Over the past few weeks there have been a lot of wet, windy, grey days in Sydney and I admit that my mood takes a battering in this sort of weather. Then, if things happen that make me feel sad and angry and helpless, it becomes more likely that a spiral of negative thinking will develop.
I suspect I’m not alone in this, so I want to share some ideas that I’ve found useful when the mental storm clouds roll in.
I believe there are 3 options:
a) Continue to ruminate
b) Distract yourself
c) Compassionately evaluate
Let’s have a quick look at each option.
Rumination - When we ruminate, we let ourselves dwell on the thoughts and we think long and hard about what we could do better next time and how we might be able to fix things. We fiercely criticise ourselves and our negative emotions of sadness, anger, embarrassment only grow. Sometimes self-criticism can spur us to action but it’s hard work emotionally. Our wellbeing is likely to suffer.
Distract yourself - Distraction can definitely work for a while to help us cope with negative thoughts. We can busy ourselves with activity, give ourselves a treat and redirect ourselves to look at pretty shiny things in the way we might distract a screaming child. The problem with distraction is that it’s a short term fix and avoids any emotional processing of the situation.
Compassionately evaluate – This option is about showing kindness and acceptance towards yourself. The aim of self-compassion is to evaluate our feelings and thoughts in a non-judgemental way and recognise that they are normal and in fact experienced by many in our community. There are 3 key elements to self-compassion
- Being kind to yourself – seeking to understand not to punish yourself.
- Recognising your humanity – everyone goes through this
- Mindfulness – try neither to ignore, nor exaggerate your negative feelings
Which option sounds right for you?
I vote for option C!
For a quick fix distraction works well – but longer term simply distracting yourself to avoid negative thoughts doesn’t give you the wellbeing returns. In contrast a good dose of self-compassion is going to help you in both the short term and the longer term.
Research has shown that deliberately building self-compassion leads to higher levels of life satisfaction and wisdom. It also helps to broaden your outlook and make it more likely that you will consider various options and reach out to those around you in difficult times. Rumination makes us feel more isolated and likely to withdraw into ourselves just when we need other people the most.
If this makes sense to you and you’d like some guidance on developing self-compassion; we’d love to send you an exercise to test out. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get the exercise to you asap.
With love from Flourishing Mothers
Flourishing Mothers was inspired by the work of Dr Kristen Neff, Natasha Odou and Jay Brinker