A few years ago, I was semi-disabled from an injury to both hands and was depressed after long days of sitting where nothing happened. I was working a maximum of 1 to 2 hours a day as directed by my doctor. Medical professionals couldn’t say if or when I would feel better.
I couldn’t help but ruin my future when I sat in pain on the couch with no new TV series to spend my time on every day.
What if my computer goes out of business again? My career is based entirely on computer work.
Will I be able to cook, clean and drive normally without pain?
Should I give up my hobby of pole dancing, a form of self-expression that I dearly love?
Shortly before my injury, I was preparing for a career change and was particularly excited. However, because I was relying on Workers Compensation for my medical expenses, Workers Compensation required me to stay at my current job. I felt stuck and didn’t know how to get out.
Anyone familiar with the slippery slopes of catastrophe knows how quickly you can get caught up in thoughts that pull you down a dark tunnel. When you’re fixated on a problem or the worst possible outcome, it can feel instinctively real in your mind and body.
There is no mystery as to why any of us end up in catastrophe. Perhaps you do more than others, but the truth is that our brains and nervous systems are designed to prepare for the worst, or to avoid risks altogether. It means that we have evolved to keep us safe through protective measures such as anticipating what might happen.
When the brain determines that a particular situation is potentially dangerous for physical or social survival, it does not hesitate to activate the stress response in the amygdala and pump the stress hormone cortisol throughout the body.
We all have negative biases in our brains that make it easy for us to be inattentive. In other words, we often worry more than necessary or useful about the problem.
When I was disabled, my nervous system down-regulated my body into a depressive state, believing that nothing good could happen and that I shouldn’t be disappointed when the worst did come true. I thought it wouldn’t, but it actually didn’t.
When you’re immersed in an anxiety episode, you have less access to the conscious, wise parts of your brain that can solve problems. Biochemicals produced by the body produce more similar thoughts and feelings, making it easier to fall into even worse states of anxiety and depression. Your talk about yourself and the world becomes more and more negative. It’s as if the stress response has taken over the brain and nervous system.
Understanding how the brain functions when involved in a devastating episode is important for several reasons.
First of all, your body is doing its best to mobilize to keep you safe. Stress hormones allowed us to escape wild animals during evolution, but we no longer face life-or-death situations. The problem is that our brains haven’t been updated to modern times.
When you realize that your body is only trying to weave a narrative of doom to protect you, you start thinking about yourself, like, “Something must be wrong with me for imagining such a terrifying possibility!” You can let go of your preconceptions. because you have no problem.
Second, the key to coming back to reality and stopping the habit is the ability to reverse the stress response and regain control of the lucid thinking brain. By tuning our emotions and nervous system, we can biochemically change our stories and beliefs about ourselves and our future. When regulated, stories turn into hope, possibility, and inspiration.
How to change your story
There is no shortage of physical and mindfulness practices that tune the nervous system, reducing stress hormones and allowing you to crawl out of non-existent future catastrophes.
The first step is to decide that you want to change yourself.
You can control how you want to feel and what you want to do. If you’re ready to let go of your ruinous future, the next step is to start noticing when you’re starting to walk the path of your old habits. Find yourself in the present moment and try the following techniques to get yourself out of troubled situations and put an end to unhelpful thoughts.
Transition to peripheral vision
If your inner dialogue is prevalent and you know it’s not working for you, peripheral vision is a great way to silence those thoughts instantly. Find a focal point in your room and the space around you. Soften your gaze so that your focus is dispersed without moving your eyes. Expand your awareness to all spaces around that focal point. Continue to slowly expand outward so that you can almost see behind yourself. Try this for 20 seconds or so. Refocus and repeat at least one more time.
palpation + self-touch
Bring your palms together and rub them against each other to create warmth and friction. Focus all your attention on your hand and notice what you feel between your fingers and palm. Play with speed and pressure. Notice the temperature of your hands. You may be tempted to stretch your fingers back and forth.
Do this for about 30 seconds, then place your hands on your opposite shoulders as if hugging yourself. With both hands, trace the arm up to the elbow. Then bring it back up to your shoulders and down again. Repeat as long as it feels good.
prove the possibility
Be interested in what you’re going through and where you’re headed as you develop habits that give your body resources. When you find a moment of hope and possibility, write down what you’re excited about, what you’re looking forward to, and what you’re ready to change. Provide yourself with written proof that you know how you should feel about your future. Remember this feeling. Because it’s in your control to find a way to get back to that feeling.
Remember things can always turn around
Your brain thinks anxiety helps you prepare for the worst, but realize that too much anxiety can stretch your limits. And remember, things can turn out much better than you imagined.
Challenge your own thoughts and teach your mind how to imagine the best-case scenario instead of the tragedy. What might work? This is not about betting your happiness on the narrow measure of success, because no one knows how the future will play out. Rather, consider that the future may be a pleasant surprise for you. Then you’ll have a mindset that makes it easier to keep moving forward, redirect when needed, and cultivate resilience to life’s uncertainties.
your brain pays attention
The surprising truth about interventional self-regulation is that the brain pays attention. In other words, you are aware that you are breaking old habits and following a new path. Repetition rewires your brain.
Your brain is constantly learning, always recognizing your mood and responding to the same old triggers and stressors. Thanks to neuroplasticity, your brain and nervous system are changing. Be persistent in stopping self-limiting patterns. Then your body will have no choice but to renew.