Now before you think I really have gone off the deep end by using this cliché, please hear me out. I know it sounds obvious and we’ve probably all heard it, but when I look at it really closely, the concept seems like a good idea. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s actually helping out! Here’s an example of this ideology. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School social psychologist, did a study on posture. She had a group strike a powerful pose with a straight back, chin up and hands on the hips. Another group struck a hunched posture with arms crossed. The first group showed lower levels of cortisol and higher levels of testosterone, which relates to confidence and dominance. She came to the conclusion that “Our non-verbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves[…]Our bodies change our minds.”
So how am I using this phrase as a tool to lay down my new path? I’ll explain. I get periods during the day where I don’t feel well. For example I have no motivation, very low confidence, and I feel depressed. Anybody else?…raise your hands please. All kidding aside, I have tried this posture technique to brace myself before entering a crowded situation that would make me panic. I also use techniques to move on with my day and make it more productive than it would have been if I retained my bad state of mind. For example if I don’t feel like doing anything when I get up, I pour a coffee, tell myself that I have a lot of important things to do, and begin writing. When I write I get really into it, but when I stop I feel lost again. I don’t leave it like that; I move on to another task immediately. What’s interesting is that it doesn’t need to be a big and important task. It can be, but for me it can even be simply sketching. I put it in my mind that this is my task. Yet again, I become very involved. It helps me stay in the moment and by the time I finish, I really feel like I’ve gotten things done. Of course my chosen tasks may not work for you so you’ll have to find your own. But here’s one that I’m sure many of us can relate to: taking a shower! It can be hard to get yourself to do it but if you ignore the feeling of there being no point and instead look at it as your current task/job, it can become easier. When you’re done, chances are you’ll feel cleaner which does a surprising amount of good to your morale.
I’ll give you another personal example: My fiancé had to self-isolate for 14 days because of Covid. When we were able to be together again, he broke it to me that he had to help his dad move, meaning that we’d have to spend another 14 days apart because his parents are not being safe during this pandemic. (Don’t get me started…just don’t.) My good mood was ruined because it was almost right after the first time apart! What did I do to not let it ruin my day? Well, even though Chris saw how disappointed I was and became sad himself, I started acting upbeat. I said to him that it was ok. Don’t worry about it, we’ll deal with things as they come. We don’t get to decide our circumstances but we can control our reactions. If he does have to isolate, we’ll take it in stride and try to both get things done. I was still sad while I said it of course, which made Chris say that I sounded like I didn’t believe it. But what else can I do anyway? So I just agreed but explained that if I reframe it in my mind and stay positive, I’ll feel better about the situation. So what happened? Exactly that! Not all at once and I definitely was happy, but it wasn’t dragging me down either. An interesting thing to note is that Chris still didn’t believe me and kept saying that he was sorry, while I had moved on and firmly decided that I would enjoy the time we had together in that present moment. In the end, even though I’m the highly sensitive and ‘sick’ one, I reacted in a more healthy manner than he did!
These may sound like easy examples so I’ll give you a more extreme one. The day before yesterday I hit a really bad bipolar down. Chris and I walked on the trails to hopefully clear my mind but I was breaking down in tears and I had to stop walking. I sat down while an uncontrollable stream of pain came out of my mouth. I felt like my hard earned recent progress had been erased and I was consumed with hopelessness and despair. Things were getting way out of control and I knew I had to act even though I couldn’t see through the fog. Not acing fast when my warning light goes off has landed me in the hospital too many times to count, and that’s excluding the self-harm that didn’t require a visit but caused a bunch of trouble anyway. So I began to talk to myself. I said things like; “My last week may have been a bipolar high but that doesn’t mean everything I learned about myself and wrote is fake. I did find pieces of hope and motivation and I have to believe them even when I can’t see it. This will pass and the sun will come out again. I am safe and secure. I am in control. I am the captain of my ship and the author of my story. I am holding all the cards and I rule my destiny. I also tried to remind myself of my goals and did my best to believe myself capable even though I had zero faith in my success. I also forced myself not to curl in a ball as is my tendency. These things didn’t make me happy of course, but they did help me calm down a bit which is an excellent start in crisis situations especially when you’re at high risk of doing something harmful. After that I moved my concentration to swimming with Chris even though I felt like doing nothing and the emotional overload had left me drained. I channelled my thoughts into one thing and one thing only; the refreshing water that left me feeling weightless. I focused on the temperature, the movement and the indescribable texture against my skin. This too bolstered my spirits and little by little I was able to return to a neutral state which evolved into a form of contentment within that moment.
When you have an extremely bad time it’s much much harder to follow the ‘fake it till you make it’ concept, but I encourage you to try because any improvement is good, right? What we need to do sometimes, and trust me I find this incredibly difficult too, is manage our expectations. There will be times when the best you can do is reach a position of neutrality or at least stability. I’m not saying to never aim for higher and better…absolutely not! However in my own experience on this path of recovery, achieving a safer and calmer state of mind is a closer milestone than aiming for out and out happiness. It’s also an incredibly important foundation because without it moving forwards is nearly impossible, and if you try, the floors you add above the foundation can come crumbling down.
I truly hope this concept helps you as it has helped me. Please don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t immediately work; it didn’t for me either but often you need to keep pushing yourself to do it until it becomes a habit. From the point you’re at now you may not even see the point in trying…I know because I was there for years. But please believe me; between doing nothing and consequently knowing you’re going to feel terrible vs. trying something that may or may not work…well, I recommend giving it a chance because you deserve to be kinder to yourself and some hope is better than none. Stay strong!