the benefits of losing control
how to thrive during challenging times
by Jessica Bigogno
Psychologist at PsyAtWork
Us humans like to have a sense of control over things. We want to make sure nothing bad happens to us. We want to hang onto and plan anything that we think will make us feel good, feel happy.
This is hardwired into us. We have evolved from cave people. During those times we were surrounded by real danger. Dangerous animals and other tribes that could kill us. This meant that those of us whose brains were good at activating panic mode, which enabled us to run away more quickly or fight off an enemy, were more likely to survive. As were those whose brains would generate a lot of worry, looking out for potential dangers. Better to think the worst and stay alive than be calm and happy and get eaten.
We also needed to obtain food in extremely harsh conditions. That’s why we were also designed to be drawn towards positive reward (in this case food) and obsess about how to get it.
Finally, it was crucial for us to stay within the tribe. Being rejected could mean death. It was also important to recognise who was not in our tribe. We developed fantastic capabilities for judging others. Sound familiar?
All of this means that our minds are likely to think in ways that look for a sense of control over the future. Especially when we are in stressful situations. We worry and plan on overdrive. We think of all possible scenarios, good and bad, but let’s face it, when things are tough, they tend towards the negative. We over check the news hoping for something that will help us or give us some kind of clarity. We are ‘doing’ something.
However all of the mental and behavioural ‘doing’ doesn’t create any actual control. The reality is that we never know what is going to happen in five minutes from now never mind in a week or in a year. So, it doesn’t really help, in fact it can create a lot of suffering.
thinking about the future
While there is nothing inherently wrong in thinking about the future (it’s essential for the functioning of our lives for us to plan in a productive way), spending too much time in this mode comes at a high cost to our wellbeing in the present. It makes us feel anxious and depressed. It takes up a lot of time and energy.
Time and energy that we could be spending on something more worthwhile.
On being present with our loved ones. On taking care of our health. On feeding our minds with interesting books or learning. On working on projects that give us a sense of meaning and purpose.
so, why is all of this so important right now?
This is undoubtedly an unprecedented moment in history for most of us. We have never been presented with so many unknowns and so little control over a situation. This can send our cave person minds into overdrive. It can also present us with an opportunity. An opportunity to have a complete mental reset.
I’ve seen it happening everywhere. People are having to let go of their holiday plans. Of work projects. Of the things they thought they needed to have or do in order to be happy. Of knowing what’s going to happen next.
For many this can be a scary and difficult process. But we are hearing more and more stories of how this is creating room for new ways of being. It’s creating more compassion.
It’s generating a sense of global togetherness, which is all too often lost. It’s creating an opportunity to step off the hamster wheel of constant busy, achieving mode. It’s showing us that we can adapt. That perhaps we were too busy before and were forgetting what was important to us. And not to mention the break the planet is getting from pollution.
Having said all of this, for many of us, myself included, that primitive brain has a habit of hijacking us. It’s not going to take this lightly. It’s going to do it’s best to get you to worry and think the worst. So here are some tips that really work to help you to unhook from it so you can not only survive these challenging times but also actually find a way to take some positives from them.
thank your mind
Remember that your mind is only trying to keep you safe. It’s not malfunctioning. So, every time you notice your mind taking you into worry, fear, over planning or compulsive checking for information you can say to it;
‘Thank you mind for trying to protect me, but I’m OK right now’.
The ‘OK right now’ part is important. It literally means ‘I’m not in immediate danger as I sit here in this room’. I don’t have to fight off any physical enemies. In reality this applies at any moment, right until the moment we die. In this way, we can find OK ness even when we are not well.
By doing this, we calm the nervous system and step out of ‘fight or flight’ mode, thus enabling us to see the bigger picture and have more choice in how we live our lives.
Another very effective way to calm the nervous system when we are feeling overwhelmed it to practice Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) breathing. The PNS is the nervous system that is the opposite of the fight or flight one. Known as the ´rest and digest´ system it helps us to feel calm and content .
To do this we need to breathe in for less time than we breathe out. We also need to inflate our bellies when we breathe rather than into our chest. What you need to do is count to four slowly as you breathe in and to six when you breathe out. Repeat around ten times.
If you have anxiety around breathing (like me), it might feel uncomfortable at first, but in most cases that passes if you persevere and keep practicing.
You can try the exercise any time you start to notice a feeling of anxiety or tension. You can even try it if you are struggling to sleep.
A lot of people are worrying about others right now. About their older family members especially. We are also worrying about the state of the world in general. A simple compassion practice can help us to connect to the sense of caring about others, generating positive emotions, whilst not getting lost in worry.
You can try bringing a specific person or people in general to mind and offering words of compassion.
May you be safe and free from suffering.
May you be as healthy as you can be.
May you live with ease and peace.
May you be free from worry.
You can choose your own words too.
practice mindfulness meditation
This is the perfect time to begin or to nurture your meditation practice.
Mindfulness meditation has been scientifically proven over and over again to decrease stress and anxiety, increase happiness and sense of wellbeing and even help our immune system.
I can’t think of a time when we have needed it more.
If we can learn to be present focused, we will see that we are just fine moment by moment.
We can truly take in the good in our lives. We can be creative about how to take care of ourselves and of how we can contribute to others.
myCoach, the e-Coaching platform designed and created by PsyAtWork includes modules dealing with mindfulness, breathing techniques, practicing gratitude and compassion.
If you consider that your team can benefit from these tools of these upcoming weeks, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be delighted to hear what we can do to help you, and to offer you an alternative in line with your needs. You can do it through our contact form by clicking here.