Last night as I was cleaning up after dinner, my mind began to wander into a dark place. In the past, I would have these drifting dark thoughts all day everyday but through the process of recovery, they now occurs far less often. I began to reminisce over all the people I hurt and the terrible, reckless things I did to the point where I could almost hear a voice in my head saying, "remember the time you did this, you're garbage...?" or "you'll make another bad move sooner or later and you will lose everything again". I then experienced what I call a high level of anxiety and stress.
One minute I feel I have control over my thoughts and can channel any negative thought into something positive, the next, I feel as if my emotions and thoughts rule me. After years of dealing with PTSD (C-PTSD), anxiety, depression, and a recent diagnoses of ADD/ADHD, I have found that my brains natural response to negative thoughts and feelings is extreme stress. First, I begin to panic and cannot complete whatever task I may be doing in the moment whether that be a homework assignment, a chore, or whatever else- my brain quickly grows scattered. My first instinct when I am undergoing stress is to act on it which typically means doing something rash and in the heat of the moment. Before finding recovery, I would punch walls, pick fights with people, or go out and find some drugs and/or alcohol to numb the intense emotions. Now that I am in recovery and have faced serious consequences for my past coping mechanisms, I do not, I repeat, do not have the option to handle my stress in these ways. Plus, I just don't even have it in me anymore to behave like that as I genuinely care for others and myself today.
So, how can one go from dark, deviating thoughts and extreme emotions- potentially to the point of being a ticking time bomb, to calm and collect and resume their day in a healthy manner? I have found the answer to be simple, yet so very complex, and it is 'awareness'.
I believe it is fair to say that before you have emotions, you typically have thoughts. We must learn to be aware of negative thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. For me, when I start thinking back on the terrible things I did or the traumatic things I faced, it is crucial that I stop these types of thoughts in their tracks before my brain recognizes them as truths/ reality. It is then that I can prevent any intense emotions to arise. For example, like I was stating earlier, if I begin to think about my past and the destruction I caused, I naturally will tell myself, "you are a piece of crap". I have the option to either go on with these negative thoughts and continue to build off it with more toxicity, or, I can “stop my bleeding” and feed my thoughts with, "It is in the past. You cannot control it. Look at the wonderful things you are striving to be and do today." Awareness of our thoughts and having the discipline to channel them into positive, loving, truths will make a big difference in the outcome of our mental state.
Let's say it is too late, you already sank in the toxic negative thoughts and you are now undergoing emotional distress. You might be feeling extremely anxious, angry, and/ or really down on yourself. How do you get out of this mental cloud? Below, I will be listing a few things that others have claimed helped them along with a few things that have helped me.
1.) Get some fresh air or go for a walk. Anyone who experiences high-stress, PTSD and other mental illnesses can truly benefit from the relaxation, beauty, peace, and seclusion that comes with being in nature. I always feel more at ease when I can recognize what is around me by slowly releasing the turmoil within, and focusing on the beauty around me.
2.) Call someone, invite someone over, and/ or seek support. The last thing you need to feel is disconnected from people. It is important to have someone you can trust that will help you. We cannot always rely on ourselves to get us out of our mental "pits". In fact, by relying solely on ourselves, it may do more damage than good. I think of it like this... would you expect a lost puppy to find it’s way home? Probably not, it’s lost and needs some guidance. When you are clouded with stress and can’t see anything but the chaos in your mind, you are essentially lost and need some guidance. I understand that the phone may "feel like 100lbs" but really, I think we both know that that is just your fear and anxiety of the uncertainty in taking the leap of faith in confiding with someone else.
3.) Avoid any mind altering substance. This is a very difficult thing for many (myself included sometimes) as alcohol and drugs are an easy "go-to" solution to numbing these intense emotions that seem unbearable to sit with. The truth is, your feelings, thoughts, and emotions are probably uncomfortable, there is no denying that, but, you are strong and you can reach in your "toolbox" for other solutions than turning to toxic, mind altering substances. Plus, substance use will interfere with your recovery and decision making skills and more than likely will make your current condition far worse.
4.) Do something to get your body moving. Whether it be stretching, yoga, walking, going to the gym, whatever it may be... if you get your body moving, you are also putting oxygen and healthy endorphins into your brain making your stress levels decrease substantially. Not only that, you will also feel accomplished and ready to conquer other things with this "feel good" feeling after completing a good workout.
5.) Take 5 deep breaths, relax your jaw and neck, and meditate on what part of your stress you can control and meditate on freeing yourself from what you cannot. I notice my jaw and neck get extremely tight when I am under a lot of stress. If you are mindful about the relaxation of your body, you can activate your mind into a relaxation mode.
6.) Pray. My prayers are usually short as I cannot gather my thoughts nor can I focus when I am stressed. My prayers usually sounds a bit like, "Lord, I don't know why I feel like this, I pray for help to get me through these hard thoughts and feelings" then, I do my best to give Him control.
7.) Do something that makes you feel accomplished. Usually I do some sort of mindfulness activity that also gives me feelings of accomplishment. For example, cleaning- dusting, sweeping, laundry, etc. To me, cleaning is not only productive and self soothing, but it is also a great time to collect my feelings and thoughts.
I hope this helps! Of course, it is never easy to "get out of yourself" once you are in a stressful situation, but it's important to understand that the alternative can be emotionally taxing and potentially costly to relationships, finances, and in general, your overall wellbeing.