Down and Out
When we find ourselves in low mood states, when we’re stressed, tired, and hopeless, it can be extra brutal to encounter thoughts kicking us when we are down. Blaming us. Angry and hurt potentially that we are in this position to begin with. In certain situations, a compassionate friend might just be what is needed to support us, to encourage us, to give us comfort in the sense that things will end up alright. How despairing things can feel when we are alone despite the expectation that we must be at times.
These can be dark, difficult moments even more disheartening upon internalizing negative feelings. A good question for assessment then would be how often do we treat ourselves with kindness in these moments? How about in general? A quick experiment we can do on the spot is to mindfully see what happens when we offer ourselves a word of kindness. Take a moment to ground yourself, search your mind for a strength you perceivably believe and verbalize it out loud. What happens next? Does a slight embarrassment follow? Are there uncomfortable physical sensations or thoughts trying to resist your compliments?
If that is the case, then you may be surprised how natural that is! In many instances, when we try something new, even something as silly as giving ourselves a positive affirmation, our anxiety response may react to the unusual circumstances. Especially, if socially or culturally, you are targeted as arrogant or cocky for doing so. Then it might even feel dangerous to offer kindness with yourself. However, even if at first you sense resistance, it doesn’t mean it will always feel that way. In fact, it may end turning into a supportive tool.
Home Court Advantage
Before getting into the mechanisms as play, let’s view this from a different lens. In team sports, there’s a popular understanding of home field advantage. Besides baseball, the dimensions of the playing field are the same. So besides familiarity, how else does the home team get a statistical advantage? Well, one might guess the cheering crowd! How loud and exuberant they can get at even the smallest of wins. In basketball this is exhibited by claps and cheers from each made basket. Even the free throws worth 1 small point. Over the course of two hours that is a lot of cheering.
That begs the question what a friendly crowd could do for us. How effective would we be pursuing our goals if there was a small celebration for every accomplishment? Of course it isn’t totally realistic to have a crowd trail us through our daily experience, but what if you developed an internal crowd and internal coach to offer up encouragement and support when needed?
What it Does
And that’s the ultimate goal. Life can be unpredictable, and we can’t expect to be perfect. Life will knock us down hard. Ideally, when would we want to get up? Situationally, we will need to process the experience, but thoughts and feels can be tricky. If we can’t discern which thoughts are worth dwelling on, then we may find ourselves in a negative thinking trap. Conversely, if we’ve developed tolerance and an understanding for the need of difficult emotions and are capable of utilizing thought reframing, then we may find the emotional processing more accessible to move through. Long term, it will not be productive or effective to suppress our emotions. Self-compassion, the recognition of one’s own worth and value will expand our cognitive flexibility and resiliency.
On board yet? Great! If skeptical still, then know only you will be able to test this out. In our mental ecosystem where thoughts (often uncontrolled) pour constantly through an infinite stream of consciousness take note of the different types of thoughts. Similar to when asked what happens if we purposely inject a singular positive thought, what happens if we inject a multitude that range beyond simple compliments. What if, we push through the uncomfortableness or the cringe and pump our mental ecosystem with positive statements of self.
Again, this will be only for you to find out, but research and leaders in the field of positive psychology suggest by doing so, positive thought retrieval would be a more automatic process. Ultimately building towards this mentality takes effort and patience. Listed below are activities accessible for daily use. A quick web search can provide worksheets to refine these skills even further, but consider these activities as a way to begin bolstering mental positivity.
Identifying your own strengths and values is a key part of this process. When our mind clouds with doubts and our confidence dips, falling back on our perceived strengths is the ultimate safety net. From your strengths or even strengths you would like to develop, positivity can be drawn and turned into thoughts.
Example: I know I am resilient therefore I know I can get through this.
Create a list of positive, believable statements you can say to yourself. Practice saying these statements in front of a mirror and keep checking in mindfully to see how the body and mind reacts.
Active thought reframing
Use Cognitive Behavioral thought diaries to challenge negative thoughts, strengthening your ability to do so. In many therapeutic settings, exercises like these are utilized to practice thought reframing. It can be effortful at first, but with almost anything, practicing supports to make this an easier process. Specifically, try the strategy of talking to yourself like a friend. If your friend was feeling down about themselves or a situation, how would you move to comfort them? How can you offer yourself that same type of support?
What are your thoughts on these suggestions? Do they seem doable? Overly simplistic? What about your own personal fears of trying these out? Any hesitations, and if so, what is driving the anxiety? Is there a fear that you will fundamentally change as a person? Will you become lazy and unmotivated if self-compassion lets you off the hook or will you actually become arrogant? Again, only you can actually see for yourself what actively engaging in self-compassion brings.
Still unsure or interested in further counseling? It is vital to reflect on what you have learned when we take bold new steps in our life. If you are looking for feedback and support as you practice self-compassion to improve the quality of your life, then consider contacting us here at the Chicago Counseling Center. Our licensed therapists can support you with your journey of change as you find the path to higher resiliency with your mental health.