Trying to fix a problem isn’t always the right approach! While problem solving is a good approach based coping style for situations within your control, preoccupying your mind and efforts with a need for change in situations outside of your control is not helpful!
That is, change the situations that you can but work towards accepting the situations that you can’t! Perseverating on issues outside of your control with negative thoughts and ongoing efforts for change will only reinforce a sense of hopelessness and negativity.
Accepting a situation doesn’t mean that you are ok with it happening in the first place. It simply means that you are acknowledging that it has either happened or that it is happening outside of your control and that given that there is nothing you can do about it, there is no positive function of getting emotionally involved and enmeshed with it.
Focus your attention on the things that you can change! Remember that goals for change should follow the SMART acronym that includes the goal being achievable.
What is going on in your life that you would be best accepting rather than ruminating negatively about? Maximise the potential of your day by not involving your mind in negative situations or stressors and focusing on being calm and accepting that situations happen outside of your control.
The Cognitive Model of depression states that it is not necessarily the situation that affects the way we feel and behave but our thoughts about it. Challenging our thoughts about a situation so that they are both rational and healthy has been found to significantly improve mood and better manage depressive symptoms.
Below is a list of the thinking errors that individuals tend to make when evaluating a situation. Read through the list and identify 2-3 thinking errors that you tend to make the most. Next time you are feeling depressed, anxious or angry, identify your thoughts about the situation and the types of thinking errors that you have made.
Awareness is the first step towards change!
Mental Filtering: Focusing on the negatives and filtering out the positive
Catastrophising: Over-exaggerating in a situation
Black and White Thinking: People who are black and white (all or nothing) in their thinking might see a situation as being either good or bad, positive or negative.
Can’t Standitis: Inability to tolerate situations that are either undesireable or unpleasant.
Personalising: Blaming yourself for a negative situation
Mind Reading: Thinking that you know what people are thinking
Labelling: Calling yourself negative and unhelpful names instead of focusing on the facts of the situation.
Unfair Comparisons: Comparing your own situation to someone elses that has some kind of advantage or better situation than you do.
Overgeneralising: Drawing an overall negative conclusion based on one specific situation. An overgeneraliser will often make comments in terms such as “always”, “never” when really only referring to one specific piece of evidence about one isolated situation.
Emotional Reasoning: Emotional reasoning refers to the tendency to believe that if one feels a certain way it must be true.
This week I am on the Gold Coast with my family, a place I visit 3 or more times a year during school holidays. Aside from the convenience of the short 1 hour flight with two children under the age of 4, my husband and I have developed an appreciation for everything that the Gold Coast offers us- and most of it comes down to simplicity and calmness. We both live very busy lives parenting two young children and working full time hours and holidays are always a time where we need to maximise the break and our ability to refuel.
Today’s society works harder than ever before. Working hours are longer, the drive to succeed seems stronger and the juggle of career, health, family, friendships is increasingly more hectic. Stress, anxiety and depression rates have hit world record highs with more than 50% of the population experiencing emotional difficulty at some point in their life.
Substantiated in International research is the evidence that as humans we cannot be emotionally resilient and well if we are not attending to our basic primal and physiological needs. That is, without adequate nutrition, sleep and physical health we cannot survive, let alone be emotionally well.
I come home from the Gold Coast after each trip being at my peak of emotional resilience. I would like to share with you my own personal holiday formula for emotional resilience because I think it is embedded in International research and is what underpins a lot of the work that I do with my clients experiencing significant levels of stress, anxiety and/or depressed mood. It is usually the base from which deeper and effective therapy can work successfully.
- Focus on the Basics- a simple life: Satisfaction and positive emotion can come from the simple things in life. You don’t need a huge achievement or a new asset to be happy. The basics of the Gold Coast that I enjoy most are: moving at a slower pace, the sun, swimming in the ocean, a fresh meal, watching my children play in the sand, having time to connect with quality to the people I love
- Physical Health: exercise directly impacts on mood management and significantly reduces stress and anxiety and improves mood. Exercise obviously needs to be tailored to your individual ability- with the Gold Coast having nice flat paths along the ocean, I am enjoying a 25-30 minute jog along the beach each morning. While I like to jog, a walk would be just as helpful!
- Nutrition: I don’t believe in an all or nothing approach to health as it is unsustainable and unrealistic. A very clever woman called Teresa Cutter (The Healthy Chef) talks about an 80/20 approach to nutritional health that I adopt as being ideal. That is, 80% of the time eat the foods that fuel your body and 20% of the time allow yourself to indulge in the foods that you like that might not be so healthy. For example, my dinner last night was a fresh piece of fish with salad and chips. From my perspective the nutrition goal for emotional health is not to be strict and eat to lose weight but rather to eat the foods that will appropriately fuel your body and give you the energy to engage in activities and be well.
- Sleep: Sleep also directly impacts on emotional resilience and is a significant contributor to depression, anxiety and stress. I once came across a graph that suggested that the first 6 or so hours of your sleep are designed to refuel your physical health and the last 2 hours assist in emotional health and refueling. While I am away on leave I aim to get 9 hours sleep (rather than my 8 hours at home) in an attempt to rest as much as possible. It is important to add however that oversleeping can also negatively affect mood- 8-9 hours is ideal for adults.
- Connecting to Family and Close Friends: Research consistently demonstrates how important unconditional love is for psychological wellness. Love can come from your biological or other family, from your partner, with your children, with friends, etc. Many of my clients struggling with their mood want something more in their relationships- either with the people they are in a relationship with or that they want new relationships formed. While there will always be an ideal, maximising the relationships you have and care about is important- it might be with a niece or nephew, with a parent, a friend, your partner or a cousin. On the Gold Coast I am keen to maximise my relationship and connection with my husband, my two children and a few friends that are meeting us on our holiday. This connection doesn’t need to be out doing something exciting- so far on this trip my most successful connection moment has been sitting on the beach all digging a sand pool for the little ones to paddle around in.
Emotional resilience requires a base of physical wellness and connection with others. Start your journey of wellness by focusing on the simple things in life that are essential to life including sleep, exercise, nutrition and connecting with others. This will be the platform from which better self-esteem, life enjoyment, excitement, deep relationships and success can spring from.