Emotions & Resilience

How to Use Visualisation and Perception to Redefine Anxiety

My tools involve making a map of your future, or using your imagination to create.

Despite beginning my journey down the self-development path in 2004, I didn’t know what the destination would look like. In fact, I really struggled to picture my future.

As a young adult, I had no career calling to me, and thus looking at job adverts was like looking over a menu where all of the food includes something I “don’t mind” and nothing I truly love. Nothing jumped out at me and I couldn’t make a choice.

The Map and Compass

It’s clear to me that without a direction, without any idea of where we want to be, we can be lost. Without a destination, we can’t access or even create a map.

So, I began to pick out future events I’d like to happen. I pictured me-in-five-years, and she had a house and was writing her novel. I couldn’t tell if the novels were her full or part-time work, but they existed in the future. It was a tiny sign to step towards.

Through knowing my novels were important enough to still be in my life in five years time, I learned the importance of devoting time to writing “in the now”. If I had stopped writing completely back in university, I wouldn’t be that “me-in-five-years” who is a writer. And I knew I want to be that future writer.

Our imagination is a wonderful tool in the journey of development. You can redefine your future by acting in certain ways now. And the best part is: no one can read your mind. So you can redefine life as it happens to you, too.

Imaginary Panic Weasels, Redefined

Ellie Di has written before about anxiety and worries as “the panic weasels”.

She once defined panic as: “a dozen weasels. Now put them in a dog crate. Now give them PopRocks and Coke, shake vigorously, and open the door. That’s what happens to my brain, my heart, and frankly, my whole day when overwhelm and stress meet in a shower of shit I just can’t handle.”

When I first read this idea, I found it charming. A way to re-define our mental state, a way to shift our perception.

But nowadays, when I experience panic or worry, being able to shift those thoughts into a mental image gives me a little control over my mental situation.

Enter the Ferrets

Thinking of a crate of weasels running around the safe space in my head, I get to work on my imagination. I sprinkle them with water until they hide in a corner. I put up cardboard barricades which led from the wall to the patio doors. I sent my ferrets after them. When they left, I tried to shut the doors, and when they tried to get back in, my imaginary cats guards the door.

I had no idea I had inner kitten and ferret guardians until Ellie gave me the tool to frame my anxiety as a weasel. But the imagery really works for me.

Think it’s a bit weird? I guess it is. But you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it. You can cultivate some lizard guardians if you’d prefer.

It’s Not Exactly Science…

But there is evidence that our brains can’t tell ‘reality’ from imagination.

When we watch a scary movie, we experience real fear.

When you imagine running into that person you like, you feel the butterflies in your stomach.

And when you see the panic as weasels, you can pick them up by their tails and chuck them out, or you can visualise ferrets chasing them away for you.

The calm that follows? It’s the brain’s way of saying “phew!” because the anxiety is gone from conscious thought.

And it’s in your control.

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Reflection & Patterns

The Mindset Breakthrough: Shifting from Guilt to Gratitude

Over the festive holidays, I visited my in-laws to reflect on the year, open presents and share good food. I find spending time with people over the holidays always sparks great conversations, because they often have a different view from my own experiences. Conversations are great for questioning our mindset.

While discussing a soon-to-born-baby in the family, my mother-in-law said something that really got me thinking about the self-development idea of ‘shifting your perspective’ and re-framing in general.

An Emotional Situation

The story was of two pregnant women, with similar due dates. They bonded on the shared milestones and supported each other throughout the pregnancies.

When the first lady gave birth, one of the second lady’s response was “she’s got her baby, I want mine now. I’m tired and exhausted and I want to hold my baby now like she can.”

We are trained to compare and contrast experiences: it’s how we learn.

But this friend’s baby as unwell. It had been born prematurely, and the child actually died young due to a medical condition. When the second lady had her baby: a healthy boy, she continued that friendship with the other mother; yet there was obviously a difference in the milestones and experiences.

Through this story, sitting with a warm tea on a cold winter’s day, I shivered. My brain instantly rushed forward, imagining how that relationship must have brought such guilt at having a healthy child when this lady did not.

But my mother-in-law didn’t say that. She smiled, looking at an image of her sons, and simply stated: “It made me so grateful for my baby’s health, and I never forgot, never took for granted that my family was healthy.”

Whoosh.

Where my mindset labelled “guilt” and my stomach felt uneasy at the awkwardness of such a friendship with continue holding… her mindset only saw gratitude. I could feel it, of course any mother would be so grateful for their child’s health when she’d experienced that.

Perspective is Not About Lying to Yourself

This is not “oh, I should feel grateful. let me re-frame this horribly uncomfortable situation.” This was her natural response. And having not experienced childbirth myself, I can only imagine those kinds of experiences. But from visualising the guilt and unease, I found myself really able to listen to her viewpoint, and focus on how she expressed the situation.

And that unease in my stomach, just dissolved. 

I don’t instantly believe anyone can just think there way out of illness or focusing their thoughts will make them win the lottery. But my thoughts about this event were causing my body discomfort and my heart pain.

Yet, guilt in this instant was not a fact. Focusing my attention on the gratitude completely shifted my experience of the situation, although all I actually did, was shift my mental focus.

Sometimes, shifting our attention can really cause a change in our feelings. It’s just a case of perspective.

Pause Overthinking with Colour
Emotions & Resilience

Pause Overthinking in Under a Minute

We all get overwhelmed, panicked, exhausted, yet breaking free of that state sometimes feels impossible. In that state, how many of us know how to gain some mental space?

Many years ago, I read a post by Havi Brooks about some ways she manages being triggered. This is my version of her “name everything you see” exercise explained in that post.

The Five-Things Tool to Pause Overthinking

Look around you; wherever you are right now.

Can you see anything with a bit of blue on it? 

Currently, I can see a blue plastic basket, the board game Mouse Trap (blue box), a magazine with a blue stripe over it. That’s three…

We’re looking for five items. 

Now I have to look a bit harder. A book cover in that bookcase is navy blue.

Finally, I settle on the curtains: something I barely register any more.

Count them out “1. 2. 3… 4… 5.”

Feel any different?

Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way to pause: find what works fr you. Sometimes I find 5 things that are red or yellow.
Other times, I name 10 things of those three primary colours, and 5 things that are secondary colours: green, purple and orange.

Sometimes, I let myself count something with 2 colours in both colour lists.
Equally, I often set the intention of finding separate things for each list.

The key to this technique, is to create a space between all the ruminations, worries and ‘overthinking thoughts’, even if only for a few moments.

Sometimes I look for numbers:

  • This crisp packet says “2017” in the corner
  • That box says “100 board games collection.”
  • The video on youtube I’m watching has 34,000 views and 898 likes…
  • That chocolate box says “8 famous brands” in the subtitle [If you allow the ‘words’ of numbers, then ‘After Eights’ count too]

Sometimes, I focus on sounds instead:

  • I hear a bird singing.
  • My cat is scratching the carpet post.
  • I’m listening to a youtube video.
  • I’m humming a song from Moana
  • The wind is battering the window

What Does This Do?

When we feel overwhelmed or panicked, the result is often because we’re thinking about things too deeply, or without the facts.

Counting things in our environment has multiple functions. It:

  1. Distracts our mind for a few moments, creating a breathing space
  2. Tends to calm our emotions a tad: this is, for most people,  a ‘neutral’ activity
  3. Uses different parts of our brain -> thus distracting more than one ‘part’ [visual, counting, hearing, language]
  4. Is a ‘mindful’ activity: focused on this very moment, not the past or future.

Now, this is not a therapy tool or the be-all-and-end-all of ‘fixing overwhelm’, but it’s a simple, accessible tool, as long as your have a sense to use and an association to ‘label’ that experience “bird song” or even “magpie noise” if you’re good with your bird songs.

It won’t make the problems go away, or change any situations, but this technique can shift that habit from overthinking to breathing. At the end of the day, give it a go, and if it works for you, add it to your list of techniques that helps you. If it doesn’t, no harm done.

You need no extra tools, and it can be done without anyone else noticing.
If nothing else, it’s a technique you can keep in your toolkit; just in case you need it.

Want more techniques like this? Sign up for the free resource library here, or pause your thoughts with some cute cat pictures over at my instagram.

feeling-like-crap
Emotions & Resilience

Six Ways to Clear Mental Space When You Feel Like Crap

When we feel like crap, there tends to be a shift in our sensation of mental space. No one is happy all of the time. It is the dips in mood and experience which makes life the adventure it is. But some days, you just feel like crap, and all your brain can offer is “but you have no reason for this.”

Thanks brain. You tried.

So here are six tools to try out, the next time your monkey mind is full of emotional crap.

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1: Brain Dump

The first step is always to actually face whatever’s going on. Avoidance doesn’t help, and if you feel like crap, you’ve got nothing to lose by thinking about what may be contributing.

My favourite way is to set a timer for 60 seconds, grab the back of an opened envelope and biro, and write down everything going though my head at that moment.

If you like writing stream-of-consciousness or “dear diary” conversations, then go for it.

If you like lists, just bullet point the categories of item: * bills * mum’s birthday * health appointment *work project 3.

Once it’s all on paper, it creates a little bit of pressure of HOLDING it all, and remembering everything. Feel free to jot down items any time you feel overwhelmed so you can stop worrying about it, and clear a little bit of that space for vital information, like your favourite name for a pet lizard.

2: Make a Plan or List

Once you have a list of the issues, you can plan a solution for at least a couple of them.
* mum’s birthday can become a calendar appointment at 9pm tonight “buy mum’s present online.”

Anything you can either cross of the list immediately, or put a solid, concrete, practical plan into action to make progress on it in a timely manner will help ease the intensity of your thoughts.

3: Distract

Sometimes, when we’re feeling crap, it’s because we’re thinking about things that aren’t current: bad memories of the past or worries about the future. Perhaps it’s because we’re thinking “why do I feel so crap?”

Stop thinking, and distract yourself. For some people, putting on a comedy clip on youtube is enough to snap us out of the moment. For others, drawing or a hobby will help break that moment.

4: Connect

We are social beings, and one of the key things to build up that sense of positivity is contact with others. It can be as easy as texting a friend, or sending a video of baby goats racing to a friend online. That sense of connection naturally have the impact of making us feel less alone, and can impact the intensity of negative emotions.

5: Rest

Let yourself feel a bit crap, and curl up on the sofa with a nice film, or let yourself have a nap. Especially if you’ve tried the things above and still feel like shit. Let yourself rest for a bit, in case that helps. We so rarely let ourselves breathe.

6: Act

Focusing on how we feel emotionally, and on our thoughts, which often say unhelpful things, can sometimes increase how we PERCEIVE those feelings. Behaviours, or taking action, is often the best way to create mental space. Washing up a plate, dancing to a song, doing 5 press ups on the living carpet, or even just pacing up and doing. Get your body moving, take an action from that list we made above and get that sense of progress flowing.

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Of course, this list is not exhaustive of every option, but these are some good places to start when you just aren’t feeling great, and want to have a break from the emotions.

What do you find helpful in clearing mental space?

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!

Car Evgeny re-framing Tchebotarev Road Rage Anger Redefinition
Empowerment & Seeking

Re-framing: How Perception Is More than Just Lying to Yourself

On Friday afternoon, following a particularly stressful day working for a mental health project, I found myself burning out. I wasn’t angry, nor particularly sad, but I felt under pressure and desperate to get home: emotionally exhausted.

About 3 minutes from home, at a roundabout where people often go despite the traffic coming their way, a car pulled out in front of me. I had to break suddenly, my fight-or-flight system throwing adrenaline around my body so I could react quickly.

The Fight or Flight Response

I felt shocked and instantly angry. My heart raced, my hands tensed around the wheel. My thoughts flooded in: “How selfish, they could have killed us both! Why can’t people LOOK when they drive? Some people shouldn’t have driving licenses.”

My usual response would be to lift up my hand in a “what was that?” questioning motion. I’m not someone who uses the ‘traditional’ symbols: I just open my palm to the sky in my exasperation. Then I rein in those thoughts and pull back from the offending car: “I better be careful, this driver is likely to do something else dangerous.”

But this time, as the driver pulled off at my junction, they put their hand up to the rear-view mirror (the universal thanks/sorry movement), and I saw the green P-plate.

Re-framing, or the Paradigm Shift

Instantly, my anger dissipated. I didn’t have to reign those thoughts in; they just weren’t there anymore.

I put my own hand up to the my mirror, hoping they’d see it as “no problem” and left a big gap because I remember feeling that everyone was so close while I was learning to drive. (In fact, I kept the P-plate on my car for well over the recommended two years after passing my test.)

In terms of Friday’s event, nothing actually changed: I nearly had a car crash. I was scared for my safety. I got angry. The driver having a P-plate didn’t miraculously mean I was safer.

So why did those thoughts and feelings dissipate; if nothing physically changed? I’d re-framed the experience.

A Story of Redefinition

When I was growing up, I read a book entitled “NLP for Dummies.” I didn’t remember a lot about NLP as I grew older, except one example about re-framing experience (which a google search cites as being from Stephen Covey):

Some children are disturbing a train carriage of people.
The father appears to be ignoring them.

The author asks the man if he could control his children.
He expresses the frustration/exasperation/anger of people being disturbed, interpreting this man to be insensitive and irresponsible.

But the moment the father shared that the children’s mother had died an hour before:
the entire emotional experience shifted from anger to compassion.

Again, nothing physically changed. The children continued to be loud and disruptive.

The thoughts changed. The characters focused on re-framing the event. The interpretation, the labels of how that father should behave, changed.

I don’t normally experience road rage. 

I have conditioned myself to ask “what if?” or “why would I do that?” When someone cut me up in traffic, or drives through a red light… Yes, those first thoughts come up: How dangerous, are they insane; they’re putting everyone at risk.

And then I step back: re-framing the experience. “What could be happening, to make that okay in their eyes?”

Perhaps their mother is dying and they’re rushing to hospital to get those last 5 minutes to say goodbye.

The likelihood of that being true for EVERY bad driving event is pretty much nil. But, the only person actually hurting from my road rage, is me. And if I choose to believe that every ‘bad driver’ has a decent reason, I don’t sit there seething, keeping those uncomfortable, fearful thoughts going. I send out a wave of compassion, and get on with my day.

We can change how we think about events.

It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of time. But it’s possible.

For me, the gains are worth the effort.

 

New to Map Your Potential? Welcome. Grab the free mapping workbook bundle to make progress on your personal quest, one step at a time. From 30-second mindful moments to managing imposter syndrome and dealing with overwhelm: we’ve got you covered. You’ll also get monthly email updates and special list-only offers. Click here to sign up!