How many times have you sent an important email or text to someone, expecting a quick reply and when it doesn’t come, think to yourself: why haven’t they replied? Have I said the wrong thing? Are they ignoring me? What’s going on! I’m obviously not that important to them!
And of course, because we start thinking like that, we might feel some anxiety coming on, or even get cross or irritable when we think about that person. Before we know it, we’ve had an entire conversation with them in our head.
That’s the thing isn’t it – it’s all going on in our head! In other words we are applying our own negative spin on something without actually knowing for sure.
Making stuff up in our heads and believing it to be true is not what our brains are designed to do. It’s a misuse of the imagination because actually it’s there to help us creatively find our way out of problems. In other words our brains are meant to work as problem solving, not problem creating machines.
Back in 2008, when I first trained as a hypnotherapist, I remember learning about the psychologist Martin Seligman who did some very interesting work in the US with some of the most angriest kids from inner city schools. He would show them pictures of different scenarios and ask the kids what they thought was going on. One example was of a scene in a school’s canteen queue, with one child tipping over another’s tray.
The responses that came back were along the lines of: well he hates his guts, they’ve had a fight earlier on and it’s just carrying on, they are arch enemies, and so on. When encouraged by Seligman to look again and this time to be more creative, the perspective began to open up: maybe the tray slipped out of his hand? There might be a bag on the floor that tripped him up? Maybe he’s not feeling well? What if he’s a bit clumsy? Or he has something wrong with his brain or his legs?
When put like that, it becomes more probable that any one of these statements could be true, and actually the more there are, the more we realise we just don’t know the real reason!
When someone is experiencing anxiety, anger or depression, they are said to be in a very narrowed and focused state of attention, almost like a trance state. All critical thinking goes out of the window, and everything becomes very black and white – all or nothing thinking takes over. They are quick to give one meaning to something without knowing the facts, and that’s the viewpoint they hold on to. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself or with others – it’s very difficult to change the mind of someone who has one viewpoint on a situation. It’s this kind of thinking that drives someone towards depression.
In the work that I do with clients, much of keeping someone out of depression or anxiety, is about helping them out of that locked and narrowed focus of attention, and teaching them how to generate multiple points of view.
Developing the ability to relax with uncertainty is a very powerful antidote to anxiety, depression, and anger states.
It starts with widening your perspective on situations, and you can start that anytime. The next time something or someone annoys you and you find yourself jumping to conclusions, take a step back and ask yourself: “OK that’s one perspective yes, but what else could be going on here?” Ask your brain come up with at least three other reasons; and it will if you ask it to, and when it does – watch your emotional state quite quickly begin to calm down.
Sarah Swanton is the Founder of Happy Healthy Entrepreneur, which is all about helping business owners and entrepreneurs successfully navigate their way through the ‘inner journey’ of being self employed, so they can do their best work with clients, and build a business that supports them, not exhausts them! Click here to get access to your free Mindset Toolkit for Entrepreneurs which includes the self hypnosis audio ‘Switch Off & Relax’ as well as a copy of the Burnout Antidote Framework