Having experienced depression in the past, I’m probably hypersensitive to changes in the way that I’m feeling and in my mood. Sometimes the slightest whiff of sadness, frustration, disappointment can make me wonder whether I’m about to hop on the helter-skelter down for an unwanted cuddle with the black dog. And then, there are other times, when I can roll with the waves like the superstar mental warrior that I can sometimes be. Guess it depends whether the knocks hit me at a time when I’m feeling strong and resilient or whether I’m perhaps already getting close to that invisible line of vulnerability.
A couple more steps and I’m over the edge.
So I reckon I think about my thoughts and feelings quite a lot. I obviously have no idea how I actually compare to the average person, but it feels like I spend a lot of time tuning in to myself. And, on the whole, I think it’s a good thing. Checking in to that little personal barometer to see if the wind has started blowing from a different direction and if the weather might be about to change – it puts me in a position where I have a chance to do something about it before it gets out of hand.
And one thing I’ve learnt from many years of being pretty tuned in to my own station is that sometimes the source of my feelings can be something specific going on in my life and other times it can be due to a rumbling, looming, shadowy, dark mood. And I think it’s really important to know how to distinguish one from the other.
Is it the THING or the THINKING?
It can be quite hard to do because when my head’s not in a great place, my thoughts can be so powerful, so fixated, so repetitive and so utterly convincing that I become completely persuaded that the THING is both very very real and a very very big problem.
I’ve also had some interesting conversations with my coaching clients around this. Several people have come to me to work with me with the intention of focusing and resolving a specific problem in their life……not enjoying their job is the most common one. And because my belief is that the way we feel is created by the way we think, I’m always keen to dig around behind the scenes of the job they don’t like to see what else might be going on.
After several sessions of ‘digging’ a number of clients have come to the realisation that they don’t actually dislike their jobs as much as they thought and that, actually, all of the feelings of dissatisfaction have been created in their own heads. The problem was not the job itself but the way they’d been thinking about it and the mindset that thinking had produced. And that mindset had so consistently been playing the “I don’t like my job” tune that they’d become wholly convinced that was 100% true.
So why does this matter?
By accurately identifying the source of the problem you can know the right approach to take to try to address it. And getting that source wrong can end you up in a worse position than where you started.
If you incorrectly assume the problem is in your life, not in your head, you might decide to change something that doesn’t need changing – quitting the job or dumping the boyfriend. And by addressing the THING not the THINKING you’re not going to get to the heart of the problem in your head and you’ll still end up feeling the same way even after the THING is long gone.
If you incorrectly assume the problem is in your head, then you’ll probably use this as an excuse to not take any action and, very obviously, the problem also won’t go away. Look out for the times when you find yourself saying things like “I’m just not in the right headspace to deal with that right now”.
And then for those of you that, like me, struggle with recurring problems with your mood, it’s extra important to be addressing the right source and not let the two become confused and entangled.
This has become a really useful tool in my mental health toolkit.
So how do you distinguish?
There are a few questions which I can ask myself which usually give me a pretty good indication of whether my struggle is genuinely with the THING or actually with my THINKING:
How did I feel about this situation last month?
What has changed about the situation recently?
How do I currently feel about activities that I usually enjoy?
Am I keen to spend time with other people?
If I’m still enjoying other things and something has shifted in the situation then it’s likely it’s the THING that’s genuinely the problem.
For me, if I felt fine about this situation last month, nothing has actually changed, I’m not particularly enjoying activities that I usually do and I’m not keen on spending time with others then it’s probably time to start looking after my THINKING and my mood.
And once you know that, what then?
If you suspect your trouble is with the situation:
- spend a bit of time really concisely defining the heart of the problem, the nub of the issue – get really specific and keep asking yourself “why is that important?” until you know you’ve reached the core
- distinguish between what’s in your control vs what isn’t – do what you can to let go of what isn’t
- of the stuff that’s in your control, come up with a list of options and go as far beyond the obvious as you can – not only might this open up new opportunities but it could also make the realistic options seem more doable
- work out what the first tiny step of action is that you can take, something that you could actually do today or tomorrow – you might like to take a read of this post all about getting into action by taking the first little leap
If you suspect your trouble is with your mood:
- clearly identify and call out the troublesome THINKING
- label it as a story and give that story a name
- detach from the story by acknowledging that it’s not true (or at least, nowhere near as true as it’s trying to make you believe)
- let the weakened story hang around for as long as it wants to – like a beach ball, if you try to hold it under the water, it’ll just keep popping up, just let it bob around in the knowledge that it can’t hurt you
- give yourself permission to be where you are, to accept the mood as something that is here right now but will pass on by, just as they always have done before
And if you feel like there are a lot of stories in your head right now that you’d like to be less attached to then I think you’ll get loads out of reading my ‘Where’s your head at?’ ebook.
Both my personal journey to stay healthy and my work as a Life Coach are now entirely based on the FACT that the way we think creates the way that we feel.
Our thoughts are such powerful things. For many people, who’ve yet to raise their awareness, their mind runs amok and completely controls that person’s experience of life. They feel powerless because they allow their thoughts to be their master. And that means that when the thoughts go wrong, veer off-piste or get stuck, that person can end up in a really difficult place.
So this is why, in my opinion, learning how to tune in to the way that you think, to know how to distinguish between a real-life problem and a thought malfunction and to know what action to take from there, is so so important.
As I say to myself and to my clients all of the time….
It’s not easy. But it’s totally possible.
What has this brought up for you? Have you ever found yourself noticing the difference between the THING and your THINKING before? I’d really love to know whether I’m on my own on this one so hit reply, add a comment or fire me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In case we haven’t met before I’m Hana. A recovering overthinker and depression survivor. I work as a Life & Mindset Coach to help women improve their experience of life. I love talking to women whose lives look great on the outside but that’s not how they feel on the inside.
You can find out more about working 1-1 with me right here.
You might also be interested in The Mindful Moment Challenge that I’m running from next Thursday (21st June). I’ll be posting one very simple challenge each day for 10 days which will help you to explore what living a more mindful life could look like for you. Just click here and request to join – it’s completely free.