Recently my wife and I chatted about our uniquely different ways of thinking. We were finishing up with our socially distanced dinner and out of the blue, without any context, she made a comment. I gave her a puzzled look and asked her what she was talking about. To her it was obvious, she was adding more to a story she had told me half an hour before.
She then went on to explain her way of thinking. She compared it to a boat skimming across the water, literally moving rapidly from one spot to another. That made sense to me. Her brain was going at an incredible pace, from one thought to another, never lingering too long, and often circling back.
That got me thinking about my thinking. In keeping with the analogy of water and water vessels I suggested that my thinking was more in the line of a submarine. I come across a thought and do a deep dive. As I dive into the murky waters moving in any direction, other than down, is a slow, tedious process. So I sink into the darkness and conjure up things that border on the ridiculous. In addition, when I do surface, I often can’t remember where I was.
Case in point. In the follow-up to our “thinking” conversation, she asked me what I had been thinking. I gave her a blank stare, said I had no idea, only remembered I had been very angry at someone. So you know, if you’re thinking what I am thinking you probably need help.
Our brains have an innate way of playing tricks on us. (Out of curiosity I looked up the word innate and was surprised to find the following definition; “coming directly from the mind rather than being acquired by experience or from external sources”. That kind of makes my point right there. So instead of writing anything else I could leave it at that. But I won’t)
Over the last weeks, as I was struggling with identifying what could be causing my depressed mood and increased anxiety, I kept telling myself that I needed to change my thinking. I needed to exercise positive thinking, find things I was grateful for (more on that another time). In simple words, get rid of my stinking thinking. But I found that difficult.
Then I was reminded of our “fight or flight” stress response. I read something, somewhere, but can’t find it so I may be making this up. Without going into medical terminology, which I don’t know anyway, and without being to technical let me explain.
Our brains have natural, built in stress responses. So, for example, when you drive down an icy road, the vehicle begins to skid sideways and hitting the ditch is inevitable, a particular part of the brain goes into an aroused state and the stress response kicks in. When the smoke, or in this case snow and ice, clears our brains have the ability to revert back to normal in short order.
However, when a stressor becomes chronic our brain begins to function differently as well. It goes into a heightened state where it is constantly in a fight or flight state. That is when anxiety increases with the potential for a slide into depression. Our behaviors change. We are more likely to become irritated. Physical aches and pains increase. In short we become more reactive to seemingly minor events.
You may be thinking, Friesen, you went through this when you were farming. And you are right, I did. What I have come to understand is that the pandemic we are in has done the same thing to me. It has become a chronic stressor. And as such I need to deal with those stressors no differently than I have in the past. And that is why the appointment with my therapist was crucially important for me. It reminded me of “winning” in the past and provided me the encouragement to win again. Make it a good one.