Control

Had a few days off blogging as been at the in-laws caravan by the coast and the signal is notoriously bad, but back today and suitably depressed in the colloquial form. Currently fed up of life. I’ll go into more detail later but currently, fed up.

Anyway, after my last post, I received messages from my running community about how they had all felt the same at some point, defeated and struggling, so I thought I’d help. I’ve recently seen Steve Bull at a conference and reached out to him for advice. If you don’t know Steve Bull, he’s a sports psychologist and author of ‘The Game Plan’. He’s worked with Olympians and sports teams like the England Cricket team keeping them focused when the anxiety bubbles. I wrote an article on a previous blog about Steve’s piece at the conference and how it had helped me, there were two main themes – attitude is a choice and controlling your controllables.

Essentially, if you’re stressed or having a bad day, it helps to strip things back to those two themes. Attitude is a choice first, I’ve always taken with a pinch of salt as someone with mental health issues as often, if I could change my attitude I would but it is grounded in rituals, avoidance behaviour and doubt but when, like today, I wake and immediately dread the day, it takes me a while but eventually I go, ‘pull yourself together, this day will only get better if you make it’. I don’t miraculously turn into a pillar of positivity but it does kick start me.

The second, control your controllables is misleading to an OCD sufferer. I’ve been taught through CBT that I am not in control of my thoughts and to try to control them is only going to make the situation worse, so when I heard this I did reject it. But as I listened to Steve, it began to make more sense, this isn’t about controlling everything, it’s controlling what you can control. He gave the example of an Olympic high jumper he worked with ahead of the gold medal test, eyes of the world on you and the pressure mounting. In that time, the Olympian is taught to focus on three things, and three things only. There is so much out of our control and this is often what causes anxiety, focussing on things we can do nothing about. As someone with an anxiety disorder, in the midst of a panic attack it’s difficult to remember this and harder to believe it but it’s true. The Olympian can’t control the weather, the other Olympians, the noise in the stadium or what people will say and think. He can control his legs, the motion in his arms and leaning back. So in the moments before his go, he is taught to focus on these three things only, high knees, pump arms, lean back. High knees, pump arms, lean back. Very simple.

I reached out to Steve for advice for those with specific mental health issues, he responded naturally with a disclaimer, same as I put at the bottom of most posts, that he is not a mental health professional but could offer some words. He’s said that controlling your controllables has proved effective when he has worked with those with mental health issues. Choosing things very specific and achievable to focus on create an air of confidence and mean you are less likely to get distracted but also, keep it simple. Plus, it may help to create small goals each day that as you achieve them will help to build confidence.

I have found his work very helpful, for example, if I’m struggling, just remembering to breathe is enough, control your breathing, deep and slow it down. My goal each day is to drink 2.5 litres of water and to make my bed. Small, but the first ensures I’m looking after the body and mind, the second means no matter what, I have accomplished something each day. Small, specific and achievable.

Ultimately, having a mental health problem is like being the Olympian. We are both facing what appears to be an insurmountable challenge, we could spend our time worrying about what everyone else thinks, pressure building, worrying about the many different outcomes there could be, focussing on failing. Or, we can boil it down to something simple, three things we can do and do our best.

If you want to chat, feel free to reach out using the ‘Contact’ tab, however, I am not a mental health professional and if you’re looking for support then please see the information available on the ‘Support’ tab.

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