Do you every find yourself worry about something and you’re so surrounded by the thing itself that you just can’t see beyond the end of your nose?! It’s when you get so bogged down in the detail you can’t see the wood for the trees, you can’t see the bigger picture…
The idea behind this exercise is to try and step back from the things you’re worrying about and consider them in the future—will it matter in 2 days time? Will it matter in 2 months time? Will it matter in 2 years times? This helps us put things in perspective because it helps us see the bigger picture.
It’s important to use a measure of time that’s relevant to the problem. If, for example, you’re feeling highly anxious about being in a supermarket because people don’t seem to be adhering to the social distancing regulations, you can ask yourself, will this matter in 2 minutes? Yes—I will still be here in 2 minutes and I will still be struggling with this problem, however, in 2 hours, you will have returned home, washed your hands and lowered your risks. The idea being that in the moment, you can think to yourself, within a short space of time, things will feel better and this helps manage the anxiety.
If you’re struggling with the anxiety of buying a house, you’re worried about how you’ll cope with all the paperwork, you’re feeling stressed about understanding the legal aspects and you’re lying awake at night. The 2:2:2 technique can help by enabling you look further ahead. Will this still be on your mind in 2 weeks? Probably, how about 2 months? Yes…but how about 2 years? No, chances are, you’ll be in your new home, having unpacked all the those boxes you’re feeling stressed about and you’ll be worrying about something else! Of course buying a house is stressful, but this technique helps you realise that there is a bigger picture, you just don’t know what’s around the corner, life’s stresses come and go and if we spend life worrying, we’ll miss the good stuff!
This technique can also help if you’re struggling to make a decision. Sometimes our mental health can affect us in surprising ways—indecisiveness being one. In the depths of depression, being asked what I wanted to drink or deciding what to wear could feel like I was being asked for the nuclear codes. Grasping for the right answer felt perilously out of reach… Once I realised, what choice I made wasn’t going to matter in 2 minutes time…. the decision was so much easier, just pick something, anything, whichever was closest to hand, what I drank/wore yesterday, it was fine!
I’m training to be a counsellor; although anyone can call themselves a counsellor, to become a fully accredited qualified counsellor takes a long time because a lot of self-development is needed and there’s no short cut. During the training process, it’s hard that the thing I want to be is within reach but also so far out of reach. I’m working in a job that’s not my ultimate aim and it causes high amount of stress and fatigue; each assignment and hurdle on my course feels like I’m being tested and I worry about “performing” badly when I know I can do better; I worry I’m never going to reach my goal but I have to step back every so often and think… I’ll still be on this path in 2 months but in 2 years, I’ll (probably/hopefully) be the qualified counsellor I’ve been aspiring to be for so, so long!
I’m not saying this technique will solve everything, nor am I saying it’s easy, it may not be for everyone but if you’re struggling, perhaps it’s something you could try? It’s just another tool to stick in your tool box for managing life’s stresses.
But it’s not just those already showing memory problems who’re struggling. Many of us are forgetting to buy milk, to write that email (again…) or that word that’s on the tip of your tongue!
There are different types of memory, research is helping us to understand how the constraint have impacted us.
Loneliness has had the biggest impact on people’s mood—feeling depressed is known to have an impact on memory
Lack of social interactions—repetition of stories helps consolidate memories of events (episodic memories). Watercooler moments can mean we talk to dozens of people in day, these aren’t happening with people furloughed or working from home. As big events have been cancelled, even when we have chatted with friends and family we’ve had fewer stories to tell meaning we’re not exercising out episodic memory.
People have been feeling generally more anxious and there’s more uncertainty. This has been worst for young people, people living on low incomes, people in urban areas and those with children.
When there’s less variety in our lives and lack of memory cues—it’s hard to differentiate one day from the next and we simply can’t remember what we’ve done! When all your meetings are in front of the same screen, they’re all the same, there’s no way to tag your memory. In the office you might walk passed the lift where you had a conversation and it reminds you to email someone or you’ll drive by the petrol station on your commute home and it’ll remind you of the milk you need to buy.
Disturbed sleep due to lack of stimulation and worrying about the pandemic is causing fatigue. The brain, like any organ needs us to be fit and healthy, poor sleep, lack or exercise and poor sleep, and it’s functioning less well.
But there is good news—there are things we can do to stimulate our brains again!
Go for a walk each day, especially along unfamiliar streets.
Turn the videocall into a phone call and go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the computer.
Make sure the weekend is different from the weekdays or make sure you have specified rest days that are noticeably different.
Do something creative and new and tell someone about it afterwards.
Deliberately reflect on your day, even in a diary can help. Remembering what you did and recounting it exercises your brain.
Don’t be ashamed of using alarms and alerts on your phone, these are helpful cues for your brain.
If trying to remember a list of items, for example a shopping list, imagine yourself in the aisle in the shop actually picking up the items.
To fight fatigue, good sleep hygiene is best for a good night’s sleep—no caffeine or sugar before bed, sleep in a dark cool room and make sure you’ve had fresh air and/or exercise everyday.
If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it’s important to get the right support. Contact your GP or speak to a counsellor or therapist. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talking about it will be the best thing you can do.
Looking back over your life, what do you see? Do you find yourself in similar positions over and over? Do you find yourself thinking “oh, here we go again!”? Do you wonder why people seem to treat you badly? Do you repeat the same behaviours time and again?
I like to work hard, I’m not one to ask for praise or seek promotion, I’m a grafter, I take on jobs other people don’t like, I just put my head down and get on with it – I think these are fairly acceptable characteristics. Unfortunately, on multiple occasions in the past, I’ve found myself in a difficult position where I’m not respected, my need are disregarded and I’m not able to stand up for myself and say that I feel my good nature is being taken advantage of. I struggle to be assertive, this is my responsibility and something I need to continue working on.
Common “self-sabotaging” life-styles include people who frequently end up with abusive partners. This blog is not about self blame. Self-blame is also a common way we can be our own worst enemy, are you someone who doesn’t even listen to what went wrong, you’re very quick to jump in with “yes, yes, it’s always my fault…”? Self deprecating habitual language crushes your self esteem in a self perpetuating cycle. What happened might have nothing to do with you but you’re so caught up in blaming yourself you don’t learn! (No, that’s not another thing to blame yourself for!)
Disclaimer: Since I am a counselling student blog writer with life experience, not a psychologist, this is purely a short reflection that might help people see some unhelpful behaviours in themselves that they could think about changing for the better, nothing more, nothing less.
Maladaptive schemas are core behaviours or patterns of behaviour that we use repeatedly throughout our lives. Schema modes are emotional states that are triggered by bad memories or disturbing, offensive or upsetting life situations. More detail on schema modes can be found here.
When something bad happens is your immediate reaction to feel angry/annoyed, scared/anxious or empowered? Of course, it will depend on the situation, each of us will have different “triggers”.
Something I really struggle with is having responsibility for something that, I perceive, could go wrong. This triggers anxiety in me that’s off the chart because it reminds me of times when I had people’s lives in my hands. As a doctor, managing a crash response (just because you happened to turn up first) means thinking quickly, making life saving decisions and being assertive while reacting to a changing situation. As a junior doctor, you’re doing this with very limited knowledge or experience.
How do you cope with change? Not many people say “oh, I love it!” Some do, but not many! Some people are able to embrace it and see the positives while others will fight to the death to keep things as they were. The latter will claim “why fix what ait broke?” Or “it’s always been done this way” or “it’s fine as it is”, without realising that there are good reasons to upgrade or modernise an old system.
Most of us can accept that some changes are necessary but we’ll all struggle. Do you manage the change by keeping quiet and just doing your best even though you’re struggling? Do you seek approval for how well you’re coping? Or do you take your struggles out on people? Do you feel out of control and seek control in other forms (food, alcohol, exercise, keeping busy)? How do you ask for support? What do you do if that support isn’t forthcoming? Do you blame others or blame yourself?
How do you cope with conflict? Do you prefer to brush it under the carpet? If you can’t see its not really there, right?! Or do you like a blazing row where you say all sorts of things you wouldn’t normally say and stuff the consequences? Best to get it all out even if you say things you don’t mean, right?!
Are you someone who tolerates bad treatment without expressing what you need? Or do you prefer to dominate a conversation so that you always get what you need, no matter what? Do you criticise the other person? Do you prefer to disconnect when over-whelmed?
If the managing change or conflict makes you feel particularly emotionally (one way or another), this is what’s called a “trigger”. We’re all coping with a lot of change at the moment (understatement) so it’s a good time to try something new! Remember that you’ve got a scared/vulnerable, angry/frustrated and/or impulsive child inside you that needs nurturing.
We will all have different things that trigger repeated behaviours so think back over your life, what it is that locks you into similar patterns? Do you seek validation? Are you fearful of responsibility? Do you need control? All sorts of things can trigger bad memories – working it out is step one of being able to stop yourself running down the same path over and over.
A health adult will nurture and validate their inner vulnerable child but set limits for an impulsive or angry child. If you’re insightful and you catch yourself saying “here we go again”, you don’t have to continue down the same street; you can slow down, pause, take a slight look left or right to see if you could do things differently. Sometimes it’s just a case of taking a deep breath and saying to ourselves, “I’m going to try and handle this differently…” before you act.
Covid-19 sweeping the globe has far reaching impacts much greater than the virus itself. Spending more time with some people and less time with others may have brought about deeper connections or volatile clashes. None of us survive in isolation; are you managing to connect using technology? What coping mechanisms are you using, be honest with yourself – are they working?
It’s not always easy to see how our behaviour is affecting ourselves and those around us – we might not even be able to see that we’re making repeated mistakes! Of course, I’m going to advocate counselling or therapy – as Plato put it “A life unexamined is not worth living.” A therapist is not there to fix things for you but they provide the space and may help you see things from a different perspective.
My various health conditions are meaning I’m feeling incredibly vulnerable at the moment. I panicked yesterday because I missed a phone call and I catastrophised (yes, that’s a word!) that all sorts of terrible things were going to happen. 25 minutes of anxiety ensued as I tried to sort things out. If (at the point I realised I’d missed the phone call) I’d taken a couple of deep breaths, grounded myself, taken 2-3 minutes to write down my course of action and realise the worst was not going to happen (and if it did, I would cope with it), I wouldn’t have had to manage 25 minutes of raging anxiety.
An important message:
I’ll just pop back to an opening comment regarding self-blame and guilt. I’m aware this blog is read by a lot of people coping with mental health conditions and (as a rash generalisation) self-blame and guilt are familiar feelings for the likes of us!
“Oh, I always do this, why am I such a(n) *****?” (Insert your preferred derogatory term.) It feeds the belief that we are useless/terrible/hopeless and will perpetuate the cycle and we will continue behaving in the same way. If, however, we halt this thought with “I made a mistake, I can do better” we’re giving ourselves a way out of the cycle. If it was just a mistake then I am not a failure, maybe I could do better next time – leads to you doing better next time.
Be kind to yourself!
Why not subscribe to the blog and get notified every time I add something new?