Cutting short the rotten

Updated: Jun 23, 2019, 23:39 IST | Karishma Kuenzang

One sour incident mustn't hamper your whole day. Experts tell you how to avoid carrying a 10-minute anxious episode through 24 hours

Cutting short the rotten
Rohan Joshi

There are times when even one minor episode at the workplace or at home can go to great lengths at upsetting your rhythm, mood and worse, push you into an anxiety-ridden spiral that takes over the rest of the day.

So, when Mumbai-based stand-up comedian Rohan Joshi recently posted the simple mantra that his therapist recommended — to not let 10 bad minutes turn into a bad day — it sounded logical enough. But, how do you plough through it? That's one query that would have filled the inbox of the comedian, who then uploaded a list of therapy centres for people asking for recommendations. "One of the things that kind of destroys me is how many people message me with their problems or how they are feeling. And for so many reasons, I can't help everyone. Nobody sitting this far away can, beyond a point. Remember that you are loved, valued and I'm sorry things are shit. There's one thing we can all do — if people just make a little promise to themselves of looking out for any one or two people in your immediate circle. Not even every day, but just in tiny ways. Then I think we all have a better shot at beating this," he wrote.

Rohan Joshi recently posted the simple mantra of not letting 10 bad minutes turn into a bad day
Rohan Joshi recently posted the simple mantra of not letting 10 bad minutes turn into a bad day

The spiral

According to city-based pyschologist Dr Amrita Joshi, the spiral is a result of cognitive distortion people indulge in when they get upset over a seemingly small thing. "We over-generalise, which creates errors in our thinking. We take one small incident and start overthinking; it's quite common. We end up making sweeping statements, as, in the midst of these negative events, we filter out or discount the positive," she explains.

Next, we start replaying the incident over and over again in our heads, judging ourselves and the other person. But it's crucial to know that you are internalising it, without it being conveyed to the person who may have upset you. "There's a Buddhist saying that defines anger as what happens when you choose to drink the poison and expect the other person to die. That's exactly what you do to yourself when you spiral," says psychologist Dr Aditya Tiwari. He goes on to share that every new cycle of replaying the incident makes the issue or damage look bigger than it is. Which is when you start jumping to the worst-case scenario playing in your head as the hypothetical negative possibilities become endless.

Dr Amrita Joshi, Dr Aditya Tiwari, Dr Prakriti Poddar and Dr Dinal Vora
Dr Amrita Joshi, Dr Aditya Tiwari, Dr Prakriti Poddar and Dr Dinal Vora

Recognition is key

The only way to stop this is to recognise that you are starting out on a negative spiral. Helping out with key words that should be a red flag, Dr Joshi says, "Watch out for words like 'always' and 'never' that are totalising in nature. That's when your thoughts are completely negative and you are bringing back everything upsetting from the past to your consciousness." Dr Prakriti Poddar, mental health expert, points out, "You may start eating faster, your palms may get sweaty, which are all signs of the fight, flight and freeze mode that the body goes into when faced with an impossible problem."

The goal is to move from a problem-centric chain of thoughts to a solution-centric one. Step one for that is to be mindful: Soak in your surroundings and start checking up on yourself. "Merely mentioning that you are upset is vague, and doesn't help you figure out why. Find out if you are anxious, angry or disappointed. Delve into the details and acknowledge it," says Dr Tiwari. And if you know you are upset or going through a difficult period, then check on yourself every hour.

What you can do

Try speaking to someone you trust for a different perspective and break the cycle. Don't get grumpy or angry towards that person. Naamri is a pranayama technique, which you can use to relax and centre your thoughts. "Breathe in and out deeply at least five times. If it's an argument, walk away and say you will deal with it later. This will also allow you time to structure what you want to say and what you want to achieve," suggests Dr Poddar. Getting back to your priority list and focusing on what's important in the present helps — whether it's work, a call or a meeting. Writing in a journal also helps you calm down after the first couple of lines, which essentially will be a rant.

This helps sort out your thoughts that in turn calm you down and gauge things better. Exercising, stepping out for a short walk, counting, watching something visually appealing or getting a whiff of your favourite perfume — all of these options help bring your thought process to a pause, which is required to stop the negative chain of thoughts. "Count back starting from 100 slowly; try the progressive relaxation technique of clenching and releasing the body, and take up meditation. Slowly adopt these stress-releasing techniques so that you are ready when an episode of stress occurs," says city-based psychologist Dr Dinal Vora.


Distract, don't avoid

While shopping, binge-eating or indulging in some habit-forming behaviours would cause distractions, these also encourage avoidance. And this urge to distract yourself can then result in its own spiral. Using a timer to control how long you watch content you consume on your phone or on the TV; sticking to one episode of a series is ideal. About 15 minutes is long enough to distract yourself. There are also productivity apps that you can download so that you can focus on what's important or set a timer in your phone itself. "You distract yourself to think differently, feel differently and minimise the emotional impact of the incident. You'll feel less angry and in despair, though it won't be completely gone. But at least you won't be feeling as bad as before," says Dr Amrita Joshi. Even if it's a panic attack, it wears off within 10 to 15 minutes, Dr Aditya Tiwari informs. And even then, the goal is to remember that your anxieties may not be true. Drinking water or grabbing a bite might help.

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