Do you sometimes find yourself wishing you could end the pandemic with a snap of your fingers? Perhaps you feel bitter while reminiscing about how things were before? Or are you upset that the pandemic has caused you to feel scared and anxious? You’re certainly not alone. It’s easy for us to feel frustrated, angry, or anxious when we dwell on the things we can’t change. So why do we do this?
Humans have a deep desire to feel in control. However, we often find it difficult to discern what we can and can’t control and can end up focusing too much of our energy on the latter. When we focus on what we can’t control (like the global health status or other people’s behavior), we are not dealing productively with our thoughts, feelings, and energy. Think of it as though your thoughts and feelings are hitting a rubber wall and bouncing back towards you. If you project negative energy towards something you can’t control, it will only fester in you with nowhere to go. At this point, you’re susceptible to letting your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings completely overwhelm you and control your behavior. What can you do?
What You Can’t Control
The first thing you can do is understand what is in your control and what isn’t. As I mentioned earlier, this is less obvious than you might think. For instance, we should be able to control our thoughts and feelings since they are a part of us, right? Well, not exactly. If you’ve ever tried to avoid certain thoughts and feelings, you’ll know that avoiding them often only makes those thoughts and feelings more prevalent. This is a phenomenon called the rebound effect of thought suppression. If you’re feeling scared and anxious because of the pandemic but are actively trying to avoid those feelings, it’s more likely that you’ll feel even more scared and anxious than if you freely let those emotions exist within you.
Befriend Your Thoughts and Feelings
Well, if we can’t even control our own thoughts and feelings, what can we control? Our behavior, of course. As humans, we have free agency to make decisions for ourselves. One of the best decisions you can make for yourself is to stop trying to control your thoughts and feelings and to befriend them instead. To do this, you need to be able to identify your thoughts and feelings and how you initially respond to them. Practicing mindfulness and staying in the present moment can help. With time, these practices will allow you to expand your awareness of your present internal experience. Simply acknowledging your internal experience at the moment is powerful. When you’re able to do that, you can choose to have compassion towards those thoughts and feelings which are just a part of you. Understand that they are products of your protective system trying to help you survive and that when met with kindness, they will eventually soften.
Target Your Behavior
With this greater understanding of and compassion towards your thoughts and feelings, your goal is to change how you react to them, not the thoughts and feelings themselves. If you usually react by isolating yourself from others when feelings of fear arise, acknowledge your fear and then make the decision to text/call a friend or family member. Knowing that you have control over your actions even when experiencing uncomfortable emotions will help you feel confident and empowered. Take charge of your behavior rather than letting your thoughts and feelings do it for you.
Remember that in doing this, it’s important to set achievable goals for yourself so you don’t become discouraged. Need help? Contact me and we can work on this together. I offer in-person appointments as well as HIPAA-compliant virtual options.