As bad as physical pain or illness can be, mental anguish is often the worst part. It can hit you at any time—in the middle of the night, during a pain spike, or for no obvious reason.
Worries about the future fill our minds. We might find ourselves blaming others, or raking over the past and beating ourselves up about things we did or said.
One way to think about this is as a negative mental loop. You start with one thought—“why didn’t I say…?” “things are going to get worse” or something along these lines. This leads to more negative thoughts, and more negative emotions.
What you want is to shift from a negative loop to a positive loop. A positive loop might include thoughts like, “this will pass,” “I’m doing the best I can,” and “I’m taking things day to day.”
The more you’re in a positive loop, the better you’ll feel. You’re breaking the cycle.
There are a number of ways to do this. But I favor the following five:
- If you find yourself going into a negative loop, take a moment to ask yourself one of the following questions:
- How many windows are there in my house?
- What was the make, model and color of my first car?
- What items of clothing did I wear a week ago today?
Just by doing this you’re interrupting the flow of negative thoughts. From there, you can replace them with positive ones.
- Visualize your negative emotions as people, animals, or cartoon characters. For example, I see my anxiety as a sheep and my anger as a wolf. Once you’ve done this, have a conversation with them. It can be out loud, especially if you have someone you trust to help you. Or you can do it in your mind. Ask the people or animals questions, such as “what’s your worst fear?” “What about this is familiar from the past?” Let them answer in whatever way they want. You may want to answer them, pointing out the ways their logic is flawed, or their fears are irrational. Or you may just want to sit with them. I find that just by reassuring my sheep that I’m there for it, it often calms down.
- Help someone else. Call a friend who’s going through a tough time. Send prayers or good thoughts to anyone who is less fortunate than you (or maybe just equally unfortunate). If you’re up to it, spend some time volunteering.
- Place your hand over your heart and breathe. Tell yourself to listen to your thoughts with this organ instead of your brain. It can take some practice but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Your heart is wise and loving. It gives you much needed spaciousness and kindness to yourself.
- Watch funny shows, videos or movies. Laughter counteracts negative thoughts and emotions. Think of it as a vacation from whatever you’re going through. And if you’re in pain, it has been shown to reduce it. (Read my earlier post for more inspiration.)
It’s your choice which of these methods helps the best. You may want to try experimenting with each one until you find one that works. You can also use different ones at different times so you’re mixing and matching.
The main thing is to remember that everything you’re going through is normal. Whether you’re dealing with chronic illness, pain or something else, it’s part of the human condition to fall into these cycles. So give yourself a break and remember that you can get out of it. Your mind will try to convince you that this is the reality. But nothing could be further from the truth. We all have the power to give ourselves the most positive possible outlook.