I get a lot of clients who are depressed or anxious. When I do, I want to know how balanced their lives are, so I ask, “How do you relax?” If they watch TV, or name some other passive activity, I’ll dig into this a little.
Why? I know that a lot of people confuse inactivity with relaxation. They don’t see that stopping the body isn’t the same as stopping the mind. Actually, it’s often that when they’re immobile and their mind has time to wander, that they are the most agitated. Fortunately, when we start looking at what is really happening, clients recognize this restlessness. It’s then that we can look at what’s going on in their minds.
The way they’re thinking is predicable. They usually have some dilemma(s) in their lives that they’re fixating on. Their thinking goes like this:
What if THIS happens? If THIS happens, then I’ll have to do ___! But if I try that, so-and-so will do ___ and then I’ll have to ___! But if THAT happens instead, I won’t be able to do ___ and so I’ll have to ___, which I don’t think I can do. So, maybe I’ll just ___, unless of course someone else does it first, then I’ll be stuck.
See what they’re doing? They anticipate every possible turn of events, no matter how likely or unlikely it is to happen. It’s throwing gas on a fire, turning one worry into a relentless cycle of worrying.
In reality, the time you spend productively focusing on a problem is limited. After that point, your thinking tends to be less objective, more negative, fearful and uncertain. You start to believe that bad outcomes are unavoidable, and then minimize or overlook more hopeful possibilities. The result is that you end up feeling more powerless than you are.
What a trap! If you see yourself caught up in this, you’ll want to start taking the steps to get out of the cycle. Next week we’ll give you some ideas of how to start. In the meantime, spend some time trying to understand your own thinking process more specifically. Is this how your mind works? Do you identify with the thinking pattern I described above?