This week's #MondayMotivation focuses on control.
Some words on feelings of uncertainty, unknowingness, anxiety, fear and being out-of-control. Because we know many of you are feeling these things.
Amidst the panic and anxiety surrounding the current COVID-19 situation is the sense of feeling trapped, out-of-control or even helpless. However, many of our current and previous clients feel these things all/most of the time, pre-and-post COVID-19.
These are some of the feelings our clients, and those getting in touch about accessing therapy, are expressing. They may assert that some behaviours, such as restricting doo or exercising (and many other things) helps them cope and feel a little more in-control in the short-term; however, they also recognise that these safety and avoidance behaviours really only increases their sense of things feeling out of our control, in the ling-term.
I think there are 2 things to consider that can help us surf through these waves of uncertainty, anxiety and sense of unknowingness.
1. ACCEPTANCE: The first is acceptance. While it is distressful to do so, accepting that life may not alway go our way or may feel messy at times can be really helpful. That's just how it is. There's nothing we can do about the many things that happen in our lives, in the lives of others or in the world generally. It can feels difficult to admit that, can't it? However, if we can start accepting that life will, and does change, and sometimes we can have some control over that, and sometimes we don.t we can begin towards moving towards a position of feeling even slightly better about uncertainly, being out-of-control etc. I think it's also important to look at the advantages and disadvantages of being in control and not being control. It's a little activity that you can do for yourself and it can really help reveal why control and coping in a certain (yet unhelpful way) is so important to us. When we begin accepting that life is tricky at times, that we don't always know what will happen and we can't control everything (and that it's unhelpful to even try) we can then move on from that and engage with the second point below.
2. ASSERTING CONTROL IN SMALL WAYS: Once we have accepted that a situation exists that we have no control over, then we can start gaining back control elsewhere. If having some certainty, control and knowingness is important to us (maybe because it helps us alleviate anxiety or distress), then we can try and secure it in other ways. These might be small ways, but the accummulative effect of controlling lots of smaller things in our lives at the moment can help provide us with a sense of having some control over our lives at the moment, amidst the messy 'outside' world that we are living in, espcially at the moment during the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
How do we do this though? I was speaking to some clients recently for whom having some sense of predictability, control, security, safety, knowingness, certainty etc. is important to them. It will be important to them for various reasons. It may even be essential to their recovery or to maintaining reasonable mental health or to having good wellbeing. For some, it's a life saver and their sense of control keeps them alive. The current COVID-19 situation, for example, triggers our threat system and for some, soothing themselves via having some control or certainly will be most helpful.
While we may have limited control over many things in our lives and while we may experience uncertainty and anxiety around this, we can have some control over our lives in helpful way; helpful ways that are not related to some of the unhelpful, or even risky, safety or avoidance strategies we might use to feel 'safe', 'protected' or 'secure'.
Of course, what this involves will vary from person-to-person. There's no right or wrong in this.
We all feel anxious, uncertain, scared, out-of-control and agitated too at times and we might not quitt know what to do. This is all normal. It is! Humans are not that great with change to be honest, big or small.
However, when it comes to a change in our whole way of living, (e.g. having an eating disorder), we find that hard to accept and reconcile. But that's a normal, healthy reaction. Why? Because it's our threat system kicking in - the 'old brain' that we share with all animals that is there to detect threat, danger and risk. And I'm betting many people's 'old brains' are taking over at the moment and detecting threat, fear and anxiety left, right and centre. So, what do they do to turn the dial down on that? They might revert back to familiar and long-established coping, safety and avoidance strategies (e.g. restricting food; purging; exercising; body checking; avoiding social situations; staying in bed etc.) that give the appearance of 'safeness' and 'control; but which really just keep the problem and sense of feeling out-of-control and anxiety going.
However, soothing ourselves in appropriate ways and asserting at least some control and certainty over what we can at the moment can really help turn down that anxiety and uncertainty dial.
Your fear and anxiety is normal, especially when making change and engaging with recovery. However, you can regain some control and certainty over some things in your life at the moment. Turn down that anxiety and fear dial a little and keep things as normal as you can, where possible. Believe me, your mind and your body will thank you for it.
In the meantime, take care, stay safe, keep well and, if yo ucan, try and be as gentle and patient with yourself as possible.
All the best,
Talking EDs (Glasgow and West Eating Disorder Support Service)