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Kick Those Negative Feelings

I find myself arching an eyebrow at anyone who tells me they don’t suffer from negative self-talk from time to time especially in the early hours of the morning when fears and doubts are magnified.  

  So what is negative thinking?  In many of my training programmes on human behaviour over the years, I used to begin with a simple group exercise to compile examples from personal experiences.  The same responses came up each time: anger fear, guilt, worry, sadness, envy, grief, loneliness, not being good enough, shame, blame, despair and so the list grew. When asked to reverse the exercise and consider positive responses, groups struggled to come up with three or four. Why is this?

  The brain focuses in on negative thoughts and feelings because it senses DANGER. Without a super human effort to counteract this pattern, we get locked into a downward spiral which is difficult to climb out of.  We can’t avoid negative thinking but when it takes over our lives, putting a block on what we want to do or achieve then it’s time to take action.

  As a writer, I don’t always want to write. The words don’t flow easily and whispering into my ear is the ever taunting voice. ‘You’re wasting your time. Who do you think you are? Lee Child’s a writer. So is Paula Hawkins. You’ll never be in that league.’

   True but I can be in my own league. I have to remind myself that my voice is my own and my narrative is carved from many difficult personal experiences that might help others.

Although I don’t always put my techniques for breaking the cycle into practice, I’d like to share what does work for me, especially when I wake and can’t get back to sleep.

  Keeping a notebook by the bed means I can transfer what is in my head to paper which takes away some of the angst. Journaling has long been used as a way to manage feelings and make sense of tumbling thoughts. It helps to contain the catastrophizing and focus on what is really going on. Next to the feelings, I write down an action. It might be small such as make a phone call or write a letter. Taking back control in some form, not of other people but of turbulent emotions is a powerful thing to do.

  Break the loop by doing something practical. Bake a cake, tidy a cupboard, clean out your shed, bag up unwanted stuff for charity. Simple actions help to shift focus especially if they involve moving around. Ruminating is best left to cows.

  I’m a great believer in getting started on a project rather than planning. Seeing something take shape even it’s distorted and not what you had in mind can lead to something better than you envisioned. Putting it off because you don’t have the right tools or you need to think about it a bit more is a defence mechanism against fear of failure.  It’s also self-sabotaging and self-defeating.

  Finally train your mind to think,  So What? It’s not the fear of losing or not achieving something but more about how you are going to react. Do you have the resilience to cope with anything that comes your way? Actually you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. Some of us are harder on ourselves than on other people.

  I’m not into modern psychobabble but there is something to be said for self-nurturing. This doesn’t mean eating your feelings with sugary treats but it does mean respecting your body, giving yourself time and attention and not relying on others to do it for you and above all reprogramming your inner voices.

   My children used to sing along to an American nursery rhyme.  You can do it, you know you can.’  I’ll leave you with that thought.   

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The Girl in the Lift - 550 words

Amelia was late again for her meeting with Troy in Marketing.  Instead of running up the six flights of stairs to his floor- to-ceiling glass panelled office as she normally did, she pressed the button for the lift, hopping from one red stiletto  to another as she watched the numbers flash on the screen.

   Mary stepped out in her sensible black flats, nodding in acknowledgement. ‘He’s not in a good mood,’ she called over her shoulder as the doors closed.

   Amelia checked her make-up in her compact mirror, tapping some gloss over her lips as she waited for the lift to zoom up to the floor and release her into the wild. Truth was, Amelia was nervous about travelling in lifts on her own, especially compact ones like at Coopers.’  She smoothed down her grey skirt and took a deep breath, reassuring herself that the meeting would be fine. Troy might bluster and flap at times but he admired her work and said he couldn’t do without her. That was what he said when they’d stayed over late, drunk a bottle of wine then…. well… she preferred not to think about that night.

    The light flashed 5 and the doors opened.

  ‘Troy! I was on my way up.’  Amelia clutched her gold necklace as she stepped away from the smell of alcohol on his breath. ‘Are you Ok? I mean we can postpone the meeting.’ Her ribs ached with tension.

 Troy narrowed his eyes and grinned. He tugged off his tie and opened his shirt collar.

‘We can have our meeting here.’

‘Don’t be silly. Come on, we’re here.’

He towered over her to press the button for the basement.

‘Troy, stop it. You’re frightening me.’ Amelia felt beads of cold sweat form on her top lip.

  ‘You didn’t protest the other night.’ He grabbed her shoulders and tried to kiss her but Amelia was too quick for him. She dodged his grasp and pressed the button again for reception. As his nails dug into her wrist, she pulled off a shoe with her free hand.

   ‘Get off me Troy or you will be sorry.’

  ‘Oooh. Big girl talk. No, YOU will be sorry. Now do as I tell you.’

  Blood thudded through her ears as she angled the heel and stabbed it into the artery in his neck. Her nursing days weren’t wasted after all.  Cleaning her shoe with a wet-wipe she slipped it back on her foot.   

   ‘I warned you,’ she said through gritted teeth as he fell to the floor, blood pulsating through the wound and over his white shirt.

   ‘You won’t get away with it, he gasped, clutching his throat.  His breathing became laboured as she pressed the button again, praying that nobody would call the lift before she reached the foyer. Most people had gone home for Early Friday Finish. Jason, the concierge was on the phone.

  ‘Good day love?’  Keith her house-husband appeared in the hallway wiping his hands on a tea-towel.

  ‘Same old, same old,’ she replied, slipping off her shoes and running upstairs. She scrubbed them in the bath and put them under the bed in the spare room to dry. Tomorrow she’d take them to a charity shop.

‘How was the meeting with Troy?’  Keith handed her a glass of wine.

‘Dead boring.’

  

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Anxiety in these uncertain times

As a counsellor, I’m receiving calls and emails from a growing number of people who are finding it difficult to tear themselves away from the news, be it on the television, radio or online. As they tell me about the compulsive nature of their behaviour, driven by anxiety, I am at a loss to do anything to help other than listen and validate their feelings, avoiding catastrophizing and melodrama which adds fuel to their already raging fire.

   Emotions swing from disgust to rage to fear and a profound feeling of doom. All anxiety brings a range of physical symptoms which we can do something about; eating disorders, inability to relax, loss of sense of humour and mysterious aches and pains.

    It’s the sense of powerlessness which drives these feelings and it brings to mind the old adage: ‘Worry is like a rocking horse. It gets you nowhere but gives you something to do.’

   Anxiety is a good thing as it can motivate us into taking some action in order to take back some measure of control. It’s when we allow it to paralyse our thoughts that it digs deeply into the psyche and triggers more serious symptoms.

    When I get bogged down with analysis paralysis the first thing I do is to drastically cut down on my news sources. Flicking between channels or online sources trying to make sense of all the contradictory information can drive you crazy. Studies have shown that when we are really stressed from information overload which we can’t filter properly, the brain gives up trying and accepts what it’s being told. This sounds like how brain washing works. When the brain is exhausted from one activity, it needs rest. Hobbies or activities as I said in my last blog are a life saver. It doesn’t matter what you do: make biscuits, go to a singing class which is fantastic for releasing tension or meet up with friends to talk about anything other than potential war, immigrants, Brexit, the economy and so on…. Make that a rule. With obsessive compulsive behaviours, something has to break the cycle of rumination even if it’s for half an hour.

   Inability to switch off at night for restful sleep is major complaint. Lack of refreshing sleep can make everything seem so much worse and I think this is something that needs proper attention without, hopefully, resorting to drugs. The mind can churn over horrendous possibilities in the early hours thus making the anxiety or mood problems much worse. We may well go to war but we have to be optimistic and take into account that world leaders wouldn’t allow it to happen irrespective of their bluster. In a world teetering on madness, we must stay earthed.

   I lived through the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and while it was very frightening (as well as the Iran-Iraq war), we got through it and became wiser as a result.

    I’m a great believer in being proactive. Is there anything you can do? Write something? Join an activist group to influence policy makers? Go on protest marches? It might not seem worth it as anxiety dulls down the senses and brings a feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ True. You might not effect change but by doing something, anything, you will get back a feeling of control and the energy used in worrying will be harnessed for something more positive.

   I manage anxiety through regular yoga sessions. If I can’t find time for a class, then I do ten minutes at home with a video. Similarly at night, I chose a ten minute meditation tape before going to sleep. Everybody can find ten minutes at either end of the day to do something that will calm the mind and therefore calm the fears.

     Knowledge is power so it’s good to understand how politics works rather than focussing on what is coming out of the mouths of politicians who are driven by their own agendas in many cases. It’s a good time to read some of the Greek philosophers.

   My favourite is What Would Aristotle do?

 https://www.amazon.com/Would-Aristotle-Self-Control-Through-Reason/dp/1591020700/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276867539&sr=1-1

    What we need to remember is that our parents and grandparents went through the world wars and got through the fear, grief and despair because we are in the main resilient and that’s what we really need to develop in order to cope. Grit and determination.

   In whatever way these current world events are affecting our emotional stability, I say this; Maintain your dignity if you find yourself arguing with others because you don’t agree with their point of view. Avoid resorting to yelling, verbally abusing and calling someone as asshole or worse. It destroys your argument. Work on being calm and rational, agreeing to disagree then disengaging.

   It’s your choice as to whether you engage with any of this at all. You can choose to not read a newspaper, mainstream or alternative, not fire a volley on insults in comment boxes or get involved in any sort of attack. It might give you a powerful adrenaline fix for a few moments but what about afterwards? What damage have you done and for what reward?

   I prefer to work towards evolution of self rather than revolution towards others. Rise above it is the one action you can take and make peace with yourself. That’s one way you can take control and reduce the anxiety levels. Nothing can make you feel bad unless you allow it to do so.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote:  You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

 

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