Forget Stinkin’ Thinkin’ – Find Your Chill Instead
Stinkin’ thinkin’ is an affliction. It happens when we build situations up in our heads by removing ourselves from reality and into the black abyss of catastrophic thinking. It makes us panic like the bloke hiding behind Spider Man. I’m like that man sometimes.
If a professional project goes pear shaped, and I had just one minor role in it as part of a wider team, I imagine myself being publicly reprimanded, then running to the door, getting in my car, picking up my passport in my home, stuffing some essentials into a Dunnes bag, making a withdrawal from the ATM, going to the airport and leaving my family to start a new life. Okay, it’s not that extreme, but the impulse to fear that I am the cause of catastrophes around me is quite reflexive and I have to make conscious efforts to be a rational human being instead of exiting the scene of the panic via a puff of magic air.
I’m a huge fan of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It ninja kicks the arse out of unhelpful thinking patterns by encouraging us to apply reason to our thinking rather than being led around on a leash by a chimp. Feelings are chimps. Our emotions emerge from the animal/chimp brain, specifically the amygdala, which is an almond shaped set of neurons in the brain. The amygdala turns on our fight or flight response without consulting our intelligent brain, the prefrontal cortex. When we experience FEAR (Fuck Everything And Run) we’ve been hijacked by our amygdala. Our amygdala sends a message to our hippocampus, which regulates our memory, and together they freak the fuck out. In a situation that tends to bring up fear, you can be sure the conversation in your head is going something like this:
Amygdala: DANGER, DANGER, DANGER
Hippocampus: Fuck, you’re right, remember that time this happened before and we were fucked. This is awful. I can’t cope. HELP! I can’t breathe. HELP!
Amygdala: I’ll have your pancreas send more adrenaline to help you cope with this emergency. Hang in there.
Hippocampus: Hang in there? Am I in that much danger. No!!!!! I’m pumped with adrenaline. My heart might blow. Stop it.
Amygdala: More adrenaline on the way. You’re clearly distressed right now.
These two parts of the brain don’t communicate well. They’re like John and Mary from Father Ted. When they’re active the intelligent brain doesn’t get a look in.
This behaviour is a bit thick and can be easily corrected, which I learned this year. Adrenaline is necessary for physical emergencies and helps us to get away from physical danger. Yes. It’s what helps a mother to lift a car off her baby. Yes. It’s designed to make us physically powerful so we can defeat danger. Yes. But we do not need it for regular daily situations. Nu uh.
Because my New Year’s resolution is to focus on self-care, I’m reading more CBT material. CBT is not just for stress, it’s for everything. It makes you a smarter human by learning to stop believing impulsive emotions. It gets you out of your head and into the present moment. It’s also a great soother of anger and frustration.
Here’s my tip of the day: the next time someone pisses you off by saying something they shouldn’t or farting for the second time in your company when you told them not to do it again the first time they did it, maybe don’t take this approach:
Nothing good can come of it. Take a breath and remember: don’t lose your chill. You love your family and you don’t want to do anything that might make you have to leave the country.
We be chillin’. This is the essence of self care. Chillin’ with the good vibes. Day 3 of the self care routine and I be flyin’ it.
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