During my usual Tuesday at 12 therapy session I became agitated and squirrely. I could feel the tension and anxiety building in my chest hands, and feet. I wasn’t talking about a touchy subject, but I felt I was going to burst. I could feel overwhelming nervous energy bubbling up and festering inside of me.
I stopped what we were doing and I told my therapist what I was feeling. He looked at me pan faced and said “let’s go into it.” I wasn’t sure what he meant. Normally when he says things like that I start shutting down: I become uncomfortable and unsure how to process what I am being told. I thought he meant we would be “healing the inner child” like Carl Jung’s approach, and I struggle with that.
However, this was more of a mindful-awareness exercise. He reminded me that this was like being in the gym, putting in the reps to build my emotional muscles. My instructions were to sit and recognize where these uncomfortable feelings were emanating from. As soon as I began to focus on what he had told me, all of the tightness and discomfort shot right into my jaw. It was like a vice grip tightening down. It became so intense I was unsure if I would be able to speak.
As I sat there feeling the discomfort in my jaw my therapist watched my behavior. I started moving my jaw around and opening my mouth wide in hopes of making the tightness dissipate. He quickly reminded me not to try to control the feeling or to try to make it go away. He repeated “just go into it. Allow yourself to feel what is going on in your body.”
After a few minutes of paying attention to my uncomfortable feelings they started to subside. My mind and body felt relaxed; I could think straight and talk about what had occurred. My jaw no longer felt like I was in the Camel Clutch (below is a video depiction of how I felt, in case you don’t know what that is).
My therapist likened this exercise to having an itch and not scratching it. I’m a guy with a lot of proverbial itches to scratch and he knows that, so the analogy fit well. If you just allow the feeling to pass the itch will eventually go away. You do not have to scratch it. The itch may be extremely uncomfortable, but it can’t hurt you and won’t kill you.
This was an invaluable experiment for me. It was a very simple but effect exercise showing me I can handle the discomfort of my thoughts and feelings if I simply accept them for what they are and allow myself time to process them. The same “muscles” I used in his office I can apply to the rest of my life. If for some reason the feelings start to overwhelm me I can change the channel mentally and focus on something else. I don’t have to use exogenous sources to numb my feelings and stuff them down inside of me. Which I did all to often in the past.
Being an entrepreneur almost ensures my life is a roller-coaster ride. If I look at how chaotic my life’s been for years, this like seems the only route for me. I have to learn the hardest ways possible. Extraordinary amounts of pain accompany my process. A part of me feeds off the adrenaline rush this lifestyle can produce. The highs are high and the lows are very low. I’m an addict in many facets in my life. Chaos, turbulence and adrenaline have been my drugs of choice for as long as I can remember.
I have a nasty habit of comparing myself to others. This is a quick and surefire way for me to feel less than and defeated. I see what others have and covet their success. I make assumptions about their success without knowing the whole story. They may not be happy, healthy or have the material wealth that I may think.
Sometimes I can’t see past the dismal future I create in my head. I look at myself as a failure for not being in the position in life I feel I should be at my age. I get so far bogged down in my own bullshit, negativity and self pity I cant see that whatever is bothering me is temporary. If I take action and I’m not afraid to fail and learn from my mistakes I can create success again. When things get so bad in my life I feel I can’t continue on. I want to pack up and run away. I use techniques I’ve outlined below to get back on track
First, try to only look at today. As hard as it is, let go of what was and try not to stress over what is to come. Just worry about this moment, of this day, right now. When I am really down trying to handle anything more than that is just way to much for me. Its like they say in AA, “Just for today.” I used to hear guys tell people in programs “you can get high tomorrow, just stay clean today.” They would repeat that to them every single morning until the urges started to cease. Staying focused on the present is incredibly difficult, but when I can do it my life certainly gets better.
Create a structured routine. Make lists of what I WANT to do with my day. I put them in chronological order if possible. I make a decision about what are the most important 1-2 items that if I do today will allow me get to all the other less important items done as well. Set a time frame to get those 1-2 things done for the day. If I find I’m spinning my wheels, I take a break for a couple of minutes and come back to the the task at hand. The mornings are especially important for setting the stage for a productive day. I like to get up have my shake, do some reading, look over my to do list and set a positive tone for my day. Then the first thing I like to get out of the way is going to the gym. Having a good workout helps me focus throughout the day. If I don’t go early it is on my mind the rest of the day.
Spend time with positive people. Stay as far away as possible from the pessimists and Debbie-Downers. Surround yourself with happy people who make you laugh and smile. That type of behavior can be infectious and hopefully it’s a bug you will catch.
Exercise – Whatever your personal thing is DO IT. It could be weight lifting, crossfit, running, sports, yoga, rowing, dancing etc. Maybe this would be a good time to try out a new form of exercise to see how it makes you feel.
Talk with people you view as successful and share what you are going through. Ask for their feedback and ALWAYS offer something in return for their time. Don’t expect people to take time out of their day to help you out (Even though many successful people will because realize the importance of giving back). Always make sure you can reciprocate the favor somehow.
Give back to others. Talk to others about what is going on in their lives. You may not have the answers, but you can listen intently. Sometimes that’s all someone needs is someone to vent to. The quickest way to get out of your own head is to listen to others and give back. Do something nice for those you love. It doesn’t have to fancy or even something you do for a significant other or family member. It could be for your pet or a friend. Some days I find real clarity and peace spending extra time with my dog. We go for a longer walks or I let her play for an extra 30-45 minutes at the dog park. Seeing how happy and carefree she is running around chasing a ball reminds me of the simple things in life that can bring about so much happiness
Play! That’s right play. Go do something you find fun to do. It could be something you have not done in a long time or something you have never done. Just go out and do something different and find some joy in your life
Get out of your comfort zone. This may seem like something that could make you feel more defeated if you fail. But for me, no matter what the outcome, I am always happy I did it. For instance, I am newly single and I am a little rusty when it comes to talking to women again. I was out on a date and I wasn’t interested in her. An amazingly beautiful girl came into the restaurant we were at and sat down at the table across from us. When my date got up to go to the bathroom I quickly snuck over to the other table and started chatting up this beautiful girl and her friend. I was a bumbling fool, all pent up with nerves and anxiety. The whole thing kind of turned into a debacle when my date came back and saw me talking to the girls at their table. BUT, I was happy I had the balls to take the risk and chat up this girl. Normally I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it and made an excuse. Its like building a physique or your strength, it takes a lot of reps to reach your goals
Rest – Some days I’m not feeling it. I feel burnt out, I have no energy, no drive. Everything I do is done half-assed and needs to be redone tomorrow. Allowing myself to rest is difficult for me these days because I feel I need to work harder than anyone out there in order to achieve financial success again. However, many times I am working hard on working hard. There are times where I am creating bullshit busy work for myself to feel a sense of accomplishment. I feel my stress and anxiety build, creating psychosomatic health issues. At this point I need a mental health day and to catch up on rest. I like to unplug from the world and read, write or any other activity that is not taxing on my mind or body
Get help. I see a therapist every week. It’s hard work to make change in your life. But the hard work seems to be worth it. I’m not where I need to be yet. But, with the help of my therapist I am much more mentally successful and healthier than I was even a month ago.
Get some sunshine! This can be hard to do if you live in certain parts of the country during the late fall and winter. For me a couple hours out in the sunshine always does me a whole lot of good
Stay away from social media. It tends to be negative and mind-numbing nonsense. My feed tends to be depressing news stoiries, people bitching about life and random stupid shit I could live without seeing. Don’t get me wrong there is a time and a place for all of this, but when I’m down it’s not what I need. Plus I have a tendency to check on people from my past and cause myself a great deal of pain for no reason.
Make your bed. It’s something I learned in AA (In my opinion 12 step programs have the best sayings and practices that make such a difference. And no, I am not a member anymore). It may sound odd, but It’s on of those little things that has a large psychological impact. Controlling something as minute as whether or not my bed is made has been a springboard in controlling much larger aspects of my life. Even if my life and world is chaotic, when I walk into my bedroom and my bed is made, a little piece of my world is in order. I can lay down at night in a clean, nicely made bed and go to sleep. Its a small way of taking care of myself.
Gratitude!!!! I FUCKING HATE THIS ONE! I will not lie, this is something I struggle with. However, gratitude is the skeleton key to a better perspective on my life. I Make a list of the things I am truly grateful for. I reflect on how these things and people have enhanced my life and how good I really have it.
Take a look at this list, experiment with these techniques and see if they work for you. They are not set out as a rigid guideline of what works. These are merely a few actions I have found helpful for me.