All fun things, I’m sure. Last week I put forward the leading ideas behind how our minds influence our disorders – essentially how we may self-perpetuate our anxiety and depression. Let’s do something about that, yes?
One of the leading resolutions is psychotherapy. (highly recommended link) CrashCourse has a great video on the different schools of psychotherapy, and The School of Life has great videos on why we should try psychotherapy, and why it’s not scary. (Short Video, Long Video) These videos are a very good example of links that explain things so well, and that short video from TSOL helped me to feel quite comfortable with pursuing psychotherapy. I’ve been seeing a therapist for quite some time, and it’s been remarkable the insights I’ve come across and the way my therapist has helped me to integrate those insights into my psyche properly. (My therapist is a very eccentric old man who wears sweater vests.)
My favorite schools of therapy tend towards the Existential and Cognitive, but I believe that reflects more of the root of my issues and those schools are the most useful to me personally, rather than the best overall. What works for me might not work so well for you. Maybe your issue lies deep in your childhood or a recent trauma, or perhaps you have a far more debilitating form of anxiety than I or your ingrained habits are more than you can change on your own. Take some time researching the different schools of thought and see if any ring particularly true with you- not pleasant. Pleasant won’t get you anywhere. But true and helpful will.
I believe a huge help is to not only engage in a psychotherapeutic relationship but to read the books written by the ones who founded the schools of thought your therapist is using. While it doesn’t give you the same level of education as your therapist might have, it can give you additional background knowledge of the insights they have into your own pool of knowledge, giving you more to work with. Also, your brain will process the information differently as you study it, rather than talk it over with another person. Both have their advantages, and both are quite useful. Reading up on these therapies (many researchers wrote books for lay people as well as more academic tomes.) also can be done on your own time and at a pace you choose, which gives you another ideal way to make those connections that you might otherwise have missed in the flow of conversation. Let’s sum that up as Knowledge is Power, yo.
A big part of addressing the psychological aspect of mood disorders is challenging the patterns of negative thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate the low moods. This entails examining and revising the heuristics one uses, as well as engaging in a monitoring of thoughts so that you can catch the cognitive distortions you use and correct them, both in sessions with a therapist, friends, meditative exercises and in real time.
One shouldn’t restrict one’s self to revising the structure of one’s thoughts only to sessions with a therapist. There’s a whole number of ways you can do this on your own time.
One of the most common ways is through the keeping of a diary. There are a few ways to go about it. One method, known as expressive writing, has proven particularly helpful for those who have suffered some kind of trauma. There’s also evidence that it does more than just help those with trauma. It can help calm the amygdala, reducing the intensity of emotions, and help you to process and file away your thoughts so that your brain is less cluttered. I’ve also found it to simply be a great relief to have some of my thoughts somewhere else besides my head!
Keeping a gratitude journal can help those who tend to look more on the negative side of things. You can journal at any time of the day- but I personally have seen a lot of benefit to doing it both first thing in the morning, and later in my evening, so I start my day with a positive outlook and end my day focusing on the good things. (If you worry about forgetting to journal, there are lots of apps out there that you can tailor alarms around. I really like Growth Journal (By Growth Journal)- It combines a gratitude journal with goal setting. Another one I appreciate is MoodSpace, (by Boundless) It combines a gratitude journal of three good things a day, as well as a section that has you write out a situation, the warped thoughts that led to negative feelings, as well as a space to write out alternative thoughts to the automatic ones, and then you can record the outcome, and finally a meditation add-on.
Maybe you aren’t quite sure the exact nature of your moods- when you feel negative, why you do, and what remedies it. It can be quite mystifying. I’ve also found some neat apps to help with that as well.
MoodPath is for depressed patients and has a tracker that asks you to record how you feel and what you think might have caused it three times a day for two weeks. It has a knowledge base and as well as a link to a mental health hotline if needed. (If you rate yourself as feeling very badly or indicate that you have been thinking about death and dying, it will ask if you want to contact the hotline.) You can also export and share your results with your doctor.
A Better World Through Data has made two apps that integrate- QuantiModo and MoodiModo. With these two apps, you are prompted at regular intervals to record your current mental and emotional state, as well as any places you might be, environmental factors, activities you’re doing, foods you’ve eaten, medications, and sleep habits. With this data, you can put together an empirical picture of your lifestyle and it’s effects instead of relying on your vague memories of the days, weeks, months. This will be very helpful in identifying if and what lifestyle changes you can make to improve your disorder.
Another approach to changing your thoughts is the dialectic approach. Dialectics is a type of debate where the two debaters (called interlocutors in technical terms) take opposing sides and hash it out in an intelligent manner. (No screaming, yelling, calling of names and insulting mothers allowed.) One attempts to formulate your thoughts into rational arguments to convince, or at least enlighten your opponent to your views. Dialectics has been used as a philosophical and teaching tool for thousands of years, being popular with all schools of philosophy, (It has remained the most popular form of teaching in Buddhist schools for centuries.)
Dialects can be used in all manner of conversations, and not just the esoteric. You can use it with an appropriately matched partner (someone capable and willing) to help you hash out your views in a rational manner so that you can challenge your long-held beliefs. This is useful in two ways:
Humans think a lot by physically speaking. Actually vocalizing your thoughts takes a certain level of sophistication for things to not just come out in an incoherent abstract blob of sound. To say something, and then discuss it, you have to decide on what you’re saying. And of course, you don’t want to lie about your beliefs, (I mean, you might, but whyyyyyy) so you have to sort out what you actually believe before you say it- and sometimes the act of saying something helps you to realize that’s not what you think at all.
The second use is that now you have an outside perspective. No matter how agile your mind is, there’s always going to be something you’ve failed to consider or a way you’ve failed to consider something. This isn’t terrible, it just is. It’s a result of your individuality. Now you have an interlocutor, who can present to you knew information, and tease out nuances you’ve missed. They can help point out the flaws in your reasoning and give you more useful alternatives. If your conclusion is sound, and you still haven’t convinced your partner, then this gives you the challenge to rework your arguments. You dive deeper into your thinking and explore your premises and find what works and what doesn’t, and how to verbalize it better.
In this way, having someone to verbally spar with helps you to either more fully understand and define your beliefs, or help you abandon old beliefs in favor of new ones. The dialectic approach can be very difficult, especially for those of us who are easily aroused on the emotional scale, or for those of us very attached to our worldviews–even if we don’t understand them. The evil you know, amirite? (The short story is change is terrifying because the Unknown is full of things that could kill you and holy crap is this new thing one of those murder things!?)
For this reason, in the beginning at least, I recommend not having a dialectic discussion out of nowhere. All you’re going to do is likely to with your gut instinct and end up with a fight instead of an argument. Definitely build up to that. And if such a discussion is thrust upon you, study it. Record these conversations to listen to later and identify where you went wrong and how you can do better next time. Have an argument with yourself! Out loud! On camera! Or paper! Practice breeds the experience that gets you where you want to be.
It can be rough, but worth it.
Study proper logic and fallacies and rhetoric (I’ll help!), this will give you the knowledge on which to build your skills in challenging your thoughts, even if you never pursue a philosophical argument in your life. Many schools offer this as a Critical Thinking class, or as a Philosophy 101 class. You can also find them online, through free online courses, or through youtube. I’ll save the bulk of that information for my next post, which will cover this subject in better depth!
The last way to challenge your negative thoughts that I’ll be talking about today, is to take opposite action. Not in like, a you’re afraid of heights so go jump off a building action. Don’t be drastic and dramatic. More like, if you feel extra tired and worn out today and all you want to do is lay in bed or wear sweats to work, don’t do that. Instead get up, (be nice to yourself about it. No bullying.
Bribe Reward yourself for doing so) and get dressed in your proper clothes. And then do something productive. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, but choose something that will genuinely benefit you in the long run.
Or, if your anxiety kicks in and begs you to cry and curl into a ball or maybe shout- stand up tall, take a deep breath, and use a modulated tone. And then do the thing that triggered your anxiety. (Take steps. Desensitise yourself to it so you don’t risk a full-on panic attack or psychotic break. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists are great for this thing.)
This works because of conditioning. You don’t really believe you can do it- so you don’t do it, or, you don’t fully commit to doing it and you fail, creating a self-fulfilled prophecy.
When you stand up and say, “Yeah, no.” and do the thing you really don’t feel like doing, you prove to yourself that not only could you do the thing- but that you’re more than you believed yourself to be. When I was a kid, my favorite movie for a time was Pooh’s Grand Adventure, and in it, Christopher Robin tells Pooh, “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” That’s the quote I keep with me when I feel I’m not up to something. The movie does a wonderful job of illustrating that that’s exactly what each of the residents of the Hundred Acre Wood discovers as they step up and face challenges.
And that’s really the only way to learn it. By challenging the belief that you just can’t do it without even doing it. It’s not so much that you are utterly incapable of doing these things, it’s that you believe you can’t. (I’m not taking about actual disability. And if you lack training or experience, get on that!) It’s a wonderful feeling when you realise how much more you are.
Taking the time to understand the roots of why you behave the way you do is useful for either accepting a certain behavior, reducing the distress around it, or it can show you the best way to alter the behavior- like pulling a weed up from the roots instead of merely pulling at the leaves.
Understanding yourself- even a little bit- can greatly ease distress as well. Once you understand yourself a bit better- you can begin to understand the world and vice versa. It is not what we know that truly scares us, it’s what we don’t know. And if what you don’t understand is yourself? Good luck.
But it can be fixed! There is always hope, you know. Hope is more than a passive state- hope is constantly striving toward what is better- what you want to achieve and will do anything to attain. Hope is a state of action. And as long as you keep moving, there’s always hope.
“When I can’t understand ‘me’, how could I grasp the concept of ‘the world’?”
~Natsuki Takaya, Fruits Basket