Hi! If you’re new here, my name’s Alissa and I’m passionate about writing about wonky brain, specifically about strategies for managing it and working through it.
Oh, and wonky brain is my term for what would generally speaking be called anxiety and depression. For some reason, I feel like calling it wonky brain gives me more room to describe what it’s like and all its different faces. Anxiety has an eclectic fashion sense and a huge walk-in closet. The outfit possibility are endless.
Sometimes anxiety is a panic attack over a phobia. Sometimes it’s the gears in your brain getting jammed because you have a lot of things to do and don’t know how to prioritize. Sometimes it’s not being able to look a single person in the eye at an event and then obsessing over how weird you were for the next month. Sometimes it’s not being able to concentrate because why hasn’t your loved one texted you back yet other than the obvious reason they’re dead?!?! And sometimes it’s not being able to get out of bed. These are just to name a few things you might see it wearing.
It’s a shame but access to counseling and other forms of professional mental health care just isn’t a reality for a lot of people, because of financial, schedule, or stigma-related barriers.
I was lucky enough to be able to go to a counselor for a while in college, and it made a huge difference for me. However, before then and after too, being able to read on the internet about other people’s experiences with wonky brain and about ways they face it has been invaluable. It’s helped release me from a lot of shame by making me feel not so alone. And it’s provided me with ideas to work with my wonky brain I never would have thought of on my own.
That’s why I like to write about it. Come here to not feel so alone. I try to be as open as possible about what I’ve felt and things I’ve found useful–strategies I’ve come across from others and strategies I’ve come up with on my own.
The list below contains just a few (Part 1 and Part 2 can be found here and here). As always, they’re in no particular order, because I can’t be bothered to put them in one. How dare you even suggest it!
Ride out the emotion
I was watching this TedTalk once. Okay, the YouTube video was playing in the background while I did something dreadful like a chore–I wasn’t paying 100% attention to the video, so maybe I’m completely butchering the speaker’s point. But in my memory, she talked about how often times we don’t let our bodies feel emotions. We let them only express themselves mentally and we try to ignore them or overcome them only mentally. She said, however, there’s value in letting our bodies feel whatever negative emotion we are struck with, that if we simply take 30-60 seconds to pay attention to what the emotion feels like in our bodies, we will actually be able to move on from it much more quickly than if we try to suppress it or shoo it out the door. The speaker said we should visualize the emotion as an ocean wave we are riding out on a surfboard. Waves don’t last forever and neither do emotions.
I’ve found this to be totally true for myself. The moment I feed anxiety, fear, sadness, guilt, what-have-you, I try to rationalize myself out of it or suppress it because I feel like I’m not supposed to feel whatever way I’m feeling. However, when I stop for a moment, name the emotion, and focus on how my body is expressing that emotion physically, I’m able work through the negative situation and feel lighter way quicker. It turns out letting myself feel is beneficial–not traumatizing. And I think it’s because our emotions don’t usually want to move in; they just want to be acknowledged.
Ask each part of you what it needs
By each part of you, I mean your brain, your body, and your heart. Maybe that seems goofy to talk to yourself, but you can do it in your head and no one will even know! When you’re paralyzed with indecision or you’re overwhelmed, visit each part of you and just ask what it needs. Sometimes they’ll tell you right away. Other times, you’ll get the busy tone, and that’s okay. Move on to the next part.
For example, the other day, I could not make up my mind on how I should spend the set amount of time I had to myself at home. I was feeling kind of blah and out of it. I was worried I wouldn’t do the best thing with my day. So I asked body, my heart, and my brain.
My body told me it wanted to exercise and then it wanted to be cozy. My heart told me it wanted to talk to God. And my brain told me it just didn’t want to feel locked into or obligated to a plan. So that’s what I did! And you know what? I’m so glad I did. My body felt great after yoga and it felt even better in the sweats I changed into after. I felt so relaxed. My heart journaled away to God and I got some pretty cool spiritual insight I could ramble on about but won’t right now. And my brain felt a ton more at east just knowing it didn’t have to keep up with goals of what I wanted to accomplish that day. It was therapeutic.
Don’t feel the stray animal
This imagery came to me the other day. I think a lot of people have a similar childhood story of a stray cat or dog that came around, one they absolutely fell in love with and began to plan their whole future around, and then their parents unreasonably forbid them to feed the animal because “it will keep coming back.” (Uhhh, that’s the point!!!)
Parents are the worst, I know, but I only brought that up to make the comparison between a nagging worry or over-analysis and a stray animal–they are just like each other! If you keep running through the bullet points, replaying the story, or mentally practicing your responses to an anticipated situation, that thought will keep coming back more than ever. It feels like if we just think about it one more time, it will let us be, but when has that ever actually happened? Never! The thought returns and wants more of our time. So tell that stray animal you will not be feeding it.
Now, if you have a soft heart and can’t bear to think of turning a hungry animal away even in an analogy, you can think of it as a stray animal that’s super mean and will try to eat your children while they’re still alive, or you can reassure yourself that your neighbor down the street has been looking for just the animal and will take the stray in and love it forever, better than you ever could.
Either way, just remind yourself, if you feed it, it will come back. That’s what they do! So send it away. It might stay for a while whining and begging but eventually it will leave if you don’t feed it.
What would a person who is enough do?
There are moments where I feel completely frazzled because I have a bunch of tasks in a limited amount of time but I don’t know where to start or there’s something be asked of me that I feel I’m not enough of something to do.
In these moments, I’ve begun asking myself, what would someone who is enough do? I think about that person who is brave enough, organized enough, confident enough, etc. and what they would do in my shoes. And then I do that thing! Maybe it’s cleaning off my desk, eating because it’s been too long, creating a list, or just going ahead and making that damn phone call I’ve been putting off.
There’s something about separating myself from the problem and analyzing it as if I’m someone who can handle that helps me hit the reset button.
Ground every inch of you
This is for when you’re starting to have an anxiety/panic attack or feel otherwise out of control. You can keep your eyes open or you can close them for this strategy, whichever way you find helps you feel most present. Then, think about your toes. Think about where they are (the floor, the bed, your shoes), name every single thing they can feel (the mattress, your socks, each other, the blanket), focus the sensations of those things (soft, heavy, smooth), and maybe even physically move that part of your part. Then, move on to your feet, your ankles, your legs. Move up and around your entire body. When you get to your ear, eyes, and nose, you can also focus on what you hear, see, and smell.
This can help get you out of your mind and back to where you are physically. When we’re panicking, our mind tries to take too much of the pie and is going to make itself sick. But if you get your body back in the race, you can run on two feet instead of one.
Take the show off the Network
So something humiliating happened at school or you heard the saddest story and you feel crippled with sadness or you failed at something and can’t let it go. By all means, let yourself feel the emotions that come with whatever happened (see my first strategy on this post), but you can’t keep replaying it over and over and over and over and over and over. At some point, maybe after an hour, a day, a week, you’re going to have to take that show off the network, because ain’t nobody want to watch that rerun anymore! Well, maybe you want to but you shouldn’t. It’s bringing you down. And there’s so many other shows to watch. Why not give them a chance?
Build resiliency through finding meaning
I had been having a hard time taking in current events and all the negative or evil things I was seeing. It was wearing on me and making it hard for me to concentrate or enjoy life. God told me to stop at least once a day (but preferably more) to think about where I had witnessed or experience things that were good, right, and meaningful. Sounds pretty much like hippy feel good stuff, if you ask me. But it’s been super good actually.
I’ve noticed it’s begun to rewire my brain to see the good not just in the every day but in the light of bad situations, even when I’m not trying to. It’s becoming involuntary. In this way, it seems like a strategy for the long game. It’s building resiliency for when I have a day that could very well throw me down a depression hole or for when someone does something I could hold a brood over and hold a grudge about. It’s building the strength I need to grasp onto the ledge and pull myself out of the hole before I fall in too deep. It’s improving my sight so can see the light in that person who offended me and decide to forgive. I mean, it’s also has been helping me in the moment because I can use it as a defense when bad things happen as well, but I’m definitely seeing an overall change in my mental resiliency overall because of it.
And it’s addictive! I’ll make myself list three of these things before bed or in the morning, but once I start, I keep thinking of more and don’t want to stop.
- It’s awesome that we have streetlights–they make things efficient!
- My husband was annoyed I left so much random stuff on the couch, but it’s great that at least he wants something clean…even if it’s not the dishes (haha don’t tell him I said that).
- Our neighbors’ dogs are really loud and annoying, but, hey, how cool is it that pets are a thing?
These are kind of silly examples. The woes of the world often weigh on me, because I feel everything deeply. I’m not saying I have a silver lining for every cloud or that I should. But focusing on that philosophical conversation I had with my friends over lunch or the way my boss cares so deeply about his staff or that snap chat (or is it just snap?) from my brother that made me laugh so hard or the warm hug from my husband when he got home–those are things that build endurance in me to keep facing the ugly parts of the world.
I used to think, though maybe not consciously that thinking this way, focusing on the positives, was downplaying the injustices in the world, but now I think life is a balancing act of weeping and laughing. I got the weeping part down; so now I’m learning to let myself do the laughing part.
Give it a try too, okay?
Have you tried any of these strategies? How did they work for you? Do you have any of your own you’d like to share. I’d love to hear them! 🙂