Coming ready or not - New Year resolutions
As the new year has arrived the hype quickens around us all; the implicit and explicit expectations have many people feeling like they ‘should’ be doing something i.e. making resolutions to transform their lives. Many new year resolutions are short lived, and many people don’t stick to what they promised self; much energy will have gone into thinking what one wants to change and how one is going to do it. Yet the promise made to self at this time of year is usually short-lived, usually because of the ‘collective’ hype and expectation and/or cheating on our promise. Based on a belief we will delay starting because we plan to do it tomorrow, next week or beginning of next month but the start date or time never really materialises. I know this is one I’ve used in the past at this time of year.
Just the thought of thinking about change or making goals can have some people’s anxieties heightening and making what they suffer with on a daily basis even more fearsome as the country and town one lives in has changed beyond recognition and the people around us have changed their behaviours to ‘fit’ in with the joys of the season! Only to return even flatter than before the celebrations arrived.
For many people with common mental health issues for example depression, anxiety, panic attack or OCD, routine and sameness is vital to how they cope on a daily basis, change can be disorientating if one is not ready for it and if you are suffering there is no ‘ready for change’. Change is a process one has to work towards; change takes thought, effort and action much practicing, many defeats and small steps before any real change is achieved.
Change doesn't happened automatically because a new year is upon us. When any of us are feeling under pressure or stressed from what our daily lives offer this can and does often result in what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy call 'cognitive distortions' or thinking errors!
Thinking is the way we process what our senses pick up as we go about our daily living; thinking is both conscious and unconscious - it goes on all the time whether we are aware of its processing or not.
What we receive can be processed inaccurately which leads to all sorts of emotional and mental problems for us, thinking errors can be short lived as we return to our base-line habit when under pressure or long-term problems can be experienced as negative habits become our normal way of reacting and responding to life.
We can have errors in thinking such as personalising for example what someone said may be seen as a dig at us, a mother under pressure, cooking, cleaning and getting everything ready for the ‘big party’ can be short-tempered when in the middle of something but which may not be personal at all or seeing someone’s offhand tone or aggressive manner as a result of something we believe we did when the tone and behaviour belongs to the person expressing and has nothing to do with us at all.
These sort of thinking errors can quickly escalate into negative predictions which overestimate the outcome and mind reading can have us thinking what another will say or do next and we can find ourselves overestimating the outcome, which we usually assign to be negative, whether it is or isn’t we have in our mind that whatever happens won’t be positive or for our best interest.
For example, the teenager who believes dad and mum's tone and short-temper was somehow connected to them being around when in actuality mum and dad were just rushed and exacerbated from all their doing. This in turn can turn into all or nothing thinking which the teenager interprets as “I’m always in the way” leaving him or her feeling “no one cares about me”. We can use our feelings to judge a situation when the outside evidence does not offer the outcome of our feelings.
Mum and dad were experiencing feelings and thoughts of their own which probably didn’t even include the teenager at that precise moment! Its not that they don’t care or think the teenager is in the way, they just have so much to do before they can finally sit down and enjoy ‘family time’. Or the mum who worries every time their older child goes out always thinking the worst will happen and they have them dead and buried in their minds. When in actuality this is not the outcome of their child going out with friends since they have returned on numerous occasions safe and sound.
This is confusing to say the least when we are in the middle of such a process, the likely outcome of such thinking can be cognitive conformity such as seeing things the same way of those around us do (as in group conformity) to fit in but we may end up colluding with others which doesn't get any of us anywhere if its negative. Or blaming others for how we feel or think and not take ownership of our self and this can quickly turn into catastrophe. The mother overprotecting her grown up child believing the worst is going to happen, or the husband who thinks his wife is having an affair for merely talking to another male and so on.
These thoughts can have an 'element of truth' in them so are believable, which is the why we believe we are ‘right’ because they may be based on past history, a friend may have hinted jokingly all woman have affairs or someone else's child may have not returned safe and sound or the feeling felt like a similar experience in the past. There are a myriad of causes which carry the effects of cognitive distortions.
Thinking errors can bring on a panic attack, an angry outburst or increase any anxiety, depression or OCD behaviours, as we let our thoughts run away with us as we predicted what will happen.
It is more productive to our overall well-being however to think in the here and now and see our negative thinking as 'a habit' formed from past negative events and thoughts which can with effort be changed.
• Recognised and observe how you process your thoughts – are they positive or negative?
• Monitor your thoughts in the here and now what activates your negativity be honest with yourself - what are your thoughts saying?
• What are the consequences of our thinking in this way? Are they favourable to one and all?
• Look for the evidence of your belief objectively before you act
• Dispute your belief in the here and now... does it really fit with this situation or is it from a past situation?
• Ask yourself is this here and now or was this there and then? If there and then this is an echo of the past and not happening now
• Affirm to self “I can do this” - make your affirmation personal to you
• Focus on the positive even if you can’t see it in these moments
• Tell yourself “I don’t need to act on these thoughts here and now I can ponder for as long as I need until I decide what’s best to do”!
• Learn to tolerate strong and intense feelings – these do and will change since feelings, thoughts and emotions do change they are transient!
If you are making a resolution make it to take care of your needs and to look after yourself more. If you are experiencing habits in thinking which lead you to experience negative consequences because of the way you think and many people suffering with anxiety, depression, OCD, dissociations, phobias and many more mental and emotional problems do, then contact a counsellor who will be able to support you to evaluate and identify distorted cogitations and the underlaying currents and support you to change habits which may have lasted your lifetime but don’t need to affect you in the future!
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About Susan Stubbings
Known as Sue, I work as a BACP registered counselling therapist in and around Doncaster, South Yorkshire. An experienced practitioner advocating for emotional mastery, connection and personal peace. Passionate about empowering people to recover, repair, rejuvenate, build resiliency, maintain healthy emotional, psychological, spiritual inner worlds.