“I have tried everything I could possibly do. Nothing works and there is no one I feel who will understand me. Everytime I have tried to find a solution it has not worked. I feel very alone and helpless. My problem adds to my stress and my stress makes this all the more worse. I feel stuck in a cycle that I can’t break. I can sense that my energy is completely depleted and I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
While going through a high period of stress your mind and body are often geared towards responding in fight or flight mode. Due to how pressured you feel, you reach a point where you are determined to change yourself to suit the circumstances better. Even after doing so, when you see no change in the behaviour of others or the situation, you decide that the only option left is to exit the situation and begin again.
This sounds like an effective step and in many cases, it is one that works. However, your life may not always have space and opportunity for you to remove yourself from a troublesome situation for good. In your personal, interpersonal and work life there are likely to be situations where you will be required to see it through and manage however best you can. When this happens, how can you address your mind’s monologue that has decided that everything has been tried and giving up is the only option left?
Would it be possible to train your mind to begin to take a different point of view where you are no longer the biggest cause of your problem? Wouldn’t it be better to develop an alternative narrative where you are kinder to yourself?
Here are some ways to actively change how you tell yourself and others your story:
1. Name the problem - The act of naming a problem is the first step to taking ownership of a set of issues you are going through, without it becoming a part of you in a way that is damaging. Once you have given a name to your recurring, painful situation, you are more likely to understand your problem’s dimensions in a way that you were not able to see before.
2. Use externalising language - The issue you are facing is not who you are, it is separate from your self-worth and capabilities, it does not define you in any way. It is something that is happening to you and affecting you.“When this happens to me I get (...)”, “This doesn’t occur often but at certain times it decides to (...)”, “It is very troubling and unsettling” are some examples of externalising language.
3. Attributing qualities to the issue and referring to it as something with a life of its own go a long way in helping you not see yourself as the be all and end all of the issue. Instead, you are able to see yourself as just one part of something that is far larger than your limitations.
4. Considering social and political issues at play - Is this issue something many others are also facing? Look at what factors of this day and age make it possible for this problem to have the power it does over so many people.
5. Relative influence questioning - When this issue occurs, how does it affect your interactions with the different people in your life, your family, close friends, colleagues? What happens to your moods? Are there activities you pursue for your own leisure? Do they stop or are you able to pursue them as before? Asking yourself these questions will help in mapping out how this issue runs its course past different areas of your life. You will have a mental image of your life before and after this issue comes up. Realising the different ways in which multiple parts of your life are being affected due to this might cause emotions like anger to surface. In this case, this anger might serve as a motivation to you to change how this issue is affecting you and your life, pushing you to think in a way that seeks to manage how this affects you better.
6. Unique outcomes - Have there been times in your life prior to this when a different issue with similar qualities or similar stressors sprung up? If yes, how did you deal with it? Were there previous times when you were able to manage an older issue better than you are managing the current one? Look at what were some of the things you did then that could help you now. Doing this will help you figure out that you probably already have the resources to handle the issue.
7. Find a support system - It is important to have friends who are familiar with how you are rewriting your story and changing your narrative. Sharing your strengths that have helped you combat older issues before can lead to instances where your friends are able to remind you of these resources in times of distress. Sharing with them your new way of talking about the issue is also relevant because it decides how others talk to you about it, how you talk about it in the future, how they offer suggestions and inquire about your well being.
8. Expressive arts (e.g. painting and dance), and journaling are activities that continue to help in externalising the issue. This way, the effects of the issue do not seep into your personality as something that you find yourself constantly thinking about. The energy put into these activities is a way to channel your thoughts creatively, to give yourself the freedom and peace of mind you need to see things objectively and with much required distance.
9. Write yourself letters where you slowly trace your journey from telling a one dimensional tale of your life to speaking of it with different other factors. Draw out a richer mindset with multiple possibilities and options, using which, you speak of yourself with a new lens and frame of mind.
These activities can help you in stopping to see yourself as the key reason that leads to disaster. By doing this, you are more likely to find hope and motivation to improve those parts of your life that you find are most affected by the issues you face.