As is often the nature of mood disorders, our thought patterns can get the best of us. Recognizing our vulnerabilities allows us to shift our attributions away from self-blame & helps us consider the broader circumstance that we’re often too quick to dismiss when we look through the lens of our disorder. Similar to how I talked about my experience with CBT thought journaling, this strategy helps us pause to consider:
1) Our emotion/thought
2) Our vulnerabilities &
3) The shared experience.
Examining these things allows us to reinforce patterns of thinking that are more balanced and with practice, we build paths towards healthier thoughts that we are increasingly likely to attend to in subsequent familiar situations.
Yes it will be uncomfortable & difficult at the beginning, I recommend trying to write things down and really flush them out as much as possible as you get started. Even go over it with a friend or family member to get a different perspective.
There’s something so isolating about mental illness, it’s comforting to realize that someone else feels similarly to you & it’s truly not the end of the world. Through this exercise the hope is to help us realize that there’s nothing “wrong” with you (or them) & it’s perfectly understandable to feel the way you do given your circumstance & your underlying mental health vulnerabilities. We try to reconnect ourselves to the shared human experience, of which there are 7 million similar yet unique stories to choose from.
The general structure:
– Situation & feeling: You may not be able to do this in the moment, but reflecting on the past also helps prepare you for when similar situations come up in the future.
– What are my vulnerabilities? From my experience this is where it can feel like you’re just “making excuses”. So I urge you to try & think about it as if you were thinking of a younger sibling or loved one, we’re usually a lot less hard on others than we are on ourselves.
- Throughout your life and mental health journey you’ve undoubtedly began to realize what behaviours are constructive for you and what are not. The literature also tells us to keep an eye on some of the following that are known to be closely linked to mood:
- Physical health
- External stressors/unusual circumstances
- Underlying mental illness and therefore warped thinking patterns.
– How is this part of the shared human experience? Sounds kind of cheesy I know, but this part is to remind you that YOU’RE NOT ALONE. What you’re feeling is justified & will not last forever. Your mood is NOT a reflection of your inability to “handle life” or whatever situation you are in. Things will be okay. Ask yourself what someone else might be feeling in a similar situation.
Here’s an example.
Situation: Feeling anxious in a large and busy crowd of people returning to school. (In the moment I was unable to reflect on how I was feeling and why, but looking back I recognize that this situation will arise frequently and I can now try to approach it in a new way)
Vulnerability: For me, I didn’t even realize, but At the time I was jet lagged and obviously tired.
– Im somewhat in a transition period in my recovery journey with lots of change that can be overwhelming.
– I wasn’t properly nourished for the day which is so significantly correlated with mood.
– I’m fairly introverted and a little shy – so my natural preference is NOT to be in a large crowd of people.
– In conjunction with a history of panic attacks and anxiety, it’s understandable that all the stimuli would make me uncomfortable.
– I was putting a lot of pressure on myself (like usual) for the upcoming school year and worrying about how things would go, taking me even further out of the present moment and into my mind.
How is this reasonable: Yes some extroverts would love a bustling, loud campus, but it might not be someone else’s (including my own) preference. Naturally I’m typically more comfortable in quieter situations, so it’s understandable that I, or anyone else who shares this preference, would feel more uncomfortable in this situation. It’s the first day back, it IS stressful.
Think of how many people are also feeling anxious (or X emotion) in any way – however small. The major difference between you and them is that they more readily attribute their moods to situation and we tend to blame ourselves or our abilities.