Category Archives: General Mental Health

Stop, Drop, and Roll

Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days? When it seems like before you can even get yourself together for the day, everything is crumbling around you? I have too. They are a part of life, but that doesn’t make them enjoyable, and often, they don’t feel manageable when we are right in the thick of it. Not too long ago, I had one of those days. By 9am, I was ready to crawl back into bed, and wait for the day to be over. But, that wasn’t an option- I had things to do that day, so I had to get myself together. In the midst of my almost melt-down, three words came to me- Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Does that phrase sound familiar? When I was in elementary school, that was the fire safety motto- Stop Drop, and Roll. The idea was if you were to ever catch fire, these three actions were the quickest and safest way to minimize damage to yourself, and protect the safety of others. So, let’s see if we can make this work for a day that feels like it’s about to explode:

First, Stop and Center. Most of us have emotional, cognitive, and physical signs that we are feeling overwhelmed, but we often ignore those signs and try to press through. Instead, when you start to notice those signs ramping up, stop and center yourself. “Centering” can look different for all of us. Sometimes it’s a quiet prayer, a few deep breaths, a phone call to a friend, or maybe taking a walk to get a quick break. Whatever will help you to stop and calm down, do that.

Second, Drop What is Unnecessary.  When you are feeling on edge, you simply are not capable of doing everything. Often, if you try, you find that you make mistakes, don’t fully complete tasks, or aren’t invested the way you would want to. So, rather than try to do more than you are able, go into problem solving mode. What can wait until tomorrow, or maybe even next week? Rate the tasks you need to complete in terms of urgency and importance. Those things which are both urgent and important probably need to be done today. In most cases, everything else can wait until another day and you are in a better space.

Third, Roll with the punches. There is a term in psychotherapy training called “rolling with resistance.” It basically means that as clinicians, we don’t try to force people to do or talk about things when they aren’t ready to. This has become a strategy that I try to hold on to in my “real life” too. Sometimes, you can’t fix everything and you just have to roll with it. Sometimes, the project you’re working on won’t be perfect. Sometimes, you can’t make that friend not be upset at you. Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge that you are not at your best, but you will do what you can. Develop an idea of what “good enough” is, and let that be ok every once in a while. Allow yourself to have an off day. Remember that this day is only one day in the grand scheme of things. Even when things go wrong, you still have something to be thankful for!

So, next time you’re having one of those days, remember these three simple steps. Stop, Drop, and Roll! Trouble and frustration may knock you down, but they don’t have to take you out. Thanks for reading, and make well choices!

 

Do You!

Last month, I wrote about maintaining your focus as we approach a new year, and one of the points in the post was that you really need to understand your purpose. To a certain extent, this is a quest that many of us are constantly on. Some people seem to know immediately what they are “supposed” to do, while others seem to search and search and have a hard time nailing down what it is they want to do. Why is this so important to us? Part of this desire is that we as humans have been oriented for centuries to have a “place” in our world. Think about it- one of the first things people ask when they meet someone for the first time is “what do you do”? People’s jobs (at least in our minds) help us to categorize them, understand their interests and skills, and potentially relate to them.

However, I have a news flash. Your job and your purpose may not be the same thing! For some of us, we have found our purpose in our job. For some of us, a job is just a paycheck, and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a purpose. There is something in this world, for you do to, that you are especially equipped to do, that can make a positive impact on others, on your community, and maybe even the world. In fact, you are THE BEST person for whatever that job is, because you are you! If you don’t believe me, listen to our childhood friend, Dr. Seuss:

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

You buying into this idea requires that you believe that you have gifts to offer the world. This is crucial. So, take a minute, and jot down three gifts you have. You might find yourself venturing into some self-criticism about the things you *don’t* have. But, try to stay on track. What are you good at?  Now, ask yourself- how can I use my gifts for good in the world?

If you are a Christian, this question takes on an even deeper, more powerful meaning. It becomes “How can I use my gifts for good in the Body of Christ?” If you think you don’t have a gift, you’re simply wrong! Here’s how I know. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about us all being members of one body. It then goes on to say:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them.  There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served.  There are different abilities to perform service, but the same God gives ability to all for their particular service.  The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.

1 Corinthian 12: 4-7

I won’t copy the whole chapter here, but you really should go read it! It is a reminder that because of your connection with Christ, you are AUTOMATICALLY GIFTED! That gift, is to be used for the good of the church and the world. We don’t all have the same gift, so there’s no use comparing gifts. Hands are only good at being hands, if they tried to be eyes, they would to a terrible job. How many of us think we are people who lack passion, direction, or giftedness, when really, we are just trying to do the wrong job? You don’t always have control over what you do for a living, but you DO have control over what you do for the kingdom. If you’re not sure what your gift is, don’t worry. This is a question that has an answer. Here are some tips:

-Take a spiritual gifts inventory. Here’s a great free one to check out

– Try some things out. See what feels right.

-Seek wise counsel.

-Pray about it.

The bottom line, is that there is something wonderful for you to do in this world, and we need you do it. We need you to DO YOU so that the world is a better place, and God is glorified. When we are comfortable in our own skin, we can stop the constant frustration of comparing ourselves to others, and just be happy in our own skin. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

FOCUS

A couple of weeks ago my pastor preached a sermon entitled “Focus”. By now, the specific points he made are fuzzy for me. But I have not been able to let go of the idea that our ability to focus is crucially important to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. So much of what i see in my clinical work comes back to this idea. Difficulty managing priorities, not being able to distinguish irrational thoughts and feelings, becoming clouded by the dangers of social comparison, and the list goes on. So, FOCUS is going to be my word for 2017. I have some continuations of goals I’ve been working on, and some new things I hope to accomplish. I really don’t want to be distracted from these goals, because they’re important to me, and I feel God is calling me to them! Here are some tips for maintaining your FOCUS as we enter a new year.

Filter out the opinions of others. Many of us are completely and utterly consumed with the opinions of others. Are we meeting the approval of our parents? Are our friends/significant others pleased with us? Does my boss like me? Social media doesn’t help, because we often end up comparing the totality of our lives (good and bad) with the best moments of those we follow. While family and friends certainly matter, at the end of the day you are accountable to you and God for the life you live. Even the best intentioned friend or family member can lead you astray because they always come from a biased point of view. Push yourself to make your own decisions and stand by them. Only you are responsible for you.

Open yourself to new ways of doing and being. I had a supervisor say once that rigidity is the definition of mental illness. Another way to say this is the the key to mental and emotional wellness is flexibility. As humans, its easy for us to get into a monotonous routine and become so invested in it that we can’t see when its not working anymore. Sometimes, we need to change things up and try something new so that we can achieve a different outcome. Don’t be afraid to try!

Count your blessings. It’s really easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong in your life. They often take the forefront in our mental and emotional space. Challenge yourself to shift your perspective and focus on what’s going right. This change doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it helps us to have a more level headed and even keeled response. Attending to the good things can help balance out the pain associated to the bad ones.

Understand your purpose. You always have lots of choices in life. Big choices and little choices. Just like on a multiple choice test, some of these options are “distractors”. They’re not really good for you, but you can only figure out that out if you have studied and prepared yourself. Study and explore your purpose, so that when the time comes to make choices, you won’t be strayed by distractors. Everyone has something they are especially equipped to do, that they can give to the world! When you know what you’re called to do, it’s easier to identify and follow the path that will lead you to it. (More in this next month).

Simplify your life. While we are on the topic of distractors, how about getting rid of some! Is your house/office so cluttered that you can never find what you’re looking for? Are you involved in so many activities that you can’t tell whether you’re coming or going? Do you have some “friends” that annoy you so much you are constantly screening their calls? Perhaps it’s time to clean house. Why waste your time, energy, or resources on things that don’t fit with the life you’re trying to live? It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to let things go. It’s ok to move on.

While these may sound like quick tips, they are really big habits that if you aren’t doing already, will take time and commitment to accomplish. Try to pick one that feels most compelling to you, and focus your energy on making a decision every day to work toward that goal. Whether it’s January 1 or any other day of the year, you CAN reach your goals! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Hope in a Horrible World

The past few weeks I have felt really overwhelmed and frustrated by the horrible things happening in our world. It seems like every couple of days, there is a great tragedy that leaves is reeling, and utterly helpless. It’s not too difficult to find yourself spiraling into despair after watching the news. And, if you’re someone who has a predisposition toward anxiety and/or depression, times like these can be even more trying. Life events might seem to confirm your suspicions that the world is a terrible place, bad things happen all the time, or that things will never be ok. I understand, and I’ve been there too. But I also think it’s important for us to find ways to hold on to our hope in this scary world. So, here are some suggestions:

  1. Manage how much time you spend devouring bad news. One of our natural tendencies when bad things happen is to read/watch everything we can about it. We live in a culture where the mainstream media will remind us of a tragedy constantly for the several days after it happens, and our 24-hour way of being in the world makes it so we have access to horror at all times. Here’s a tip- just because you have access to it, doesn’t mean you should take it in. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break! Maybe that means skipping the news one day, or giving yourself a two hour break from Facebook; you are the best judge. I’ll add to this that we live in a world where are online conversations can become inhumane and demoralizing very quickly- some of us would do better to not try to have conversations about controversial topics through a faceless medium. The detachment of having an actual person there can lead people to be insensitive and downright cruel in their commentary. You can make a choice about whether conversations like these will be helpful or harmful to you.
  2. Hold on to things you know to be true. A helpful reminder during times like these is that while some things may be going poorly, all things aren’t. Spend some time reflecting on the good in your life- friends, family, job, whatever those things are for you. Remind yourself of things that are going well- for you and in the world. All is not lost. Remembering things that are good can help balance our sadness about the bad.
  3. Do something! Often, tragedies leave us feeling helpless and if there is nothing we can do. In many cases, this isn’t actually true. For instance, after a hate crime, you might engage in activities that help educate people about discrimination or racism. After a natural disaster, you might volunteer your time to help those who have been gravely affected by it. Maybe your action is simply to try to engage in meaningful conversation about what happened. Maybe you will seek to advocate about a related issue to your elected representative. Again, the choices is yours, but actions can help us to feel as though we are doing more than simply letting the world act on us and whip up around.
  4. Remember God’s Promises. This is not the obligatory <insert churchy phrase here.> In fact, I think some of those things can be more harmful than helpful. For more on this, check out this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/june/5-dumb-things-christians-must-stop-saying-when-evil-strikes.html. When I say remember God’s promises, what I mean is that it can be helpful to focus on God’s ability to move in the midst of and in spite of tragedy. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that awful events aren’t necessarily God reigning down wrath and fury. Sometimes, bad things are simply a bad person electing to do a bad thing. What I remind myself is, “I don’t know why this happened, but I trust that God is bigger than this mess”. Sometimes, I simply have to stop trying to understand, and focus on what is right in front of me. Sometimes, I have to acknowledge that what happened was a senseless act, and I may not ever understand WHY it happened, but trust God to help me grow through it. Even when I feel confused and frustrated, my ultimate goal is peace that will allow me to keep going. Remember these words:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

“And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

It’s not easy. But we can get through it. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

10 Things Your Church Member with Mental Illness Wants You to Know

I’m a church girl- always have been, probably always will be. I love church, I love the people in church, and I love all the possibilities of what the church can be. What I don’t love, is the way the church can tend to brush difficult conversations under the rug or make people to feel as though the problems in their life are the simple result of not enough faith. It’s just not that simple. Bad things happen to people who deserve it, and bad things happen to those who don’t. One of the areas where we seem to throw the most blame is those suffering with mental illness. They somehow become the “black sheep” of our communities, those who suffer silently, who pretend everything is OK because they are worried they will be chastised if they admit they are drowning. I think that most of us have good intentions. Because we believe in God’s omnipotence, we offer faith as the cure-all for every ailment. While that’s helpful, it’s not good enough to stop there. We don’t tell people with heart disease to just pray. We tell them to pray, and then go to the doctor. Mental illness is no different. In fact, we NEED to talk about it because 1 in 5 Americans is living with a  mental illness, including the folks you go to church with every Sunday! If you took the time to talk to one of these folks, here are some things they might say

  1. I have already prayed about it, and I will continue to pray about it. But sometimes I pray and nothing has changed yet. I need something else in addition to prayer.
  2. I can’t just turn it off, or “think positively,” I struggle every day to do all the things I’m supposed to do, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by my negative thoughts and emotions.
  3. I don’t always need advice. Sometimes, I just need you to listen and to know that you are there and you support me.
  4. I’m scared to tell people about what I deal with on a daily basis because I’m afraid they will judge me or think I’m “crazy.” I’m not crazy, I just struggle.
  5. What I face is not just mental- it’s emotional and even physical at times.
  6. I have thought about suicide. I don’t want to die, but sometimes it seems like the only way out.
  7. There are times I feel like no one understands what I’m going through, so I keep things to myself. It helps when other people share that they have struggles too.
  8. I put on a brave face so people won’t think I’m weak or faithless. I worry that if they know how much I hurt, they would think I’m not capable of anything.
  9. I am not my mental illness. I’m a person who lives with mental illness.
  10. I can get better if I have the right resources and support.

 

One of the best ways we can end stigma is by breaking the silence about mental health issues. You or someone you know has been affected by mental illness, I guarantee it. Your talking about it could be the thing that gives someone else permission to speak up and get the help they need. So don’t remain silent, let’s talk about it!

If you want to learn more about mental illness and what you can do to help, check out http://www.Nami.org for more information.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

 

Savoring the Sweetness in Suffering

Suffering sucks. It just does. There’s no way around it. Sometimes our natural inclination is just to put our heads down and wait for the hard times to be over. The idea is that if we bury our heads, we can get through it. It’s true that we can get through it that way, but it may not be the best way. What if, instead of just waiting for the bad times to be over, you lifted your head and tried to figure out what you can learn during the hard times?

This would be a different stance for many of us, and it would have to be a conscious choice on a daily basis. It would mean taking a moment to dig in to the suffering, to explore it and see what else can be gleaned. But just imagine what you could get out of it!

You might learn some things about life. You might learn that life keeps going, even if it seems that you will be perpetually stuck in the frustrating place you’re in. You might learn, if you look closely, that it’s never all good or bad. Even in the darkest and most frustrating days, there are rays of hope and light. You might learn that those little things are things to be cherished, and that they can make the suffering more manageable.

You might also learns some things about yourself. You might learn how strong you are. You might learn how resourceful you are. You might even learn about some of your relationships (good things and not so good things). You could learn that you have some virtues you didn’t know you possessed.

The bottom line is that suffering presents us with a unique opportunity: groan or grow. Which do you choose? We’ve already been promised that God will never put more on us than we can bear- that means, we will survive whatever the obstacle is right now. Just keep going! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

What Mental Illness is Not

Last month, I did a post to try to raise some awareness about how prevalent mental illness is. I was talking about legitimate mental illness. One of my biggest frustrations as a mental health professional is that we seem to simultaneously misunderstand and stigmatize folks with actual mental health concerns, while we throw around terms like “mentally ill” and “crazy” in situations that absolutely do not fit! I know that most of this is about our lack of education and lack of awareness, so I try to correct these things whenever I can. So, here are some things that mental illness is not:

Mental Illness is not Violence: Often, when someone commits a crime that we don’t understand, our first inclination is to say that they are mentally ill. That’s a huge cop out. Statistics indicate that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims or violent crimes than to be perpetrators of those crimes. In addition, there is much that can be categorized of mental illness which does not strip people of their ability to distinguish between right and wrong or suddenly make them violent criminals. (I’ll save you a long discussion on insanity pleas in the legal system)

For me, it’s an insult to those who have lived experience with mental illness to simply categorize them in the same group with people who we don’t understand, despise, or want to go away because their actions sicken us. This is not to say that those folks might not be dealing with a mental illness; maybe they are. That doesn’t mean the mental illness CAUSED the crime or problematic behavior (Check out this article if you don’t believe me: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/04/mental-illness-crime.aspx).

Mental Illness is not Bad Behavior: 99% the time, we can be held responsible for our actions, from criminal activity to simply acting out. People with lived experience with mental illness fight every day to manage their symptoms and function well. Sometimes, the folks who are most disruptive in our work and community environments are simply exhibiting bad behavior. Either they don’t care about or don’t feel subject to the consequences of their actions. Maybe they are so inwardly focused that they don’t see the impact of their actions on others. There are lots of possible reasons, many of which have nothing to do with a diagnosable condition.

Mental Illness is not a Death Sentence:  There is a really wide range of what can be diagnosed as a mental health condition, from a Major Depressive Episode, all the way to Schizophrenia. In very few cases does a diagnosis of a mental health condition mean that people’s lives will be negatively impacted forever. In many cases, the person may have a chronic condition that requires monitoring, support, intervention, and maybe medication. In those cases, with the appropriator treatment, people are able to lead normal, full lives. In other cases, the condition is temporary and goes away with treatment (or sometimes on its own) and people don’t feel much effect (if any) after the episode has passed. One of the most important things you should knows is that people’s experience with mental illness varies just like our heights, weights, and personalities. Rather than assuming you know someone’s experience because they have a diagnosis, it makes more sense to simply try to get to know them or ask if appropriate.

Mental Illness is not a sign of Personal Weakness Some of the strongest people I have ever met have been my clients. Sometimes people think that if others will just “change the way they think” or “try to see things positively” they could just wipe out their symptoms. It’s really not that simple. Often, mental illness is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain that people have absolutely no control over— they can’t just change their minds. I’m sure if that was easy, they would have done it already! Other times, people are having reactions to past life circumstances that have led to trouble figuring out  what to do in the present. “Strong” people are not immune from mental illness and “weak” people are not prone to it. It happens to everyone, even those of us who seem to have it together.

What I hope you’ll take away from this, is simply to be careful with how we attempt to categorize and talk about mental illness. I guarantee that you know someone impacted by a mental illness- whether you know it or not. The bottom line is that above all, these folks deserve your respect and support. Thank you for reading, and make Well Choices!

Old Rules in New Places

I spent most of last week with some folks talking about how personality and family relationships impact the way we operate in the world, how we handle conflict, and how we manage relationships. Here are some examples:

  • Maybe you have expectations that people will behave a certain way (and even act on that!) before you give them a chance to show you who they really are.
  • Maybe you’re in a new relationship and you realize that you manage conflict in a way that seems to make conflict worse rather than better.
  • Maybe you notice you have a hard time giving people feedback directly, and instead tend to communicate in passive aggressive ways.
  • Maybe you work hard to take care of others, but have trouble asking people for what you need.

These are just a few examples that I see commonly. Often, people develop these patterns because that’s what they were taught, either in families or previous experiences. One of our great qualities as human beings is that, especially in our early years, we adapt and figure out the best way to be OK in the situation that we’ve been placed in. If it’s a healthy/functioning environment, we learn mostly healthy ways of being. If there are challenges or the environment is dysfunctional in some way, we might learn ways of being that only work in the specific environment– they don’t translate well to the outside world. There are lots of psychological terms that we can use to describe this process, but I typically describe it to people as using old rules in new environments. We’re creatures of habit. We spent lots of years developing the rules that helped us to fulfill our roles in our families. So, when we get into an environment that operates differently, it can be a little hard to adapt. The challenge is that sometimes, the old rules don’t get us what we need. In fact, they may case more hurt than help. Here’s a thought experiment: think about a pattern or habit that seems to cause some conflict for you. Then ask yourself, “Why do I do this? Where did it come from?”  For many of us, that answer is either that our family did it that way, or the strategy was successful in some other past situation. But, that doesn’t it’s right for what you’re facing right now!

As adults, we tend to move into habit over adaptation. It mostly serves to keep us comfortable and save energy for what we see as more important things, but sometimes, we need to adapt again. In most situations where you’re feeling stuck, there’s simply a more effective way to get what you need or want. This may take some experimentation, or it may require a conversation with the people close to you- many times, they can tell you what isn’t working and what will.

Don’t ever become so complacent that you are not ready to handle the newness in your life! Things change, and in order to be best prepared for the changes, we have to be ready to adapt as needed. Many of us have been hoping and praying for newness- don’t mess it up by following the same old rules! Ask yourself: Are there some areas I need to adapt to be happy and fulfilled? Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:19a

When it’s Hard to See the Why

Recently I’ve been dealing with a situation that is stressful and very frustrating for me. My expectations for what I thought was supposed to happen aren’t being met, and I feel as though my hands are tied– I can’t really do much to change what’s happening. Admittedly, I’m a control freak. Sometimes, I get into these types of situations because I have inappropriate expectations in an environment, or I’m being too rigid. But, I’m about 95% sure I’m being reasonable in this situation (my husband thinks so too, and he’s usually the first one to check me! 🙂 Anyway, I have all this frustration that I really can’t fix, so I decided to seek out the Serenity Prayer. I’ve been focusing on my prayer life anyway and I thought it would be a good practice for me to meditate on it for the week. Now, I can recite the beginning of the Serenity Prayer by heart. However, I recently realized there’s more to it! Here’s the whole thing:

Serenity Prayer
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

I read it a couple of times, and instantly felt myself calm. The scripture from Romans 8:28 came to my mind: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Even when things don’t seem ok, they will be ok. Woo- Sah.

Then, the next day, I ran into this article: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/no-everything-does-not-happen-reason. The author states that “No, everything doesn’t happen for a reason” and makes this argument about our insistence on using this language:

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and stop to try and find the whys of all of the suffering, instead of just letting ourselves admit that perhaps this all simply sucks on a grand scale.

In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of the greater plan that this suffering all fits into.

Even if somewhere beneath all of it; far below all the dizzying trauma that we experience here there is a fixed, redemptive reason for it all, it’s one that will likely remain well beyond our understanding so long as we inhabit flesh and blood.

Well, now I’m confused. Both of these things really do make sense to me. I want to believe that there is a purpose for my frustration and suffering, but I also want to feel justified in being angry, or upset, or saddened by what happens in my life. The therapist in me craves the validation of my human reactions to things, and I’ll admit that sometimes it seems our religious mindset does attempt to minimize or do away with our humanness. The author cited above goes on to say that while he doesn’t believe hard times are caused by God. He does believe there is something to be learned in the sacredness of suffering. I have to agree.

What I’m not ok with, is our using Romans 8:28 as a tool for shutting people up when they’re expressing frustration, or placating those who suffer rather than showing them our love and support. I also hope we can honestly admit at times, “I don’t know why this is happening. It doesn’t make sense. It feels unfair” and still believe in the omnipotence of God and our ability to withstand struggle. I haven’t found any scripture that says we aren’t allowed to feel sadness, anger, or frustration, even if those emotions are directed at God. If you don’t believe me, check out Psalms. Talk about honesty!

So, when I face these times, I’ll try to focus on how I can learn or grow, and something new I can learn about God. It won’t be easy, and I can’t even honestly say I look forward to the challenge. But, I do think it will be rewarding. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

I spend a lot of time in my clinical work encouraging people to critically evaluate their thoughts. For many of us, this may seem like a new idea, but it’s a really important thing to consider. Often, our emotions, actions, and reactions, are based upon what we think about a situation. This is natural. The problem is, we have irrational thoughts! While some folks might certainly be more prone to these irrational thoughts than others, we all have them. It’s natural to have irrational thoughts. However, we run into danger when we make major decisions about relationships, ourselves, or our work based on things that end up not actually being true. Here’s an example:

The other day, I called a friend and left a message asking her to call me back. She didn’t call me back that night, or the day after, or the day after. She didn’t even send me a message saying she had gotten my call and was busy. Nothing. This was unusual for her, and lots of ideas ran through my head- maybe she was hurt and something was wrong, maybe she was mad at me for something I didn’t know I had done, or maybe she was just really busy. What if, I had decided to believe the thought about her being angry with me? I could be worried, scared, maybe try to call her a few more times and try to talk to her so we could work things out. Maybe I’d spend a whole day upset that there might be a rift between me and a close friend. The reality was, she thought she called me back, and then forgot- a product of busyness.

If I had focused on the negative (wrong!) thoughts I had twirling around in my head, I could have potentially spent a couple days upset and worried about something that didn’t even exist. I’m sure a  lot of us have been in the position. We get worried and stressed about something that turns out to be not at all what we anticipated. This isn’t something we can change overnight, but it’s definitely worth the time and energy to ask yourself:

Is there a chance I’m overreacting here? Are there any other plausible explanations for what’s going on?

If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, give yourself some time before reacting. Ask some more questions, and get some more information. Take care of yourself by choosing the thought that will save you some  emotional turmoil and stress! There will be enough times when you’re actually upset for a legitimate reason– don’t give yourself more trouble than you need. Irrational thoughts are often fuel for anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. They can cause damage at work, problems in relationships, and negatively impact self-esteem. We can’t stop them from happening, but we can limit their impact.

So, the bottom line is, Don’t Believe Everything You Think!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!