By Julie Ryan
When it comes to chronic illness there's a lot we don't have control over, and it's often that lack of control that leaves us feeling so much worse than we could. We are hurting and fatigued, we may not be able to move the way we used to, and that leaves us feeling like we can't control our world. Sometimes we can barely pick up the remote to control the TV.
Despite how much we are unable to control, there is one thing we can control and that's our thinking. Hang with me because I know some of you already want to close this page. If you've been around my blog for a while, though, you know I've come a long way from being that person who clicked off (or walked away) the second someone brought up a topic like this, to being the person who believes in it wholeheartedly.
I really do believe that we can change the way we think, and the way that we think controls how we feel. Maybe not physically, but mentally. And, having that level of control can go a long way towards dealing with the other stuff we can't control.
But, how do you control the way you think? Don't thoughts just happen?
Yes, to a degree thoughts do just happen. But, we have a choice as to whether or not we allow those thoughts to hang out and spin around repeatedly, or if we will stop them in their tracks and replace them with other (better) thoughts.
Even though I know from past experience that I can control my thoughts, I hit a low a couple of years ago and I needed help. I reached out to a professional and he taught me a few tricks to control my thinking.
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Step 1: Be calm and breathe – When the negative thoughts arise, when you find yourself focusing on all the things that have been taken away and the control that you no longer have. Just stop. Stop everything. Take a deep breath. Take 3 deep breaths for that matter and really focus on the breathing. When you are really focused on breathing you can't really focus on anything else. So, just breathe. As you breathe your mind will clear.
Now breathe normally again, because, well… it's necessary. When you start breathing normally again, you may find yourself calmer already. Or, you may find that your mind goes right back to those negative thoughts. If that's the case, proceed to step 2.
Step 2: Change the focus – Why are you having those thoughts? Are you afraid? If so, what of? If you are afraid, think about what you are afraid of losing. Instead of thinking about the loss, focus on being grateful for that thing you have. Is there a way to replace that negative thought with a positive one? Are you catastrophizing and saying things like "things never go my way?" Then replace that with "things go my way" and do your damnedest to think of one time recently when things went your way – even if it was just making it through the shower this morning. Whatever you do, find some way to focus on something positive. Whether it's a mantra or simply focusing on someone who loves you, or someone that you love. Replace the negative with a positive.
Step 3: Fake it till you make it – when all else fails, fake it till you make it. Chances are that you will have to fake it for a while. When I was going through counseling, my counselor had me keep track of every negative thought I had (not so much the thought but the count) and initially it was really hard for me to shift my thinking; over time it got easier. But, there are some small ways to fake it. One simple one is to smile or laugh. It's hard to be stressed or angry or negative when you are smiling or laughing. Your mind believes your body. So, when you smile or laugh your mind reacts the same whether you're faking that smile or doing it for real. The more you smile and laugh the easier it becomes to do it. So, just keep faking it.
Julie Ryan, a regular contributor to ProHealth, is a fellow Fibromyalgia Warrior, freelance writer, and blogger. In addition to Fibromyalgia, Julie is currently diagnosed with Endometriosis, Migraines, Cluster Headaches, and Hypothyroid. She shares her journey, along with inspiration, and information on her blog at http://countingmyspoons.com