Whether you’re chronically depressed, having a panic attack, or just having a shitty day, you probably exaggerate and over-think small problems or interactions gone wrong. Chances are, it wasn’t a big deal to begin with but – for that moment – your obsession made it unbearable.
Looking back on it, you were probably even embarrassed that you did it in the first place.
I’m a recovering freak-out artist. It was something of a specialty for me and, on occasion, still gets the best of me. My typical flavor of freak-out is worrying about money/work and going down a rabbit hole of pessimism about how I’m going to royally fuck things up. (Of course, none of it never happens.)
I’ve had a lot of practice in perfecting the art of the freak-out and have made it a point to learn to stop worrying so much. I lose my shit about 5% of what I used to a year ago, so I’ve come a long way.
Here’s everything I know about keeping calm when I lose my cool.
The Art & Science Of Worrying
A minor disagreement with your girlfriend has now become a catastrophe that spells the end of your relationship and you’ll never find love again. Oh, and you’re unlovable too.
According to Yale psychologist and professor Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, your excessive worrying and over-thinking – or “rumination”, as the people with PhD’s call it – is not only putting you in a bad mood but it’s actually making you forget all of the positive things that have happened to you.
Dr. Nolen-Hoeksema comments:
When people ruminate while they are in a depressed mood, they remember more negative things that happened to them in the past, they interpret situations in their current lives more negatively, and they are more hopeless about the future.
Too much freaking out can create a nasty feedback loop. It creates a cycle of anxiety and depression that feeds on itself, like a snake that chews on its tail.
Dr. Ed Watkins, psychology professor and researcher at University of Exeter, found that excessive rumination & worry in already depressed patients can influence both the onset and intensification of depressive symptoms.
Is all of this starting to ring a bell for you?
What started off as being a simple disagreement has caused you to second guess your self-worth, furthering your depressive state, making you despise yourself even more ad infinitum…until someone finds you crying and curled up on the floor listening to Morrissey.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve probably been doing this for years and have literally built a strong neural connection in your brain that is highly tuned to the ‘freak out and exaggerate’ setting. At this point, it takes very little for you to push your rumination into high gear while amping up your depression and anxiety.
It’s almost enough to stress you out, isn’t it?
As you can probably tell, this self-sabotage can get out of hand quick. Believe me, I know. I used to be nauseatingly good at this shit.
Have no fear, though, my nervous worriers, there is a simple way to pull yourself out of this madness.
How To Control Your Thoughts
Excessive worrying and rumination may have wreaked havoc on your life but it’s remarkably easy to stop the vicious cycle – it just takes a little discipline.
The first step is knowing when it’s actually happening.
You probably ruminate so much that it just runs on auto-pilot and now you hardly notice it.
To get a handle on this beast, I advocate a hearty dose of mindfulness practice. By learning to just notice your worrying episodes as they happen, you will gain control over how much they can actually impact you.
Here’s how you do it.
Imagine Being Able To Just STOP An Episode Of Fierce Worrying.
If you easily freak out and panic, you probably think it’s just part of your personality, it’s totally normal, and something that everyone does. Be that as it may, you don’t need to suffer any longer.
Here’s the easy 2 step process I use to get my wild mind under control and feeling great:
1. Let your posture set the mood: Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy, in her incredible new book “Presence”, presents stunning evidence that simply changing your posture can put you in a stronger, more confident mood in just a few minutes. She calls these game-changers ‘power poses’.
Cuddy reports that performing certain poses for just a few minutes can quickly change our brain chemistry by increasing testosterone (anti-depressant/increases feelings of confidence) and decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone).
Futhermore, Erik Pepper, professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, found that people who sat in slouched, slumped positions had an easier time recalling negative memories while those in strong poses found it easier to have more powerful, confident thoughts.
Your mom wasn’t joking when she said to stand up straight.
To perform this slightly magical ‘power pose’, start by standing up straight. Straighten your spine, pull your shoulders back, lift your chin slighty, feet shoulder width, with your arms relaxed at your side. Breathe deeply from your belly, relaxing into your new posture. You’ll want to practice this for at least 2 minutes, per Cuddy’s recommendations.
My mood is always much better after I do this. I feel calmer, able to tackle things head-on, and I always end up with a George Clooney-like smirk on my face. That’s a good thing.
2. Let your Mind just watch: Once you’ve put yourself in a calmer, more confident headspace, just watching and noticing your thoughts is a tremendous way to gain clarity.
First, sit your ass in a chair with good posture. Breathe deeply from your belly for a few moments, finding the rhythm of your breath.
As your mind races, just notice as it spins out of control. Don’t bother judging the thoughts or yourself for having these thoughts. Watch them pop up and then go away, like bubbles. They appear…then disappear. You’ll see that they are ephemeral and don’t mean anything about you unless you allow them to. You can pick which thoughts and feelings you want.
Continue to breath deeply and watch your thoughts appear and disappear. To be able to watch your Mind and choose what to feel and think is Freedom. Enjoy this…and keep breathing.
Use this exercise anytime you need to collect yourself and get some perspective (or just get a quick boost of long-lasting, ballsy confidence). It’s pretty easy and damn effective. Get at it!
Solve the Right Problem & Move On
Many psychologists think of rumination as problem solving gone bad.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to be proactive and fix that which isn’t working. But, if you’re in the midst of a proper freak out, you need to step back and re-group. That’s no time to make important life decisions.
Spend 10-15 minutes doing your power pose and mindfulness exercises. These will put you into a much calmer, stronger headspace and have you ready to dig into what’s bothering you.
Start with asking yourself, “What part of my complaint is actually impacting my life? What part is just me overreacting?”. With a clear head, the answers will come easily. The truth will rise to the top while the emotional drama falls to the wayside. Think of it as sifting through a pile of dirt & rock for a small gold nugget.
In this process, it’s important to be mindful of how you talk to yourself. Chronic worriers and depressed people often phrase their self-talk as negative, global, and absolute. They’ll say things like “Why does this always happen to me?”, “I’ll never be happy”, and “It’s my fault”.
To make progress with this, you need to ensure that you talk to yourself using positive, concrete language and think of mistakes as being temporary and atypical.
Dr. Ed Watkins – our psychologist friend from earlier in the article – found marked improvements in mood and rumination by teaching patients how to think more rationally about their emotions:
Dr. Watkins trained ruminators and depressed people to think more concretely by giving them daily mental exercises that focused on solving the problem. After one week, they saw significant decreases in self-reported rumination and depression relative to the placebo control group. Later they found similar effects on patients with major depression.
This is promising news for those of us with a predilection towards losing our cool and exaggerating our problems. No need to fly off the handle any longer, my friends. A cool-headed approach will take you far – and in not too long either, it seems.
No More Freaking Out
Your mind is a wild animal. It makes catastrophes out of nothing and exaggerates every possible little threat. It ratchets up your anxiety and tosses you down into a depression. This makes it hard to function like a normal adult after a while.
So, what to do? Is this just your lot in life or is there a better way to think?
New research in body language, brain chemistry, and depression has shown us that there are simple practices that you can start today that will tone down the worry & anxiety and amp up the calmness & happiness in your life. You can start making real changes in just a few minutes.
So, are you going to keep freaking out or are you going to start being happy?
Peace & Charisma,
Dalton K. Finney