oes that post summary sound like you? Does it automatically make your blood pressure rise? With the tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in recent news, along with daily conversations with friends, I knew I needed to talk about mental health. So my first topic is about feeling overwhelmed. Recently, I've found myself in situations where I'm on such a high anxiety level that it almost puts me in a manic state and I feel like my veins will explode. It lasts so long that I have a difficult time winding down at night. Overwhelm is a mental condition that rides on both highs and lows. Bad days can be just as intense as the good days. They tend to color your entire world. And just like you believe you’re indestructible when you’re having a good day, you’re bound to feel worthless when you’re having a bad one.
Am I crazy?
It’s like we all have multiple personalities. But that’s not even the worst part. None of those personalities understand the other ones. When you’re happy, you can’t relate to the depressed you. You don’t understand how on earth anyone would take a Monday off after spending the entire weekend lying on the couch hating themselves. It’s almost like all the personalities have their own memories and minds. When you’re having a bad day, it’s difficult remembering any good days. It feels as if you never had a single good day in your entire life. Even worse, you don’t believe you’ll ever have a good day. Even if you do tell yourself there must’ve been a few good days in the past, the stubborn voice in the back of your head convinces you that you were in denial, a fool that believed that a day was good, when, in fact, it was just a meh day.
We’re pretty cocky as humans. We like to believe we’re the smartest creatures, on top of the food chain, indestructible, and always right. And when that image we created is even slightly endangered, we go on a crusade to prove just how right we are, and we do it to the point of altercation and conflict. Surely, we’re able to objectively and logically take in and evaluate all the information that is available to us. But the thing is, we’re not. We’re not always as smart as we’d like to believe. And we’re rarely objective. I’d go on a limb here and say we’re never objective. According to Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, a depressed brain has a bias toward negativity, bringing exclusively bad memories and self-criticism to light. We’ve all been there. If you’re on vacation, or just falling in love and someone cuts the line, you’re likely to brush it off and even feel grateful for the calm and patience you’re feeling. You even feel superior to them. If, on the other hand, you had a fight with your significant other before leaving the house, are running late to a meeting, or had to have your car break down in the middle of the road, you’re ready to wreak havoc. You feel wronged, even violated. Same situation. Two completely different outcomes. The way we see the world around us is deeply affected by our mood. That’s where the old adage comes in: Don’t promise when you’re happy, Don’t reply when you’re angry, and don’t decide when you’re sad. It might sound too simplistic, but the only way out of the rut is accepting that things in all likelihood are not as bad as they feel, and that they will start appearing better as soon as your mood starts shifting.
We tend to run away from all negative feelings as if they’re the most lethal poison in existence. After a devastating breakup, I caught myself thinking I will not survive. I was ashamed. Heartbroken. Enraged. I felt worthless. I couldn’t face the thought of leaving the house. And then a friend opened my eyes. Emotions are just that. Emotions. Sadness will not kill you. It’s an emotion, not a disease. We’ve all felt it, to some extent or another — whether your favorite football team loses, you go through a breakup, or lose a close person. Not all sadness is as banal as your favorite team losing, or as serious as someone close to you passing away. But it’s an emotion. An emotion billions of people felt (and survived!) before you. While you may be biased toward negative thoughts, which only pull you deeper into negative state of mind, which in turn creates more negative thoughts, the fact that you’re feeling down is still there. Sometimes, the depression is so evident, you can physically feel it. In your chest. In your gut. Through meditation and mindfulness, I’m starting to learn to accept it. But there’s a catch. Of course there is.
At first, I thought I was supposed to accept that I was a miserable asshole. Of course, my mind discarded the notion immediately as a pile of uninformed, new-age bullshit. But as I got into the mindfulness practice, I started realizing what the all the fuss is about. Of course you should do your best to change your circumstances and get yourself to a better place. You’d be a nutcase if you basked in your depression and accepted the things as they seemed. I see depression (or any emotion, for that matter) as having two distinct components: the emotion or feeling and the thoughts accompanying it. As you’re experiencing an emotion, your mind is racing with all the thoughts that match the emotion. You’re on top of the world when you get a promotion. You feel worthless if you lose your job or break up with your partner. What you have to accept is the sensation of an emotion. That pain in your gut? Feel it. Acknowledge it. Accept it. It’s there. Just like you’re wearing clothes on your body, you’re feeling an emotion. What you don’t have to accept, and shouldn’t accept are the thoughts.
If you pay attention to your thoughts, you’ll soon realize that you’re always thinking. Always! Zen Buddhists refer to the constant chatter of the mind as monkey mind, and describe it as drunk monkeys screeching at each other, jumping for one tree to another, wreaking havoc. That’s the way we’re wired. But we can learn to notice the thoughts and recognize the moment they start spiraling down to the pits of depression. And stop them. You don’t have to take a meditation course or download an app (though I strongly recommend it!) to accept your emotions and stop accompanying thoughts. Sit down in a quite place, pay attention to your breathing and focus on the pain you’re feeling in your gut. Your mind will try and bring up all the negative stuff that’s been going through your head. Don’t let it. Bring back your attention to the pain you’re feeling and your breath. If not always, than in majority of cases, you’ll realize that the emotion is not overwhelming. The thoughts are.
By accepting the pain and distancing yourself from the negative thoughts, you’re bound to feel slightly calmer. A well-deserved respite from suffering. However, the cause of all the drama you’re experiencing is still there and it demands your attention. After all, no matter how long you breathe deeply, you’re still single. Or unemployed. Or broke. And you need to fix it before it gets overwhelming again. Sit down and think of all the aspects of your life that need fixing. Write them down, draw them, make a mind map. Whatever works best for you. Is it your social or romantic life? Finances? Then, in each category, write things that are causing you distress.
Making a list of all the things you need to work on can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Just by writing the things down, your brain gets a rush of euphoria. You start feeling in control. You feel like you’re doing something. However, this initial rush is no excuse not to start working on the things on your list right away. Sure, there might be things on your list that will take considerable amount of time to solve, but there are far more things you can take care of relatively quickly. Make your list your ultimate guide. As you sort out things that are hurting you, you can start working your goals into your list. Things that will not only make you feel OK, but make you feel better. You see, happiness rarely happens by accident. If you’re prone to depression and negative talk, take some time to figure out your triggers and healthy ways of avoiding them. Figure out the things that make you feel good and find a way to work them into your daily or weekly routine. Even the smallest, seemingly trivial positive changes can have considerable effects and help us feel more productive and in control. In addition to setting goals, focusing on solution instead of the problem, and making decisions.
Certain challenges in our lives feel overwhelming to us, yet completely and utterly trivial to others. A situation may feel trivial to someone, yet completely overwhelming to you. That makes it real. It’s the most important obstacle of your life so far, because you’re facing it right now. In a year, it might be trivial to you as well. But right now, it feels like life-or-death situation. However, while you need to accept it as happening right now, you don’t have to accept it as permanent. And most importantly, just because you’re thinking it, it doesn’t make it true.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if things get too overwhelming. If you’re depressed, are having suicidal thoughts, or think you can’t handle things on your own, reach out to professionals and friends.
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