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.
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.
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.
- 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).
- 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.