Our lived experience is a constantly spiralling combination of emotions, thoughts, behaviours and sensations.
As discussed in the previous article, the way we feel (emotionally and physically), think, and behave are all connected to one another. Often, something about our situation will trigger a change in our lived experience. As our lived experience changes, it begins a chain reaction, becoming more negative or more positive. This can be visualised as a spiral.
A small action or inaction can change the direction of the mental spiral.
Let’s look at an example situation.
Mark is 28 and has been struggling with depression for 2 years. He mostly tries to hide it from his friends, but when he has opened up to them in the past, they have been supportive.
It’s a Wednesday evening and a message is sent in the group chat by one of Mark’s friends.
“BBQ at mine Saturday. Bring your own beer – I can’t afford to buy it all with the amount you lot drink!”
Mark feels a lump in his throat when he reads the message. It is shaping up to be a really busy week at work, and he is exhausted mentally and physically.
Mark thinks “I can’t go, I’m too miserable, I would just bring everyone else down.”
Mark feels upset and hopeless.
Mark doesn’t join in the chat along with everyone else, he sees the notifications mounting up, but can’t bring himself to look at them. This results in a new situation occurring come Saturday.
Its Saturday, the day of the BBQ.
Mark finally opens up the group chat and reads through the messages. He notices that the host asked if he was going a day ago, but then the topic changed.
Mark thinks “I bet they never really wanted me there anyway. They all seem to be happy and excited about the BBQ without me.”
Mark now feels rejected and lonely.
Mark feels tears coming into his eyes and a need to lie down, even though he only got out of bed an hour ago.
Mark is experiencing a downward spiral. His thoughts, emotions, sensations and behaviours will continue in this downward path unless he makes a positive change.
Trying to make positive behavioural changes can lessen or reverse a negative spiral.
Mark had 3 big opportunities to behave differently in the build up to the BBQ.
None of these changes would have been easy for Mark, but by trying, he could have lessened the intensity of the spiral, or even reversed it.
As discussed in the previous article, the act of trying is good enough, you do not need to make a 180˚ change in your behaviour in order to see the benefits of your positive steps.
Mark could have challenged his initial negative automatic thought (“I can’t go, I’m too miserable, I would just bring everyone else down.”).
By challenging this thought, Mark could have been more receptive to the idea of attending the BBQ and may have engaged with the group chat.
Even if Mark couldn’t challenge his negative thought that day, if he tried and got as far as noticing it was a negative automatic thought, he could have then come back to challenging the thought another day.
As negative automatic thoughts are often based in cognitive biases, simply noting that it was a negative automatic thought reduces the power the thought has, it is no longer instantly accepted as truth. Not accepting the thought to be completely true could have helped Mark feel a little better, even if he felt unable to challenge it then and there.
If he couldn’t face responding in the group chat or agreeing to go to the BBQ, Mark could have sent a private message to the host when he saw his notifications mounting up.
If Mark had sent a message to the host along the lines of:
“Hey mate, sorry I haven’t been in the group chat much, just not feeling up to the BBQ, but thanks for the invite.”
Then the host would know something was wrong and would have the opportunity to reassure Mark that he is welcome and wanted at the BBQ. Or perhaps the host could have even asked Mark if he felt like having a chat. Mark would have felt more wanted and connected to his friend and possibly could have decided to go to the BBQ after all.
Mark could have challenged his second negative automatic thought (“I bet they never really wanted me there anyway. They all seem to be happy and excited about the BBQ without me.”).
Again, even if Mark only got as far as recognising this as a negative automatic thought, he could then choose to work on challenging it when he felt able.
Additionally, recognising that it is a negative automatic thought (and that it may not necessarily be true), could have reduced the negative impact the thought had on the other elements of his experience that Saturday. Having a slightly better day that Saturday could have made the following day better as a result.
What to do if trying at all is too hard.
If you are reading this then the chances are that you are already trying (so be proud of that fact)!
But if you find that a lot of the time, even attempting change is too difficult for you, you should strongly consider seeking external support.
You could think about asking a friend or family member to be with you whilst you make an appointment with your GP to talk about the way you feel. Sometimes medication can be really helpful in making you feel well enough to be able to engage in therapy or self-help.
If you think that you need to work up to contacting your GP, that is understandable. You could also consider chatting to someone about any hesitations or anxieties you have about talking to your GP.
You could speak to a friend or family member, or the Samaritans . They are always available on the phone by calling: 116112.
What to do if you need a helping hand.
If you feel that you would be able to start trying to make changes if there was someone there to support you, then you may want to consider counselling.
Whilst self-help is a great option for some people, others find they have more success when they have a counsellor guiding them through the process.
I offer individual counselling that is fully personalised to your needs. If you are interested in having counselling with me then get in touch to arrange an assessment session.
An assessment session doesn’t actually involve an assessment (confusing I know)! It is just an opportunity for us to see how well we would work together.
You can send me an email at: email@example.com
Or you can text, leave a voice message or give me a call on: 07588 117305
Thank you for reading!