Nice to talk to you guys again! I hope you all have been doing well since the last time we talked! I wanted to reach out to you all as part of a weekly check-up to talk about my week so far and how it’s actually relevant to a reader’s question!
Last week, reader James Guevara, (shout out for reading the blog and commenting, welcome to the Takes One community), asked me the question below on the previous Ask Andrew article. I’m going to respond to James in this article because I think this is something everyone can relate to. I hope you all find it useful.
“Sometimes I feel like it’s hard to just, for lack of better phrasing, “think” my way out of negative thought loops by focusing on the positives. I’ve tried exercise, zoom calls, and video games but they just don’t seem to break the rut the way going out for a drink with friends or something like that would. What do you do when you find yourself in like an unbreakable thought loop?”
THE nuanced answer:
I appreciate your honesty with this question. I totally understand. It’s natural to think about what we’re missing out on in this time. However, I think you will agree with this statement: it’s not useful to lament what we don’t have. It only puts your mind on the path to a negative thought loop. Now, this brings to us the question of how to get out of a negative thought loop? Is it through zoom calling your friends, but silently saying this is way worse than hanging out in real life? Is it through working out so hard that even your muscles have muscles? (Definitely not possible, but if you know how to do so, hit your boy up). Or is through getting wrecked on Warzone, but always coming out of the Gulag one man stronger. (you know who you are). All valid questions. Now the answer to this is really dependent on YOU. I can’t tell you how to control how YOU feel. But, I can provide you with some things that I like to do when I find it difficult to break out of a negative thought loop or more importantly, when I’m upset but don’t want to be.
To start, let’s address the three that you mentioned: exercise, zoom calls, and video games. I think these three are something that we all are doing- if not video games, then watching series on Netflix. We all are using these things to distract ourselves from our reality. Now I don’t mean this in an accusatory way. I’m definitely doing the same thing. The thing is – and this is something I’ve come to realize the past week- the more we distract ourselves and refuse to accept reality, the harder we’re going to fall when we come down from the high of either getting a good workout in, having a good laugh with a friend, or getting that win in warzone. However, when you do accept that this is our new reality for the time being, you begin to try to make the most of the hand we’ve been dealt.
For instance, I’m a HUGE coffee lover. I live, drink, and breathe the stuff. One thing I was upset about was not being able to frequent my favorite coffee shops on the weekends. Earlier in the week, I sat back and thought about why I was upset I couldn’t go to coffee shops. Was I missing the coffee or the ambiance? Well, it was a little bit of both. But I had to accept the hard fact that the ambiance would have to take a back seat for the time being. So, instead I focused on the coffee part. I really missed having great coffee. So I decided that if I couldn’t go to a coffee shop, I would bring it to me. I ordered an espresso machine and decided I was going to start replicating my favorite coffees at home. Now I understand not everyone has the spending money right now to spend on whatever they want. That is not what I want us to focus on. Instead, I want us to forget what we cannot control, and focus on what we can. I could not – I cannot- control not being able to go to my favorite coffee shop, but I can make some great coffees in the comfort of my own home.
If I had to boil this down to one thing – it’s acceptance. We’re all familiar with the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I believe we all have been through the first four stages. It’s been tough, but there’s some light at the end of the tunnel – we only have one more stage to go! Acceptance. How do we get to acceptance? To be honest, I only know one way of getting to acceptance- through gratitude. I’ve always tried to live by the principle of “make the best out of any situation”. For the majority of us, we are very lucky. We are quarantined at our homes, where we have food, water, and the internet so we can keep connected with our friends and family. We are safe. We have a bed to sleep in. We have clothes on our backs. In the grand scale of things, in the grand scale of life – we’re doing well. Think of this- a lot of us are from developed countries, with access to advanced technology (i.e that miniature computer that you carry with you all the time), and are healthy (if you or your loved ones have gotten sick with the virus, I wish you a safe and fast recovery). There’s so much good that we still have, and it’s time to recognize and utilize that. Why make yourself upset when you have so much to be grateful for?
To make this applicable, let’s try a simple exercise. I want you to write down three things you’re grateful for. It can be about anything- big or small. Now, for each thing you’re grateful for, I want you to write down how you could lose that thing. Repeat this for the other two things you’re grateful for. Let this sink in. This will do two things. Number one: You’ll suddenly realize you have a ton of great things in your life and you’ll realize how lucky you are to have them. This is something we all realized when this quarantine started, but we didn’t really understand how to put this into practice. Number two: You see that things can be way worse than what they are. These two things will help lead you to acceptance.
Now I understand this may sound like a chore to some. So all I’ll say is- try it once. After you try it once, I guarantee you’ll feel a lot better about your current situation. The great thing about gratitude is it’s a muscle – the more you flex it, the easier it becomes. To jumpstart this habit, I recommend starting a gratitude journal. I have been doing this for about a month and a half, and it’s noticeably improved my mood. I try to write down three things I’m grateful for as often as I can, and this helps me remember and recognize how many great things I still have in my life. Then, when I’m feeling down, I look at previous journal entries and realize, I still have all of these things, my life could be way worse. It’s been helping me significantly.
Some fun incentives for acceptance:
Once you start to accept your new reality, realize this – now you have the time to do anything that you want! Think about something you’ve always wanted to do, and start to plot time in your schedule to do it! Did you always want to learn how to cook, but never had the time? Have you wanted to learn how to play that guitar sitting in your room untouched? (This is an oddly specific description, fine, this is my thing). Or do you simply just want to spend more time with your loved ones? The point is, think of this time as a gift, we now have the opportunity to do what we want with the present.
Metaphorical statements aside, I sincerely hope this helps. This method of practicing acceptance has helped me deal with negative thought loops when they arise. But, I think it’s important to mention that I still get upset sometimes about this all. And that’s ok. When those moments come around- I want you to feel it, and accept it. But don’t wallow in it. Don’t allow it to consume you. Accept what you’re feeling but continue on with your day knowing that this shall pass. Things will get back to normal, whatever that may be.
Let me know if you all have some other ways of getting rid of negative thought loops during this time. I love you all. Take care.
Wishing the best for all of you,
P.S: Send any questions you want answered to firstname.lastname@example.org