WHERE YOUR THOUGHTS RUN TO AND HOW TO CATCH THEM
It was one of those days. No, weeks. Possibly the entire month. I found myself at the end of yet another long day coming home exhausted. We had a very busy weekend away attending a wedding, the previous week was busy with social and work activities, and I’ve had trouble sleeping for a few nights in a row.
On this evening I arrived home, planning to go for a run as soon as the weather cooled down a bit, and then attend book club. As I lay down on my bed, stroking my cat, I felt my body relax into the duvet. I wanted to stay there. I felt like falling asleep in that moment, even though I knew I still had some work to do on my computer. I allowed myself to lie down a bit, and set my alarm to take a 30-minute nap. As I tried to nap, my body exhausted, my mind started to race.
The thought process went like this “What’s wrong with me, why am I so tired?”, “I’d love to just sleep until tomorrow morning”, “Oh, that’s scary, what if I sleep until tomorrow morning and I never want to get up?”, “What if I’m not only tired, but something is terribly wrong, and I want to keep sleeping everyday”, “I definitely won’t be able to work anymore. I’d have to give up my practice and I’d be without work and an income and my husband would probably leave me so I’d need to move back to my parents to be taken care of like a child”
Do you see the progression? From being tired, to panicking about being tired, to suddenly being jobless, homeless, divorced and moving back with my parents. As I write this, I am astounded by the quick procession of irrational thoughts.
Luckily, I quickly became aware of what was happening. A thought process called catastrophising. I was able to take a step back and realise that my brain was just making up a story, which had no basis in what I was actually experiencing.
I asked myself, what is actually happening right in this moment? Answer, I am tired. How can I address this tiredness? I can lie on my bed for 15 more minutes. I can then take a walk instead of go for a run, and perhaps it would be good to cancel book club tonight and just have an early night.
So that’s exactly what I did.
I got up and went for a walk- which turned into a semi-run as my energy returned. I came home, made a comfortable and delicious dinner. As I went through my evening my energy returned and I didn’t feel so exhausted anymore.
This experience pointed out a trap that I often speak about with my clients, and sometimes still fall into myself. The trap is that we make assumptions about feelings (physical or emotional) instead of just experiencing them and meeting their need. In the example above, I made assumptions about feeling tired. I assumed that it would last forever, that it was the start of a terrible spiral, that I would never feel better again, and that it would affect my work and relationships. Looking back, it seems incredibly silly- I was just tired. People get tired. I’ve been tired before. Looking back there was a very good reason for being tired. But I didn’t expect to be tired in that moment, which meant my initial response was panic.
It takes some practice, but if we’re able to be with an experience, a feeling or an emotion – without analysis or assumptions or panic, it often just passes. I was able to see “Oh hey, I’m just tired”, then respond to this tiredness, and it went away. However, if I had panicked, pushed myself to still do all the things I’d planned for the evening, and continued to judge this tiredness, it would probably have made it worse, I’d still have been tired the next day, and it would have affected my work and my relationships. See the irony here?
Do you suffer from irrational and catrophising thoughts?
A good practice to start is to check in with yourself daily. Follow these prompts:
- What am I feeling right now?
- What assumptions am I making about this feeling (write them down)?
- Can I let go of these assumptions and get back to the core feeling?
- What does this feeling need from me right now / how can I respond to the feeling?
Carl Jung, a prominent psycho-analyst in the early 1900’s famously said “What you resist, persists”.
May you be able to just be with what is in this coming week. May you be able to be kind to yourself and respond to your needs. May you remember that you are beautifully human.
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