attempts, I purposely focused my thoughts on something else, and I was able to consciously dismiss the thoughts and move on with my day. In order to do this effectively, I acknowledged that this tragedy was completely out of my control. I then noticed the feelings that I had with regard to it; in this case it was sadness for my friend and shock over what had happened. I allowed myself to be sad for a few moments but then I reminded myself that if I was able to focus on something else that the feelings would pass.
While I wasn’t able to stop the thoughts from popping into my mind altogether, time after time I was able to allow the feelings to surface and then think of something else. Different events during the day would trigger feelings to come up unexpectedly. I realized that this is natural and that it was okay that I was affected and sad. These types of thoughts can be really overwhelming, especially when you’re dealing with grief, depression or anxiety.
Every day I see folks who have difficulty with negative thoughts overwhelming them. They are often unable to change their thinking quickly. What makes one person better able to handle negative events than others? One simple answer is coping skills and supports. In my situation, I have a history of having support around me during difficult times. It’s based on these successful experiences that I have been able to develop positive coping skills. I’d like to refer to these as support pillars. Think for a second about a building held up by 10 pillars. If one or two of the pillars fails, the roof remains standing. However, if only two or three pillars are holding up the roof, removing one causes the roof to collapse.
These pillars represent supports in our life. Supports would include financial security, positive social interactions, healthy family and friends, job skills or hobbies. Personal characteristics such as perseverance, determination and resiliency should be included as well. Ideas for daily reinforcement include talking to friends and maintaining friendships, being involved in a hobby or sport, writing, drawing, volunteering and relaxation measures such as stretching, yoga or even dance. When I thought of my support pillars, I realized I had enough to withstand the storm of thoughts when they came.
In order to get through trying times you really need to gear up and have as much support in your life as possible. Remember this is not just support from other people, but from our personal characteristics, our resources as well as our personal characteristics. When we take the time on a daily basis to reinforce ourselves, when difficult times arise we’re better able to handle them and it’s easier for us to be able to shift our thinking away from the negative. We can then dismiss negative thoughts much more quickly.