And then everything changed

Montag, 5. September 2016

How I deal with negative spirals in my head

You know those moments or hours or days when you suddenly remember something you forgot to do and then you think of that one time you let down you best friend in 8th grade and then you think of you stupid jerk ex-boyfiend who treated you like shit and then you think about how you will probably never get married because you're so unlovable and a failure at work, so you think about all the life goals you will never achieve and about that awful discussion with your boss which is coming up and which you fantasize about every day and then... Well, you get my point. Sometimes (often at night when you're trying to fall asleep) one negative thought leads to the next which leads to you doubting every decision you ever made and suddenly you want to turn off your alarm for the next day because what's the point of getting up anyway?

I know those nights all too well. Especially when I'm facing big life changes or insecurities the negative spirale in my head can drive me crazy. But with years of experience I have developped a couple of methods to deal with it.

1. Repression/distraction

In German there's a perfect word for it, which is "Verdrängung". According to the English dictonary "repression" is the correct translation but I'm not completely sure of it. Anyway, let's just say I'm great at repression. You know when people say everyone's really good at one thing they do, I often can't think of anything expect: I'm really good at repression. I can shove my problems and fears in the darkest corner of my brain and keep them stored there for weeks or even months. Of course ignoring your problems is not healthy but a bit of distraction might actually help you. Distract yourself now and then deal with the issue once you feel ready for it (which admittedly often happens to be never).

At night when I realize that the negative spirale starts spiraling, I consciously force myself to stop thinking about this topic. Instead I invent stories of travels and adventures and drama in my head which most times works well. But sometimes my worries slip into my stories. In this case I get up and read a fictional book (mostly fantasy, because that's as far away from my life as it can get) or I watch a feel-good tv show like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Friends or (my go-to mood booster) Futurama. Yes, you could say that I'm lying to myself and am ignoring my problems, but it makes me feel better.

2. Letting go

Sometimes things that happened to me (people who did me wrong or even worse, people I treated badly, stupid mistakes I made, embaressments) haunt me at night. This is just stupid. Because it happened. It's done. I can't change it anymore. Also, if I fought with someone, even if we made up by then, I can't help but go through our argument and be hurt by it over and over and over. In this case repression will only buy me some time. Sooner or later I have to let it go.

The way I do it is, I formulate a summary of what happened: This is what happened, this really hurt me, this was what I did wrong, this is how we resolved it (if we did resolve it) - there's nothing more to say about it. Then I tell myself: This is it. There's nothing you can do about it now. Let it go. Just let it go. And then I take a deep breath and I let it go.

Of course it's not always that easy. What also helps me is to write it down in my diary. While I'm writing it down I allow myself to use as many curse words and melodramatic metaphors as I want and I cry so much that at the end I can't read my words anymore. But it's extremely liberating. Once it's down on paper, it's not stuck somewhere between my heart and my solar plexus anymore. It isn't a part of me anymore.

In general, crying my eyes out and letting it all out helps me a lot. Afterwards I always feel better. And I'm so exhausted from crying that I fall asleep instantly.

3. Making an appointment with yourself to actually deal with your problems

Sometimes repression is not working anymore. And to let it go it's too soon. Because sometimes we have actual problems which deserve our attention. They might seem unsolvable and make you feel abolutely hopeless but there is always a way, even if the way is to suck it up and live through it.

But it never once happened to me that I solved a life problem at night before I fall asleep. It always ends in me thinking endlessly about how fucked up my situation is and not sleeping at all. Which is why I don't even attempt to solve my problem then and there. I tell myself, next Thursday at 5pm, you're going to take a walk and you will sit in your favorite park and calmly think about possible solutions. You will write them down and then you will decide for a path to take, may it be a shitty path but you will decide and you will stick to it.

In that night I stop thinking about it, knowing that I will take care of it in a couple days (I even create reminders in my phone so that I don't forget to deal with it on the chosen day). Now I can think about something else or fall asleep and then some days later when I'm more awake and hopefully less desperate I will sit down (or walk around in my case) and calmly think about my problem.

I know my ways are far from perfect. Actually they are on a scale from absolutely-awful-for-my-repressed-subconciousness to alright-but-still-pretty-bad. But it's my way. This is how I deal with stuff. Because believe me, I know what it feels like when you get stuck in a negative spirale and I never want to feel that way again.

Do you have methods of dealing with negative spirals in your head?

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