Anxiety lives in the future, depression lives in the past. We’re all standing in the middle being torn apart, fighting to stay present.
Living in the moment is an effective way to promote happiness, however it’s one of the most difficult things to accomplish. Even when we have mastered it, it’s impossible to maintain every second of every day.
As you might expect, there are some strategies to begin the journey into being more mindful, which I plan to discuss fairly often.
Anxiety tends to encourage us to believe we are in danger in what are objectively not-so-scary-scary situations (i.e. not end-of-the world, imminent death situations.) For instance, if you experience social anxiety, being at a party can seem intimidating and threatening while logically you know you will live to see another day. This concept can be described by the acronym F.E.A.R. (fitting, no?) which stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real”. This indicates that as we go about our day, we are interpreting certain things as threatening which in turn makes us believe that these things are real dangers to us. This usually perpetuates itself and leads us to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, like staying in every time we’re invited to a party.
Depression, another wonderful concoction of the human mind, tends to encourage us to believe what we think about ourselves and the world, even when untrue. A simple mistake turns into a belief that “I’m no good at anything, ever”. We could hear 99 compliments and 1 insult in a day, and we will always remember and cling to the one negative interaction. If that insult is in line with what we think about ourselves it is easy to enter into a cycle of negative thinking.
A great way to combat these negative thinking cycles is by creating an inner dialogue of fact vs opinion. Say you’re lacking in the friend-department. Your first thought might be: “Nobody likes me. . . Everybody hates me. . . guess I’ll go eat worms”. But take a step back. . . Is this really true? Is it based in fact or in science with supporting evidence? Is it true that EVERYONE hates you? If so, then there might be a reason behind the feeling.
Or, is the thought that you suck just your opinion? Is it based on your negative self-perception of yourself? Is it because something happened that is out of your control and situational? Can you think of one person that might like you, even if there is only one. If the latter is true, which it most likely is, maybe you’re being to hard on yourself. Maybe you could use to cut yourself some slack. This conversation with ourselves allows us to decide how to judge our negative beliefs objectively.
The point is not to completely change how you think or feel, because every thought and feeling is valid and should be acknowledged. The aim however is to slow that process down a little so you don’t immediately go into a destructive negative thought cycle. Common negative thinking includes “I’m worthless”, “nothing is ever going to get better”, “I’m at fault for xyz”. Those thoughts can be pretty heavy, and is an easy hole to dig yourself into. I’m not saying to stop thinking those thoughts entirely. Most people can’t change their pattern of thinking in an instant. It’s all about taking it slow. Experience the thought and the feeling that follows but take a mental break. Take time to say to yourself, “hey wait a minute. Am I really a piece of shit? Or am I just reacting to the fact that I made a mistake?” The goal is to not base your beliefs of yourself on temporary, fleeting feelings.
You won’t do well trying to change your thinking overnight. Take time to self-reflect upon which aspects of yourself drive negative thinking and start there. Slow down and take a moment to question your thought if it’s not productive. You can control how you interpret both yourself and the world.
For more on this topic, I recommend theAnxiety Slayer podcast by Shann Vander Leek and Ananga Sivyer. They take a modern, scientific approach to treating common mental illnesses. Their voices are calming and their information is invaluable.