My Yoga Journal: Catastrophising – (Just eat the cheese!)

The first time I heard this term I was sitting in my GP’s office having my anti-anxiety medication script re-filled. Cool as a cucumber, she looked at me and said “Anita, have you been catastrophising again?”  It’s a great word – applicable to myriad scenarios.

I decided to write about “catastrophising” a week or so ago and since then it has manifested itself in many conversations.

Let me start with a definition:

“When a person experiences an unhelpful emotion (e.g. depression and anxiety), it is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self-statements and thoughts. Often there is a pattern to such thoughts and we call these “unhelpful thinking styles”.  One of the things we have noticed is that people use unhelpful thinking styles as an automatic habit.  It is something that happens outside of our awareness.  However, when a person consistently and constantly uses some of these styles of thinking, they can often cause themselves a great deal of emotional distress.”[1]

Some of the great catastrophisers of our time include Chicken “The Sky is Falling” Little and the child in Kindergarten Cop who suggests Arnold Schwarzenegger’s headache is most likely a brain tumor.  This may seem amusing, but this poor kid probably had a mother like me – I’ll explain later.

It’s a funny old world we live in, which facilitates, encourages and endorses a catastrophic way of thinking.  Just watch the news.  My 3yo once asked me why I watch the news; my 6yo answered – “it’s because you need to find out all the bad things that have happened in the world”.  My 6yo is a Master Catastrophiser (hence his nickname:  “Worst-Case-Scenario-Mario” or “The Master of Disaster”), but I think he is bang-on in this observation.

For a watered down (but doubly toxic) version of “monsters under the bed” reporting, catch a glimpse of  “A Current Affair” or “Today Tonight”! Helping you keep one step ahead of all of those trades-people and supermarkets that make it their life’s work to rip you off. Oh, puh-lease.

My husband comes home from work exhausted and beaten; dying a death of a thousand cuts – paper-cuts that is!  The industry in which he works is living proof of The Chaos Theorem. Instead of a butterfly flapping its wings in Santiago – if a man falls off a ladder in Broadmeadows, the rest of the building industry drowns in red tape and paperwork now – and ad infinitum.

When – exactly – did we stop taking responsibility for our own actions?

If I trip over raised concrete in the street – making me look and feel like a bit of a dill – should the council / the layer of the concrete / the tree’s roots that lifted the concrete / the planter of the tree / the creator of all things pay [me] for that?

Whilst catastrophising ensures I feel that EVERYTHING is my responsibility, I live in a litigious society which promotes the fact that it’s all someone else’s fault!

I choose to laugh at myself tripping over the tree root, bung a Band-Aid on my face and learn to watch where I’m walking. Accidents happen. Move on – more carefully. You can take this on good authority as a woman with a ripping scar and nine screws permanently in her left hand after a martini-induced dance-floor mishap. With friends…at home.

I previously worked in a sales role in which I lived and died by the monthly numbers.

Here, the world ended (for some people, quite literally) on the last day of the month. It began again on Day 1 of the following. It was constantly and oppressively stressful. It was an environment in which it was very hard to achieve just the sales targets, let alone navigate the vicious office politics.

A previous boss of mine, whom I hold in very high regard as a coach and mentor and who remains a good friend, offered me advice once on how to survive the environment. He told me to always prepare for – and expect – the worst, so whatever happens will always be better than what you imagined.

This person also unconsciously chews the hair off his arms under stress, suffered a minor stroke and has on-going heart concerns – so whilst I appreciate the sentiment, hindsight suggests I take these pearls of wisdom with a couple of handfuls of salt. He, on the other hand, should probably lay off it.

We are both out of that game now. Relaxed, happy and successful – able to enjoy a laugh about “those days” together with our families – over a few “too many” vinos!

Catastrophising is not purely a corporate phenomenon.  In fact, it was not until I became a mother that I truly unearthed my innate talent to catastrophise.

Becoming a mother raises the stakes immediately.  It begins in pregnancy.

The books. Oh! The books. I stopped reading the books.

I was convinced early in the gestational period that eating a single piece of soft cheese was going to result in my having a child with severe disabilities; one who would surely require round-the-clock specialist care; most probably within an institution – with a team of Swedish neurological experts (who would “tsk-tsk” (in Swedish) in my general direction, whispering to one another “this would never have happened if she hadn’t eaten the cheese”).

From this point, having children – I have heard described beautifully – is “like having your heart walking around outside your body”.

From a place of intense love and a primal instinct to protect, also comes a tsunami of catastrophising thoughts. You think your headache is an undiagnosed brain tumor (refer Arnie, earlier). You hear a cough from your child’s bedroom in the middle of the night and curse your GP for not picking up the resurgence of Bubonic Plague.

Why am I saying all this?

I think the more we pretend that everything is okay the more we damage one another.

Chicken Little may have been deemed a crackpot after the acorn incident, but at least the chick voiced its fears aloud!

By talking about our fears and anxieties THEY – not us – will break down. Sometimes giving your voice to the crazies – the monkeys – in your head can make them seem small and silly. Meditation gives me a small moment to look at them, sit with them, smile at them and put them aside.

Leaving them left un-checked inside can wreak havoc on you mentally, spiritually and physically. Believe me, I know.

Until we meet again,

Om & Out.

AQAxxx

This article has been contributed by Cool, Calm & Collected’s student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.

[1] http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au

[2] Walt Disney image – ‘Chicken Little’


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My Yoga Journal: The Y&M Effect

I’ve been feeling like a complete fraud lately. Until last Tuesday I hadn’t practised yoga or meditation for six weeks – in which time I also joined two committees.

Fortunately, unlike medication, meditation doesn’t wear off – so I was able to keep the monkeys at bay and a relatively still mind for the weeks that Annemaree was traipsing through India.

In fact, I had a bit of an epiphany about The Y&M Effect. I thought – and had been feeling – that I was supposed to be feeling calm – all the time. In actual fact, it is about being mindful; being present; being aware; feeling fully and letting each thing pass – as it always inevitably does. The trick is to notice how you feel, feel it fully, sit with it and examine it for a moment and then let it go. The thing NOT to do is feel it, feed it, succumb to it and take as many people as you can hostage on the way through (recall: Christmas / husband / headlock).

Being calm all of the time – whilst a refreshing change from being completely loco – would be a bit dull. Variety is the spice of life after all, and who wants to sail through it like a lobotomized chimp anyway?

Over the past months I have actually come to quite like myself. Being kind to myself, instead of being my own harshest critic and taskmaster, has brought me to appreciate my quirks and idiosyncrasies. Meditation has opened up a rather pleasant internal conversation – which results in my own happiness, contentment and gratitude by and large. No, I’m not hearing voices – it’s not THAT sort of internal conversation.

I know that I am warm, generous, funny and kind. I have a lot to offer and want to offer it  up in any way that might help my local community or others less fortunate. This seems to involve becoming a committee-tart – but as a home-based Mum I have the time to give and so I give gladly.

Liking yourself is quite handy when you embark on spending extended periods of time alone with yourself in a dark room, with your eyes closed under a blanket. As far as I am aware, meditation never made anyone go blind either.

As an Aussie, liking yourself, ( or daring to admit  it), is just not the done thing. Our mob subscribe to more of a “tough-love” approach, believing that life is bound to disappoint you anyway, so best we let you know you’re not ‘much chop’ before you hear it from strangers. But to be a part of our mob you must be smart and by God you’ve GOT to be funny.

Our mantra could be this saying I came across recently “If you find yourself losing an argument, start correcting their grammar”.  Aussies are sometimes the product of long lines of intelligent, slightly depressed individuals with superiority complexes and smart mouths (albeit, on the whole, hilarious).

It is exhausting trying to maintain the mask of being the funniest / wittiest / cleverest person in the room and, for me at least, all behaviours were a form of armor to keep people at bay, so I couldn’t get hurt. Oh, and ALWAYS with a drink in hand.

Through Yoga & Meditation I have softened – I have ALLOWED myself to soften through letting go of the armory.  I am easier on myself.  I am easier on myself because I have come to quite like myself.  Today I prefer to let my character develop and manifest through my actions, rather than just being the ‘cleverest Dick’ at a dinner party.

I am finding it much more rewarding and fulfilling to simply learn and become educated without having to form an opinion which must be defended to the death.  Attaching to an opinion – for me – shuts down such a big part of my brain’s ability to take information in – like trying to “live in the moment” whilst thinking what your next facebook status update will be!

Until next we meet,

Om & out.

AQA xxx

This article has been contributed by student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.