mindfulness-as-a-coping-tool

Mindfulness as a Coping Tool

You are probably asking yourself, how do I handle my self-doubt in a healthy and meaningful way? There must be an easy way to address self-doubt once and for all. Unfortunately, no. Remember, self-doubt can be healthy, provided it’s not preventing you from something you are capable of doing. While there is no way to removed self-doubt entirely, there are ways to cope with it, so it is less bothersome. Mindfulness works as a coping tool when it comes to our self-doubt. It can quiet our fears enough that we can take a step into the unknown.

I love mindfulness because I find it to be one of the more successful therapy techniques I’ve used on myself, especially with my MS. It helps me drop all the baggage I have in the past and about the future to focus on the moment I am “in.”

How Mindfulness Impacts our Lives

Mindfulness is about finding ways to be present at the very moment we inhabit. Rather than focusing on a nebulous future or an unchangeable past, we focus only on the now.

For a person such as myself, mindfulness is difficult to practice. My mind pulls in multiple directions at any given time. I am the sort of person who cannot just sit and watch a TV show or movie (at home) and not be on my phone working on something else. I live for multi-tasking. If I am sitting “idle,” I could be doing something productive with that time even if it’s catching up on the news or latest social media trend.

When I sit down to practice mindfulness, I confront all the thoughts I’ve pushed aside throughout the day. Something I said three days ago, why haven’t I started that task that’s due tomorrow? Focusing solely on the moment feels impossible sometimes. But it does not need to be a long, drawn-out meditative task that we are led to believe (unless you want it to be).

That’s where I would always get hung up on the practice. I had to sit for five to ten minutes, focusing on the moment. An exercise such as that is useful, but untenable if you need a quick mindfulness check while sitting in traffic.

Think of mindfulness as putting temporary blinders on. When your doubts get so overwhelming, take a few seconds to breathe, and push out all thoughts of your past concerns and future worries out of your mind. Remove the distractions preventing you from taking the steps you know you want to make and realize only the current moment matters.

If you are starting something new, or feeling overwhelmed by your chronic illness, being mindful will help you gain the clarity that comes from being singularly focused. It allows you the chance to take life one step at a time so you can catch your breath and say, “I can do this.”

Mindfulness as a Coping Tool

Mindfulness is an ideal tool to combat self-doubt because you have to live in the moment. Most of our doubt stems from previous experiences informing current concerns, or future worries preventing us from taking a significant leap.

Sitting within the moment, rejects past baggage or future concerns. As soon as we bring up a previous failure, we are no longer in the current moment. Or when we focus on a potential roadblock in the future, we are out of the moment.

Mindfulness creates a blank slate for us to work and build on. We have no room for insecurities or restrictions at the moment. Logistics come after the mindfulness exercise is over. If you want to walk a 5k and MS makes walking challenging, mindfulness allows us the chance to say, “I can do it, despite my difficulties.” Then we work backward from that goal to figure out how we can achieve it.

The more I live within the moment, the less I can focus on what I can’t do. I am not a grasshopper in these moments; I still keep my eye on future concerns and work hard on my time-management. But when I am focused on the task of achieving something important to me and only concentrate on it, I don’t have time to think about my doubts.

When self-doubt comes creeping in, I tell the doubt that I don’t have the mental energy to entertain it. Often, that’s enough to stop it altogether.

Self-Doubt, Chronic Illness, and Mindfulness

The exercise of mindfulness is all well and good; you may be thinking to yourself. But what about my illness? Most of my doubt stems from my illness. My illness prevents me from that skydiving adventure I wanted to take since childhood. Or, I would love to start my own business, but I don’t have the energy to begin the planning process, let alone run a business.

There may be limitations your illness places on you, but have you taken the opportunity to find alternatives or workarounds? Or has your self-doubt gone only as far as stopping you from considering anything?

For myself, I allowed my MS and self-doubt stop me from even considering an alternative life path. I assumed I would wait for the inevitable, my MS getting so bad that I would be a burden on my family. I would never teach; I would never start a family; I wouldn’t make it past forty before my body broke down.

The moment I pushed my self-doubt aside when Ash and I decided to start a family, was the moment I started allowing myself to make alternative plans from the ones I had since childhood. My teaching evolved into this blog, and I am interested to hear what my GP has to say about my overall health. I know my neurologist is hugely impressed with my progress.

Your journey will not look like mine, but it may take you in a similar direction to the one you envisioned for yourself. You may decide to work towards that skydiving dream regardless of your illness. In the process of preparing for it, you may find a useful alternative that gives you the same freedom you were looking for in the first dream.

Or you may not officially start a brick-and-mortar business, but able to sustain freelance work in the field of your choice.

You need to take a moment, focus on where you are right now in life and illness, and decide what you are capable of doing right now , rather than what you may not be capable of doing down the road. The answer and result may surprise you. Hopefully, it will be like my answer: better than I expected.


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Coping with Negative Thoughts

Last month on the blog, I opened up about my negative internal narrative and its impact on my life since childhood. If you are managing a chronic illness, chances are you’ve been plagued with moments of self-doubt and negative thinking. Understand this: having negative thoughts is normal, so there is no shame to be associated with them. But they can be overwhelming and therefore necessary to find a way to cope with them.

Like Gary John Bishop says in Unf*ck Yourself, negative thinking doesn’t necessarily prevent you from taking action. Plenty of successful people are also self-destructive. But those of us negative thoughts impact, it can obstruct any personal progress to the point where we give up.

I slumped into periods of deep depression exacerbated by my negative thoughts. I am not always in control of these thoughts, but I had moments where I could see where I could alter my thinking and actively chose not to do it.

The dark thoughts fueled my resistance to change because I repeated the following excuse: I can’t work on making changes right now because I don’t feel good. When I feel better, I’ll make the necessary internal changes. Needless to say, it doesn’t work that way. If I wanted to feel better, I had to choose to feel better. The choice could include wellness changes or go to a therapist.

Please note: what follows is my experience and what worked for me. I am sharing my experience in case it provides help or comfort for you. Please do not expect the same results. You may find this does not work, it kinda works, or surpasses my results. Everyone is unique and in a different starting place.

Additional note: if you are dealing with depression, not everyone can halt negative thoughts. This post is not for those moments. If you are experiencing dark thoughts out of your control, please seek help. You are loved and wanted.

Soothing the Negativity

I found that when I personify my negative thoughts, I can cope with them. Often these thoughts sound and behave like a needy toddler, so I imagine that’s what they are. Toddlers are persistent, repetitive, demanding, loud, and sometimes won’t take “no” for an answer.

As are these thoughts.

When literally dealing with an out-of-control toddler, I find the most success when I speak in a calm and soothing voice. Reacting sharply, or in an emotionally charged tone, can exacerbate an already tense situation. When I take a moment to stop, figure out what is bothering Jai, and speak to him calmly, the episode ends a lot faster.

My “toddler” thoughts respond similarly. When I react to negative thoughts about myself, what I am doing, or memories in a harsh way; these thoughts fester and continue on for hours or days at a time.

But when I respond to these thoughts by taking a moment to figure out what is bothering me, speaking to myself calmly and lovingly, my own episode ends faster. It may still pop up throughout the day, but I continue to talk in kind words.

It’s funny. I am incapable of speaking kindly to myself when I don’t personify my thoughts as a toddler. I get in this mode of, “I am an adult, so why can’t my thoughts behave like an adult?” I look at the thoughts as though a toddler is living in my head, and suddenly, I am sensitive to my needs.

Having negative thoughts isn’t shameful. It’s healthy, so please do not feel like you have to drive them out of your head as soon as they pop in. Take a moment to validate them. Validation does not mean you agree with these thoughts, you are merely acknowledging their existence and what they are trying to say, no matter how badly they are saying it

You are giving your thoughts what they need: a moment to be heard.

Coping with Negative Thoughts

Try to figure out the “age” of your negative thoughts. While I am treating my thoughts like a toddler, the age of my thoughts is probably closer to twelve or thirteen. That’s when I can point to personal stunting of my emotional growth.

Pre-teens/teenagers often behave like toddlers, so it isn’t unreasonable to use a similar approach. I think it has everything to do with me raising a toddler, so I am already in a particular mindset.

Your thoughts may behave like a toddler, an older child, a teenager, or a young adult, depending on your age. Try to self-assess the behavior and tone of your thoughts to get an idea of the age, and then figure out how you would speak to someone within that age range.

Speaking to your negative voice like it’s a young child may not be as effective as talking to it like it’s an older teenager. It will take some time to get it right, but you’ll figure out what works best for you.

When you speak, try to do and keep the following in mind:

  • Validate the feelings. Validate the thoughts you are thinking about. Reflect them back: “I hear that you are upset about what you said earlier today.”
  • Speak as you wish an adult spoke to you at that particular age. You may not have a positive example in your life, so this will take some work. But imagine how you wished adults treated you at that stage. Rather than screaming and spanking you; you might have wanted, they sat down and talked you through the source of your outburst.
  • Provide an outlet for the feelings in a healthy way. Sometimes we still have to physical our thoughts to get them out of our head. Consider taking up an exercise or hobby that will allow you to channel that extra emotional energy bothering you.
  • Look for a way to manage similar thoughts in the future. Consider ways to address the thoughts you might have in the future, so you are prepared. You won’t be able to account for all possibilities, but you might know what might trigger a thought in the future.
  • Commit to loving this hurt inner voice, despite what it says. This is one of the more difficult steps. Committing to love this voice that works so hard to hurt you. It is asking for your love, but going about it in a very ineffective way. Listen to it as a desire to be loved, and you may find it helps soothe it more and more in the future

As stated above, taking these steps may not be as useful for you, but it might give you an idea of how to break your negative thought cycle and help cope with those negative internal thoughts.


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learning-to-trust-yourself

Learning to Trust Yourself

We’re always told that trust is earned. People must earn our trust if they are going to become friends or lovers, and trust must be regained if broken. Sometimes we lose trust in ourselves, and in our abilities. Or maybe we never learned to trust ourselves at all. I realized that the moment I stopped trusting myself was the moment I allowed self-doubt, insecurity, and anger take over my life. I had to learn how to trust myself again.

Lack of self-trust hinders our abilities to do essential tasks. Second-guessing, negative internal self-talk, and desire to avoid all interfere with our lives. When we don’t trust ourselves, it can stall our plans.

Self-Doubt Prohibits Trust

As children, we were taught to trust in our abilities by our guardians. I am doing this daily for Jai: when he encounters a particular obstacle that he does not believe he can overcome, I reassure and coach him through the steps to overcome it. Because I can see the bigger picture, I know what he can do without me and when I should step in. By granting him the opportunity to learn to trust himself in these moments, he’ll have a better awareness of his abilities.

Life slowly ebbs away the self-trust you built in childhood.

You take one too many blows to your ego; you deal with bullies at home, school, or work; you feel like you fail more often than you succeed. If you have a chronic illness, it might temporarily take physical or mental abilities, which is demoralizing. You reach a self-trust breaking point.

When this happens, we inhabit spaces of the doubt more often than areas of self-trust. It prevents us from taking the necessary steps to get better.

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Self-doubt-influenced-by-others

When Others Influence our Self-Doubt

I forgot about the pull of peer-influence as an adult. It’s still there, in my life like it’s always been, but I’ve learned to tune it out better or deceive myself into thinking that others aren’t influencing my actions. It wasn’t until Jai started mimicking other children that I remembered how significant the influence of others can be in our lives. Self-doubt comes within, but others can influence it as well.

Sometimes friends or family members repeat a concern out of love, but it isn’t delivered appropriately. Other times, people will behave with the intent to bring us down emotionally so they might lift themselves up.

If you experience internalized self-doubt and couple it with externalized behavior of others, it can become extremely discouraging.

When Self-Doubt is Influenced by Others

My external sources of self-doubt aren’t distinct. To be honest, I don’t even believe these sources know they are doing it. As it is for us: we don’t sometimes recognize when we’re bringing someone else down, possibly feeding into their negative internal narrative.

I’ve had people want to help in certain areas of my life only to lose interest when I take them up on it. It’s somewhat discouraging and leaves me feeling bad because I asked for help and inconvenienced them. This plays into my self-doubt because I hate being a burden on others.

I often stop myself from trying something new or different if it requires me asking others for help.

I know someone who has to be the smartest person in the room. It’s infuriating because it’s clear they are insecure about their own abilities. I am often left in awe by the scope of their knowledge on a particular subject that I have little interest in. But when they talk about it with such expertise and enthusiasm, I find myself invested.

When there is knowledge/interest overlap, and I am more knowledgeable on a subject, this individual nitpicks at the minor mistakes I make (often revolves around correcting my spelling in a hastily composed text). They will slide in with “corrections” if they think I got a factoid wrong, though often they are wrong in their corrections. I learned from previous encounters not to say anything because they won’t let it drop, regularly sending me a message many hours later pointing out how they are technically correct.

Coupled with my MS, I find this behavior extremely discouraging. My memory already is spotty, and so I’ve been humbled to no longer trust myself when it comes to information. To have someone pick away at my knowledge base so they might feel better about themselves makes me feel awful.

Choosing not to Listen

We have two choices when it comes to these external influences to our self-doubt: listen to them or not listen to them. I am going to advocate to not listen to them if they make you feel bad.

Sometimes others provide us with excellent objective insight that is worth considering, but we’re discussing the moments their input negatively exacerbates self-doubt.

When I feel bad about asking for help, I found alternative solutions to my situation. Many of these solutions propelled me forward in ways I hadn’t expected. Allowing myself to be tethered to asking for help was holding me back. When I removed the external source of self-doubt, I removed that instance of doubt in my life.

For the person who needs to be smarter than me: I still find it irritating to get caught in a conversation with them, but I no longer allow them to tear me down. Rather than revealing my knowledge on a subject (fortunately they don’t remember what I am knowledgeable about, so this is easy), I just play along with that they are presenting me with new information. I reflect the conversation back and work on being compassionate to their insecurity.

I won’t say it’s easy. I still have my moments where I complain to Ash about them and how irritated I feel about my treatment, but it’s getting more tolerable with each interaction.

If I don’t engage with their behavior, I have no reason to start doubting my memory or intelligence. I consciously make the decision not to give them the opportunity to make me feel bad about myself.

Letting Go of the Negativity

When others exert their influence on us, even unconsciously, it’s because they have their own negativity they have to work through. They may reach a point where they can do so, or they may never get there.

Unfortunately, it’s up to us to forgive them for their behavior towards us. Just like we must forgive ourselves for our mistakes, we must forgive them even when they don’t apologize. When we don’t forgive them, we allow the hurt and pain they cause to continue.

To be clear: forgiveness is not saying their behavior is “okay.” It’s no longer giving power to their action to continue to hurt us emotionally/mentally. When we allow others to feed into our self-doubt, we give them precious head and heart-space. Our time is better spent elsewhere, like taking care of ourselves in our chronic illness.

These people will continue to hurt us, and we will need to continue to forgive them. Hopefully, you will be able to get to a point to either excise them from your life or, it no longer bothers you.

Make the decision no longer let others influence your self-doubt. You don’t need to tell them that you are forgiving them, in fact, unless they ask, there’s no point in saying anything to them. Hopefully, you’ll find the interactions easier once you stop giving into the negativity.

With forgiveness, embrace compassion towards them if you can. These external influences are hurting in their own ways. Understand that their inability to help you or insecurity in their personal life impacts how they behave. It isn’t your fault they are like that, they have ineffective coping mechanisms.

It’s not your job to fix them, but your responsibility to protect yourself. Stay focused on keeping your mind healthy and out of the negative influence of others.


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The Internal Voice of Self-Doubt

In May, I discussed growing up with a negative internal voice and the long-term damage it caused in my adulthood. This voice shaped my inner monologue that I still listen to today, which impacted my ability to have meaningful relationships with others. Additionally, this voice is the source of my internal self-doubt.

I hear this voice the loudest when I am working on essential tasks that require self-motivation. If I am training for a run, it’s that voice that tells me I can’t make it up a hill without stopping. I try to combat it by setting mini-goals, “if I make it to that lamp post, I can walk.” If I focus too much on that mini-goal in the distance, the voice will sometimes win out by stating again (and again) that it’s too far away. I’ll stop to walk because I cannot cut through the discouragement.

I give into that voice more often than I would like.

You may not struggle with self-doubt as much as I do, which I hope remains the case for you throughout your life. But if you do, even for a little bit, I hope you’ll find some comfort and reassurance in these posts.

The Internal Voice of Doubt

For many, self-doubt comes from a childhood where the child grew up to believe they weren’t good enough. Children of narcissistic parents or parents with narcissistic tendencies often struggle with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. These parents made the child feel like they were never good enough, and when this happens, the child struggles to regulate their feelings of self-doubt.

My self-doubt voice grew the loudest in graduate school and immediately after my MS diagnosis. I ended up coupling chronic illness with my self-doubt to give myself more excuses as to why I couldn’t do something.

I can’t do this because of my fatigue. I can’t do that because of my MS memory issues. Why did I think I was capable of starting this project? I am never going to be good enough to get a job in this field, so why am I trying?

I gave into this voice so much that it stalled all progress in the program and nearly prevented me from going out and achieving my professional goals. While MS may not have created my self-doubt, it helped exacerbate it.

Getting Stuck

Reading Gary John Bishop’s book, Unf*ck Yourself, was an eye-opener for me. Bishop’s point about staying in our comfort zones resonated with my moments of self-doubt: when we stay in our ruts, we don’t challenge ourselves. When we don’t challenge ourselves, we are listening to an internal voice that says we can’t (or won’t) succeed.

Our self-doubt hates change. It hates to be challenged. When we hear that voice yelling that we can’t make it up a hill during a run, it’s saying that our task is too hard even if it’s for our own good.

Self-doubt saves us from unfamiliarity.

Those in high-powered careers or in graduate schools may have heard the term “imposter syndrome.” You start to doubt your abilities or knowledge so much that you find it extremely difficult to move forward.

Or, if you don’t deal with imposter syndrome, then perhaps you struggle to take positive feedback from others. Each time you receive a compliment, you deflect it or denigrate yourself because you don’t believe what is being said about you.

Whether it’s imposter syndrome or unable to take a compliment, both stem from being too afraid to see ourselves as worthy of anything. Self-doubt keeps us stuck and wanting to move forward because we believe we aren’t worth it.

Listening to the Wrong Voice

You know the phrase “squeaky wheel gets the oil,” right?

Unfortunately, our internal voice of self-doubt tends to be extremely loud, therefore sucks up most of our attention. Sometimes, it’s hard to ignore or brush that voice aside. If you are dealing with self-doubt that carries over from childhood like me, then it can be pretty painful to listen to and indulge that voice.

Yet, that voice is probably keeping you from making the changes you want to make in your life. Your chronic illness exacerbates this voice. Unfortunately, the solution is finding a way to either ignore or work around that voice so it becomes a muffle. The unfortunate part is that this won’t be an easy task to do.

Like running up that hill during my training, we’re about to embark on a challenge that will have you wanting to stop before reaching your goal. Over the next few weeks we’ll discuss some tools and examples of calming that voice of self-doubt.

Know that you are not alone in this journey. You are worth taking these steps, despite what that voice might tell you.


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Featured photo credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash