Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Battlefield of the mind - dealing with catastrophic thinking

As far back as I can remember, I have had this tendency to get easily irritable when things do not go as planned (more specifically, according to MY plan).

In the past week to 10 days, I have been using the SWITCH app, developed by Dr. Caroline Leaf, to address some ongoing toxic thinking, rumination and catastrophizing. Thoughts that at their root determine that I am often thinking the worst, waiting for the other shoe to drop and that life (everything) is hard. My thought life has been one of grumbling and martyrdom; but why? Better yet how do I change it? It is not as easy as keeping my mouth shut; biting my tongue is painful; and repressing my emotions sometimes leads to an explosion that comes at others out of nowhere.

Finally, at day 7, when I began to focus on the concept for the day, the dam broke. I gathered awareness about my attitude and how often I choose to catastrophize and grumble about my circumstances, big or small, rather than get excited and accept the challenge as well as make an effort to stay in the now and embrace the opportunity to do something I enjoy with my husband.

This new awareness enabled me to keep my mouth shut without the need to bite my tongue and a morning which I thought would be ruined due to my catastrophizing became a key lesson in communication.

Here's a glimpse of what I was thinking when we headed out to go kayaking that day

- we will get caught in the rain, what a disaster
- listening to you chattering is hard
- not knowing the way is hard
- the slope down to the river is hard
- getting into the water and then the kayak is hard
- paddling towards the same direction is hard

Yet, I chose not to speak these thoughts out loud and silently prayed for an intervention so that I could keep putting into practice what I have learned and embrace an attitude of of gratitude and excitement.

If you ever want to challenge this attitude and know who is in control - get into a tandem kayak with your spouse. Here communication, patience and grace are key - working with each other instead of against each other is critical - there was no room for my irritability, self-centeredness, need to be right, or warden voice. Even Sean's frustration was left at the shore line. It was a glorious unfolding.

PS - As I reflected on the roots of my attitude and misgivings, I found it difficult to put into words why I often behave in such ways.

So I identified the toxic thought - if only
Then associated the emotions - frustration and irritability
Connected to the information - I messed up
Then associated the emotions - regret and guilt
And connected the information - if only I had done it differently

Time and time again this circular reasoning has set me up for a negative feedback loop. Yet I still can't put my heart into the root cause of it. Clearly, I self-sabotage a fun and good time as you can tell from my thinking prior to my kayak journey. Clearly, I prefer to be in control of everything. Neither of these mindsets serve me well yet they cling to me like a dirty rag. And, despite that fact, I have hope for change as I learned a few things from this experience.

The root of my toxic thinking is about how I feel about myself, not others. Although these words were penned by  Melissa Maimone, Radiant Midnight, they aptly put into words my own feelings. " I feel ashamed that I so easily fail at being the person I want to be." and "realizing how little control I have had over my mind is terrifying. All of it makes me feel vulnerable and naked."

Secondly, it is never too late to change my attitude or start a new practice. God's mercies are new every morning.

And lastly, pausing before I speak will go a long way to decreasing regret and guilt.

Practice the Pause!
Pause before judging.
Pause before assuming.
Pause before accusing.
Pause whenever you're about to react harshly,
and you will avoid doing
and saying things that you will
later regret.
- Lori Deschene

The following is a link to an article that describes catastrophizing and what you need to know to stop worrying. (Healthline article re. catastrophizing )