After a long, hectic year, autumn is a time for “new beginnings”. A new school year begins, leaves start to change and weather feels less oppressive. It makes sense, then, to take advantage of this time by taking inventory of the things in our own lives we wish to change or get rid of. This mental and emotional clutter can build up over time, leaving us in a constant state of exhaustion, depression, irritability and stress. As we proceed into yet another season of change, incorporate the following to achieve maximum serenity:
1. Spend Your Time Carefully
It’s hard to be calm if you are surrounded by toxic people, those who leave you feeling exhausted, rather than energized, after each interaction. While constant complaining or gossiping are the usual M.O. for toxic people, they can also operate in coverts ways by being flaky, perpetually late, or even throwing subtle digs and backhanded compliments your way. Treat your time and energy as sacred things and spend them only on relationships that benefit you in a positive way. Do not be afraid to take space from those who are not invested in your well-being.
2. Pay Attention to Your Thoughts
While other people can negatively impact our mood and emotions, sometimes we are our own worst critic. People who experience chronic anxiety and worry tend to feel guilty for things that were outside their control or label themselves as a “loser” or “unworthy.” This thinking error, or “cognitive distortion”, occurs when we rely on inaccurate or biased logic to process information. As a result, we act and behave in irrational ways without understanding the real reasons for we did so. Our skewed perspective on reality also leaves us with feelings of anxiety and distress. Common types of cognitive distortions include:
- All-or-nothing thinking: thinking in terms of black and white. “Everything must be perfect, or I am a total failure.”
- Overgeneralization: applying the outcome a single negative experience to all current scenarios. “The last interview I had was terrible. This interview will be a disaster too. I am not employable.”
- Fortune-telling: immediately jumping immediately to worst-case scenarios. “I just know that something is going to go horribly wrong.”
Are you still ruminating on something you did or didn’t do six months ago? Stop now. This does not mean resigning yourself to all the bad things that have happened or might happen. Rather, forgiving yourself means giving yourself permission to not spend mental energy getting angry, fighting the feelings or assigning blame. The long chain of events and decisions that led you to the current situation all have a cause—to change reality, you must first accept the reality without judgement.
3. Take a Time Out
It may sound like an obvious concept, but setting aside time for yourself can easily get swept away by daily, weekly and monthly routines. Identify one activity you want to get back into, or try for the first time. Then, make it a priority. Mark it on the calendar and hold yourself accountable by not making the plans contingent upon whether other people will be able to join you. Trying a new activity is a great way to meet like-minded individuals and take a break from your usual routine.
While fall is a great season to start cleaning up your mental health, don’t forget to check back in with yourself frequently throughout the year to reflect on whether you have any baggage that might be weighing you down.
– Carolyn Moriarty, LPC