You know that feeling you get when you hear the OnDemand menu or DVD intro on loop?
But you can’t find the remote to change it?
So you just have to keep hearing it like some prisoner-of-war camp torture method?
That’s kinda how anxiety-inducing thoughts are for me. Same annoying thing running circles in my head. And just like the jailers with the war prisoners, it’s usually doing that because there’s some truth that thought’s hiding. Some solution. But I’m just not at the stage where I’m willing to give up the intel. It’s like I don’t even know how. Sound familiar? If that’s you, then this may sound familiar too: time after time – in order to handle these thoughts – I have to get up off my ass, find the metaphorical mind remote, and change channels from that loop I’m stuck on. If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but that’s harder done than said,” you’re absolutely right. But, like, what isn’t? And even if it is, is that cerebral Sisyphus game any easier? So, here’s a new remote with a few more options. They might seem unlikely, but they’re tried and true and even if they fail you, they’re still a win. ’cause that’s ten extra things you’ve spent focusing on that aren’t your current mental compulsion. Shall we?
1. Make some music.
Yes, even if you suck at it. Like me. Which I’ll plop here:
Sometimes, I’ll sit down and just plunk out a bad karaoke background sounding version of a song I can’t get outta my head on the keyboard. (The awkward one I’ve done above’s called “Different Stars”.) Sometimes I’ll sing along half-assedly to it, too. And, you know what? Since I’m not getting ready to grace the stage of Madison Square Garden, my mediocre melody-making is a pretty fan-fckking-tastic channel changer for whatever outlook I was just enduring. Don’t have a keyboard? Just sing along (or rap; let’s include everyone, now) to something that either matches your mood – or the mood you wanna be in.
2. Trade in thinking about your problems for hearing someone else’s.
I appreciate how this “forget your issues by hearing how much worse others’ are” advice sounds like.
Something in the vein of what your mom would say when you were little and complaining about how suicidally miserable you were that your bitchy friends didn’t invite you to their sleepover: “You think you have it bad? You should go see the kids in the cancer ward!” She wasn’t wrong, but your gut reaction was always: “Why? Did my alleged friends screw them over too? So we can talk shit about them together?” And while I myself wrote that line just now in Lumpy Space Princess voice, I can still empathize with my naïve inner child. Because, in theory, taking a voluntary holiday over to someone else’s misery island seemed like a poor way to make mine feel any better to return to. It didn’t seem like a feasible solution. But, now that I’m 300 years old, I’ve had a chance to learn what mom meant back then. It’s not just that it makes you grateful you’re not a few months away from a toe tag. I mean, it does that. But it also helps you connect with other people (because they have problems, just like you – which helps with any solipsistic sentiments you’ve been having). What’s more, it helps you sponge up new information. And any new information you get changes your brain. The key is to actively listen. Ask open ended questions. Even if you don’t care. Once you ask one question, you’ll get an answer which might actually be fascinating. And that means your follow up inquiries might actually be genuine. Which is great ’cause curiosity is a 100% foolproof for aiding in dome redirection.
3. Sketch a picture (yes, again, even if you suck at it).
When I sit down to a notepad, I think the same thought I have when I wake up every morning after having a badass yesterday: “What if I can’t do it this time?” And the ridiculous thing about that is that I always survive every day and drawing sesh unscathed and fairly successfully (respectively, if nothing else). The only time I fail at creating a piece of art is when I don’t try. Conquering the self-judgey fear is a great practice in self-validation. Which means you can use it elsewhere. Much like all the bicep curls I do are suddenly making carrying in (a pyramid block’s worth of) groceries easier, the same applies here. Working that self-worth muscle in your brain makes it easier to use on other things. Like solving the real issue behind that stack of tissues and you laying in fetal position.
4. Shoot out a stream of consciousness.
This one’s a twofer because it’s both creative and it looks at the issue itself onion-peel style. What you do is sit down with a pen and paper (or at a laptop, if you can have the self-control not to tab over to porn instead) and write down literally everything that comes first to your mind from one moment to the next. No pre-screening. No censoring. No pausing. Just ejaculate your brain through that pen until you hit at something real. Eventually, a thread on your anxiety sweater will present itself. Your job’s to keep scribbling till you unravel that awful garb. Generally, you’ll realize that denial sweater was so thick because there’s a hideous naked fatty called “The Truth” who’s been hiding under it all along. (My 700 lb Lie?) Your final job’s to put that bish on a better diet. And while this metaphor’s starting to unravel worse than the sweater, what I mean by healthy truth-diet is to develop a better relache with reality. Stop feeding it lies and it won’t need the self deceptive duds anymore.
5. Read (anything) out loud. Dramatically.
This one’s fun if you’re convinced you missed your calling as a famous starlet.
Or if you’re Christopher Walken.
Ever a show off, I remember loving to read out loud in class as a kid. But, somewhere along the way, I forgot how much fun that was. Then, the first time I read “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (a couple years ago) I remembered. Immediately, I launched into Audrey voice. But then I didn’t stop. From Capote’s narrator himself to the dude Holly married and abandoned, no one was safe from my poor impersonations and god-awful accents. The nice thing about it is that you’re three-fold exiting your present fettered brain state: First because you’re reading something someone else created (and thus not focused on the same thoughts you have been). Secondly, because you’re doing it actively (by reading out loud at all). And, third, because you’re acting as if you’re another character (or five). Yes, enthusiastically reading a story out loud is probably one of the most fun things you can do alone without taking your clothes off. (But it’s better if you do.)
6. Brainwash yourself.
Why, indeed, that is a euphemism for meditation.
It sounds kinda cultish to say you’re “brainwashing” (except that you’re the one doing it, so not really). And I suppose it also sounds kinda hippie dippy to say “rest in awareness”, but that’s really all it is. You sit upright, close your eyes, and watch your thoughts pass by. The trick is to not indulge any of them (by getting upset or happy) or try to change any of them (like some people mistakenly think when they define meditation as “thinking of nothing” and then hate themselves for failing to unthink their thoughts). Just become aware of all this problem fodder. Why with the eyes closed? No distractions to latch onto said thoughts. Just you looking at your bills, femmemotions, and terminally ill Volvo and saying “Okay” to each. No planning. No fixing. Just acknowledging that they’re there. It may sound pointless and time waste-y and like it’d fail to fix anything but, I promise it’s not. In fact, it’s actually like going to a serenity gym. ‘cause, basically, you’re hardcore training yourself how to shit-give less (or less anxiously, at least) when life doesn’t match up to your expectache list. And when you jettison that nervousness, then two things happen: 1.) You look for solutions quicker (‘cause it’s not bothering you enough that your head starts seeking out ways to avoid fixing it). 2.) You get less stressed as a result.
7. Help someone. Who isn’t you.
Much like listening to someone else’s problems, helping someone else out is a lesson in connection. But it’s also kinda validating if you’ve been stuck in your own head about a given issue. Sometimes just hearing “Thank you” from someone can remind you that you have not only value but a sort of power. The feel-good side that comes with that entrée also helps tweak your situational outlook. Like the rhetorical auto-inquiry of “If I have the capacity to change someone else’s problems, why should mine be so tough?”
8. Do something random and new.
There are few better ways to change your mindset than by doing something you’ve never done before. I won’t go too far into this, since I already did copious pieces on my own personal experience with it recently. (Check my #30daysofnewthings articles.) But, I will say that if you’re feeling a constant general malaise of the psychological flavor, then try this: every day for at least 30 days, do something you’ve never done before. Even if it’s just taking a new route home. It’ll change not only your mind – but life too.
9. Take a ten minute walk, workout, or stretch sesh.
People who know me understand that I have to workout no less than two times a day if I want to avoid morphing into a fanged Great Redwood sized reptile and eating everyone in sight. That’s because it both oxygenates my brain and body and gets me involved in a different state of being than that one I’m in right when jog withdrawal starts to set in. (Which I can only describe as the jagged jawed emoji’s face planted on the one of dog shit.) Also, we tend to carry stress in specif parts of our body without even realizing it. Take a few to work out the myo-kinks and you’ll return to taskmastering with renewed vigor. Late at night when my body’s spent but my brain’s still going? I stretch, do yoga, or break out the foam roller and let it do the work for me.
10. Change your environment.
Hey, what do you get when you mix young Franco and Einstein?
And who am I to argue with Franco or Einstein?
That’s right. Before James, this brain hack was practiced by Albert himself. Just because he was a genius doesn’t mean everything came easily to him. Homie was obsessed with his work. And (as with any obsession) that came with some level of anxiety for him when a problem’s solution didn’t present itself so easily. So what do geniuses do when they’re stuck? Well, when trying to fall asleep with a ball in his outstretched hand didn’t work, Al would pop on his kicks and head out the door for a nice stroll in less static surroundings. In a way, it’s the same thing I’m doing right now – working at Wegman’s because I couldn’t focus at home. Which, in a way, means I’m part genius. (Clearly my next piece needs to be an ego remote.)
So, there you go.
Ten new channels for your brain that aren’t the one you’re hating. Now, press one.
(Still not getting how just ordering up a hooker isn’t the better answer? Click here for the reason to click.)