During this one-of-a-kind time in social distance and with other influences on our lives here in the United States (e.g., frequent COVID-19 updates, new recommendations by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is common to witness a negative focus. We experience anxiety and unrest that can be made worse if we feel alone or isolated in this time of social distancing. While some things may remain outside of our control, you DO have control to decrease your anxiety and overwhelm. The following can bring about a change to your worry, rumination, anxiety and depression:
You Strategy to Develop Emotional Control and Constructive Thoughts: The “ABC” Strategy
The “ABC” of how emotions come about:
I experience a (“A”) situation/ event. In response to that event, my beliefs (“B”) about life in general and myself get triggered. I may even engage in self-talk. This self-talk reflects my belief. My beliefs, in turn, trigger that I experience “C”: an emotion.
Let’s look at this example and see if it sounds familiar:
I may (A) wake up and reach to my phone to check the news, especially the health related news on COVID-19. Right in my bed, not even fully awake, “A” gets activated. My beliefs(“B”) are triggered, which I am not even aware of as it is prior to my coffee and meditation time :).
In addition, my beliefs are triggered so quickly by the way how technology interacts with our brain the second I am in front of a screen. In other words, our bodies and nervous systems get a major “high” or “hit” from the visual and electromagnetic stimulation by the device(s) you are on.
My beliefs are quickly activated and most likely, I may not even take the time to become aware of them. Immediately following, I begin to experience an emotion “(C”). That emotion can be anything from sensations such as nervousness, tension in the chest, to a sinking feeling in the stomach or a feeling that I can cry. Sounds like symptoms of depression? Sensations of panic disorder? If left unattended, our mind can quickly go back to A (checking the news), confirming our beliefs (B), and further difficult emotions my follow.
Why do I need to check the news multiple times, over and over? You might ask. Don’t assume incorrectly: it’s not that social distancing can result in you getting obsessive compulsive disorder or a sudden specific phobia such as the fear of germs or of people.
I am also not saying that we all are people with depression and all need to consult a health professional. At the same time, we are dealing with a new situation (staying home due to a pandemic), and so my mind may work really hard to makes sense of the situation, our feelings, thoughts about the unknown. You my find yourself with “all or nothing” aka “black and white” thinking and the same flavor of self-talk. In turn, negative self-talk often is linked to negative emotions such as depression and anxiety. It’s important to identify which self-talk you engage in so that you can best navigate your (and other people’s) emotions.
In sum, a (negative) feedback loop runs from A (an event such as my body getting bombarded with overwhelming news via technology) to B (beliefs such as “I am weak” “I am in danger”) and on to C (your emotions are going to overdrive: panic, overwhelm, depression, anxiety, anger to name a few) exists. And from C, back to A, and the cycle starts another round.
Retake your mind
Use the following 7 step “ABC” strategy to replace negative thoughts and feelings:
The 7 step “ABC” strategy creates constructive thoughts, successful behaviors, rewarding circumstances that inspire your physical vitality. And your physical vitality is what we want to enhance these days:
Step 1: Identify C
Think of a recent time when you were feeling a negative feeling(s) (e.g., stress, anxiety, depression). List 1-3 feeling(s) you were experiencing.
Step 2: Identify A
What was the problem, task, or event that you were facing at the time (e.g., job, interview, relationship, problem, test in school)?
Step 3: Identify B
List 1-3 things that you were telling yourself at the time (e.g., “You will never get this job, why bother, I am not good enough”).
Note: You can also identify the situation at hand by following the ABC format (that is, first reflect on the problem, task, or event, followed by your beliefs and then identify your emotions). In the current example (as so often in real life), we are becoming aware first of our feelings and then have to dig to find the trigger (problem/task/event) and the beliefs.
Regarding question 3, is there any “extreme thinking” such as “never”, “always” in your self-talk?
Listen to the following examples to get more insight on extreme thinking.
Become aware of “all or nothing” thinking:
Challenge “always” thinking:
How could you change (reword) your self-talk to view the problem, task, or event as a learning experience? Listen to the following scenarios and find out how they apply.
Replace mind reading:
Shift your negative focus:
Examples: “This interview will help me gain interview and presentation skills”; “These times shall pass as my grandmother would say”, “This special time will help me grow more as I can take free online classes to increase my skillset”
Write down your self-talk as a learning opportunity. For inspiration on what to tell yourself, click here.
What actions can you engage in that reflect the reworded learning experience as you go through your day to experience your day differently?
Examples: “I will check my emails regularly instead of procrastinating. I will remind myself how well my last job interview was and what I learned. I will write a follow up email to the HR contact of the position I applied for.”
Repeat using this strategy and/or the new learning experience. If you only did some of the steps, try again. You may need the help of a peer or professional if you get stuck with one of the steps.
Congratulations! You have changed your negative thoughts and feelings to new actions and a new reality. Please repeat the above steps in any other situation that deserves a change. Together we are in this, and together we will make it! Comments or questions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or take a log at other resources on the blog. I love hearing from you!