Escaping Mental Quicksand

Shane Falco: You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.

 

This is mental quicksand. It sneaks up on us. One little negative thought because one little thing goes wrong or just doesn’t meet our expectations. And that one little negative thought draws our attention. Then all we can do, all we can notice are the negative things. And down into the quicksand we go.Drowning hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can the quicksand be escaped, or better still, avoided? These are questions everyone asks at some point, from top athletes and performers to anyone who is just having one of those days. I’ll be honest, I haven’t figured out how to completely avoid the quicksand. I still step right in the middle of it some days. What I have done is work to recognize when I put my foot in, when that sinking feeling starts, and find constructive ways to dig myself out before I start feeling overwhelmed and stuck.Office chaos

 

First, some of the signs that tell me I’m heading in that direction:

  • My jaw clenches.
  • My shoulders start drifting up towards my ears.
  • My thinking is starts getting muddled and fuzzy.
  • I hear myself saying things I really didn’t want or mean to say.
  • The normally kind universe is kicking me in the gut, repeatedly.

 

Now that you have some ideas on how to spot the slide down the quicksand trap, the question becomes how to dig out. Depending on how deep you get before starting, it could be simple and relatively easy. But there are times when you are in pretty much over your head before you realize what’s going on, and that takes more effort.

 

Where ever you might find yourself, when you do realize where you’re headed, here are some of my go to tips for digging myself out.

  • Stop and breathe.

    Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

    Image courtesy of { lillith }.

  • If possible, get up and move, be active, go for a workout.
  • If you can’t get a workout in, take a smaller break in Savasana.
  • If you can’t do that either, take a break to go get a cup of tea (or beverage of choice).
  • Let go of everything that has happened up to that point in your day. It doesn’t matter and holding onto it is like grabbing an anchor, you’ll just sink faster.

 

 

 

 

That is a quick list for when I haven’t started sinking too deep yet. And it’s by no means an exhaustive list, just a few idea that work for me. If I do find myself already pretty deep in the mental quicksand, these are my favorite ways to dig out, or at least stop the sinking.

  • Stop and breathe (this works for pretty much any situation).

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

  • Step away, completely away. It’s often difficult to do because of the perceived pressure that can be felt.
  • Put yourself in a mental bubble to shut out all the unnecessary noise around you.
  • Focus on one and only one thing to accomplish. Once that is complete, move on to another one. Keep knocking out the tasks, one at a time, until you feel back on track.
  • Be nice to yourself. Negative thoughts attract more negativity. Positive thoughts attract more positive energy. Give yourself a little encouragement and see how much it can help.

 

The key for me has become less about digging out, but more about figuring out I’m on my way into the quicksand. It is so much easier to make little adjustments to avoid getting sucked in than it is to work to climb back out.

 

This is one of those things that just takes practice. Learning to really tune in to what you are feeling as you feel it is something that as adults we have almost forgotten. Once you do, the warning signs go from being buried in the noise to blaring and nearly impossible to miss. Along the way, just remember to be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll be the only one who is.

 

 

 

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Non-Judgmental Compassion or Avoidance?

I’ve written a few times about the importance of being kind to ourselves, the use of a non-judgmental compassion. After all, each day is different and some days are just, well, good days to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

I’ve been asked how I know when I cross the line from being compassionate with myself and listening to what I need over to being just plain lazy. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer to this question. I did an article on how to do nothing and the benefits that can be garnered from doing nothing. But it’s a fine line between doing nothing take care of oneself and doing nothing to avoid doing anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have discovered a few telltale signs that help me distinguish between the two and listed them here:

  • Feeling regret about choosing not to work out or whatever it was that you didn’t do. Not the little “yeah I probably should have” type, but the “I really need to do that tomorrow” type of regret.
  • The activity in question is one that you are choosing to be “compassionate” with yourself on more than others. Say almost every time it comes up, “compassion” is the first thought you have.
  • You choose self-care over anything that happens during a televised game or show. Most of us have a DVR, Netflix or some other on demand service. If all else fails, they still have reruns and highlight reels.
  • The to-do list becomes a matter of life or death as you get closer to having to start what you are being self-compassionate over. When doing your nails suddenly comes to the top of our list, you might be avoiding something.
  • You fidget at the very thought of starting the activity you are being self-compassionate about. The anticipation of it sets your skin on fire and your stomach starts churning. A good sign you are avoiding. But sometimes what we avoid the most we also need the most.
  • You take any reason to help or support others (or just any excuse really) to avoid what you were going to do. See fidgeting above.

 

After running through that list, do any of those sound familiar? If not, great you probably have a nice balance in your life. But if you did, then read on, I have some tips on facing those things that you may be avoiding and maybe even make them less arduous.

 

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

First, find a little time to set aside for yourself. Digging around inside can stir the emotional pot. Having some time to sit and deal with what comes up makes this process smoother and more effective. Once you have the time and a nice quiet spot, settle in and move through these steps.

  • Take a few minutes to just breathe and tune your mind into your body. Some breathing exercises such as Ujjayi, Dirgha or similar are useful here.
  • Take stock of your emotional state. Ideally a calm mind will allow you to dig out the root cause of the resistance in your life.
  • Think about starting the task you’ve been avoiding. Notice, without judging, what emotions, what thoughts and what physical sensations come up for you.
  • Next picture what you might feel once you’ve completed the task. Ask yourself if that feeling is enough to get you started. If it is, then breathe a little longer and get started.
  • If not, ask yourself if this is something that absolutely must be done. If it is, then accept that you must do it and look for ways to make it more pleasant, if not enjoyable. If not, consider dropping it from your to do list.

 

One of the biggest reasons we are resist something because it’s challenging us in some way that is outside our comfort zone. This is a good thing. Growth is challenging. It can also be daunting. The steps above can help you figure out why you’re feeling resistance and give you a little support in moving through it. If this doesn’t work the first time, I encourage you to keep at it. It can take time to deal with resistance and setting an expectation that it may take a few rounds takes pressure off yourself.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

 

At the end of the day, when you have a chance to sit and quiet your mind, you will know what you did to be kind to yourself and what you did to avoid something. Everyone has challenges and the key here is that even when you find yourself avoiding something, don’t judge or criticize yourself. Just acknowledge it’s happening and take the conscious steps in the direction you truly want head.