Yesterday I went to my weekly therapy appointment with a checklist, prepared for exactly what I wanted to discuss (I’m an overly-organized freak… she knows this). I was concerned that I had been feeling lonely, anxious and depressed a few days last week and wanted to know 1) what was causing this, and 2) how to get myself back to the “happy/optimistic zone” during these times. I told her that my mom and cousin came into town this last weekend, and I had so much fun with them. Could this have been a trigger? Was I feeling this way because they left? (Side note: My family lives in a suburb of the twin cities, and I currently live in the Madison area—I-94 is our best friend). Could it be because I was stressed at work? Damn, social media could have been another reason… I cancelled plans last Friday to read, watch a movie, have a glass of wine, and plan my workouts and meal prep for the next week as a self-care night. As soon as I started reading, I checked Snapchat and instantly had FOMO, like I should be doing something with friends. I didn’t want to feel like a loser. I couldn’t relax after that.
I sat in front of my therapist analyzing all that I could to understand why I was feeling this way, hoping she would pick my brain to find the root of the problem. I thought she would tell me how to cope, and I would do this and feel better.
She started with, “You know, in college you didn’t give yourself much time to really feel many of your negative emotions.” This was 100%-my-therapist-reads-me-like-a-book true. In college I would run myself dead. I would go to class, work out, and study until I went to bed. On the weekends I would study during the day, hurry home to go out with friends, and repeat. The only way I knew to cope with negative emotions was distraction. Unfortunately, I was good at it. Studying was a constant option/excuse. I would avoid depression, loneliness, anxiety, anger, and fear like the plague. Half the time, I probably didn’t even know I was doing it. I imagine, when encountering these uncomfortable feelings, little people in my brain throwing up papers and running around in circles. Abort! Abort! Go study! Call your mom! Workout! Visit a friend! DO LITERALLY ANYTHING. Ugh.
My therapist asked me to name a time where I allowed myself to feel how I was feeling instead of trying to change, run from, or analyze it. My memory instantly went back to the cross-country season in high school. My coach would always say, “run how you feel.” On days where I felt good, I’d run faster. On days where I felt like crap, I’d take it easy. My therapist asked me why I didn’t analyze or try to find a reason why I didn’t run fast on days I didn’t feel great. It’s funny, never once did I think, I’m running slow because “I ate like shit,” or “I’m dehydrated,” or “I’m nonathletic.” Why? Honestly, I think I just knew that my body physically feels different on different days, and I work with what I have. “What if you tried to view emotions in this way? You don’t have the constant distraction in your life, and this means you may notice things about yourself that maybe you didn’t before.” For me, “these things” were emotions I subconsciously and consciously didn’t allow myself to feel. “Some days you’ll experience positive emotions, some days you’ll experience negative emotions. It’s a part of being human, and a consequence of having the ability to experience a spectrum of feelings. You work with what you feel each day.” BOOM. I realized I am so much gentler with my physical body than I am with my mind. When it comes to emotions, I push through, analyzing and actively trying to change how I feel. It doesn’t work.
Noticing my emotions and working with what I feel each day is my mental health goal for the next week. By no means do I think distraction is an “ineffective method” of coping, I just don’t think it should be the only method. Learning more ways to work with feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety could be useful.
My positive affirmation of the week is, “Experiencing negative emotions is part of being human, and these feelings will pass. I will feel happy again.”
Have a wonderful week,