How I (try to) cope with life

In this post, I want to cover a very important topic — the body and the mind and my way to get along with them. It would be logical to write a post about the advantage of working with a psychotherapist, as it’s being increasingly discussed. Yet it is unaffordable for many people, including me until recently, so I can’t give detailed feedback. I also know that many people don’t have such opportunity, but still crave to feel better. I claim that positive changes without therapy are easier than we tend to think.

You have to understand that this is mostly my personal experience, as I believe these ideas helped me recognize and overcome problems with self-esteem, excessive worry, looping on the same thought, overworking, lack of motivation and related ones. This post is mostly an inspiration for action and not a helping hand, especially if you have serious problems. So, here is my story.

For a long time, I simply felt very bad — the body seemed to be broken, thoughts blurred. It was like everything went wrong and I couldn’t fix it. I woke up as if after a heavy hangover and fell asleep surrounded by obsessive thoughts. The first feeling after talking to someone was: “They sure think I’m an idiot”, I could even remember that situation a few years later and feel ashamed. I constantly found reasons not to do something very important like applying to my dream job or to an interesting conference — it seemed to me that they wouldn’t accept me anyway. I could cry if I couldn’t solve the problem in undergraduate math or because of the abstract feeling of “bad”. I won’t say that everything has gone now, but my perception has changed a lot and I found some ways to feel better.

The major step to self-acceptance was understanding that I am not a robot and I need to support my body and mind. My body ached because I slept poorly and didn’t exercise. My anxiety and obsessive thoughts arose from overload — I studied constantly and didn’t allow myself a whole day of rest on weekends. Poor day planning and the desire to advance in everything made me think that everything went wrong. At the same time, I didn’t even realize many of these problems. Indeed, I neglected my body and it kept me from concentrating on my mind, and when I started to follow some well-known advice on health, everything got better.

I made several attempts to add good habits into my life. At first, it felt like “starting a new life on Monday”, but as expected, such an approach was a failure. Introducing new habits gradually is better than impulsively, as it is difficult to maintain a new lifestyle, and you can again fall into the previous pattern. How many times I told myself that I’d wake up at 9 am the next day to go swimming and failed this quest (and scolded myself for being worthless and unable to arrange my life). In general, abrupt changes don’t work.

What helped me was to deal with different areas of life gradually. To be precise, I recognized sleep problems as the most important — due to poor sleep I lost several hours in the morning and felt very broken. Next, I accepted my state as an inevitable reality and began to try to change it. At first, I stopped blaming and berating myself for spending two hours in bed after waking up and getting up at 11 am. This already improved my mood and motivated me. Later I gradually began to get up a little earlier, making important appointments in the morning, asking friends to wake me up or promising myself a delicious almond croissant for the breakfast. Such commitments certainly worked, maybe not as efficiently as I wished. Still, in about a few months, I managed to adjust my sleep pattern to an acceptable one, and it becomes better and better. I applied the same principles to eating habits, sports, reading and even leisure (as I forgot to do nothing sometimes). I can still violate my rules and make a few steps back, but I understand that in some time I can fix everything back.

Another important idea was that if I can’t cope with everything, then I should learn to worry less. Meditation helped a lot. I don’t know that many details about it, but even an app like Headspace helps to get the basic ideas. Now, when I feel overburdened I just sit down, set up a timer for 10 minutes, close my eyes and try to watch my thoughts and let them go. It is hard but rewarding — important thoughts remain, obsessive ones leave. Suddenly, this skill helps me solve long-standing problems — for example, I always start to panic if I can’t solve something really hard in limited time. The fear further complicates the task, I can’t cope with it and I blame myself for my stupidity again. Now, when such a situation arises, I try to break the vicious cycle — stop and meditate, anywhere I am — and it helps. It’s funny that my mom told me to close my eyes and try to count up to 100 if something infuriates me, I skipped this advice and now almost reinvented it.

At the same time, I wanted a more analytical way to process thoughts. Keeping a personal diary turned out to be very effective. I started everyday recording everything that worries me, and after a couple of weeks, I looked through the notes to see the big picture. So I noticed that my anxiety is almost always the result of overwork, that I often want to get a result that is impossible with my limitations, and that nothing will happen if I don’t constantly worry about other people’s opinions about me. In general, I can say that keeping a diary is the best way to escape from uncomfortable thoughts without drowning in them and, at the same time, without losing them. It also helps to track personal progress — this post is mostly analysis of diary entries. Now I keep a diary from time to time, recording there either important personal insights or what worries me now.

Finally, I want to say, we shouldn’t be afraid to admit to ourselves that something feels wrong. It is necessary to find the roots of this state, and not let it go on or reproach ourselves. Yes, it’s hard to understand oneself, but this path opens up many others. For me, it only begins, and I don’t know what’s next. A true way to change is certainly harder than following this post. Yet, such actions are very simple, clear and rewarding.

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