Posted in CBT, compassion, mental health, Mindfulness, psychology, wellbeing, wellness

Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? The unhelpfulness of ‘I should’ and ‘I must’ expectations

As part of my compassion group learning over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking unhelpful and more helpful thinking styles. I’ve previously talked about the psychology of using the term ‘I can’t’ (click here to read this post) when we really mean we find something difficult. In today’s wellbeing post, I’m going to focus on the pressure we put on ourselves using terms such as ‘I should’ and ‘I must’.

At the beginning of the year, I went through a really difficult patch with my mental health. I was suffering from debilitating anxiety and everything was a constant struggle. I was having panic attacks and my mood was very low. I spent a lot of time worrying that I wasn’t going to get better and found it extremely difficult to motivate myself to do anything but cry. I’m pleased to report that I’m now feeling much better and life is good. However, my improved mood and elevated motivation levels did start to cause a few issues with my self talk and my thinking and it is this which today’s post focuses on.

As soon as I started to feel better, I totally went into what is known as ‘drive mode’ and felt like I needed to make up for lost time by doing it all and not stopping. I had finally found the joy in achieving things in my day and my head was full of ideas and thoughts. I was writing huge to do lists and spent my time flitting from activity to activity in a frenzied way from when I got up at 6.00am to when I went to bed at 10pm. My head was filled with talk such as ‘I need to…’, ‘I have to…’ ‘I should…’ and all of the other terms associated with the intense desire to be productive and get a buzz from it.

The therapists in our compassion group helped us to see, however, that constantly being in drive mode and making these unrealistic assumptions of how to live can be really unhelpful. Terms such as I need to, I must, I have to and I should, put undue pressure on ourselves to perform and create expectations of ourselves that are very difficult to keep up with.

The effects of using these rigid terms have been studied by a number of psychologists and was a key part of the work of Albert Ellis. He coined the term ‘musterbation’ which has certainly stuck in my mind since reading about it online! The following quote I found online sums up the effects nicely:

“Musterbation” is a term coined by famed psychologist Albert Ellis to describe the phenomenon whereby people live by a set of absolute and unrealistic demands that they place on themselves, others and the world. For most of us, these rules come out in a series of should statements that we repeat to ourselves over and over again. These “should” and “shouldn’t” statements leave us feeling bad about ourselves because they set up standards that we cannot realistically meet. They also leave us feeling frustrated and hurt by others when they inevitably fail to fulfill our expectations. Recognizing this habit to set rules for yourself, others and the world gives you the opportunity to relieve some of the stress these messages cause. When dealing with “should” statements, it is important to keep in mind that while it may be nice to reach your goals and be treated the way you want all the time, we are human and live in an imperfect world. Therefore, the pressure to be anything all the time is more likely to cause harm than good.

Rowan Center BLOG, 2015.

If you would like to read more of their interesting article click here.

I’m now much more aware of when I’m using these terms (I haven’t stopped using them and I’m very much conditioned to their use, I’m just more mindful of when I do) and I try to reframe my thinking to be more helpful. This is taking time, but I do think it’s a really important step in increasing my good mental health. I’ve also noticed that my husband is fond of saying ‘I’ve got to…’ ‘I need to…’ and the like and so we laugh about it and then help each other to create more compassionate thoughts and beliefs too. Here are some examples and how I’ve re-articulated things:

  • I need to get rid of all of the weeds in the garden this week >>>> it would be great if I found some time this week to do a little bit of weeding as it would make the garden look a little nicer
  • I must take new and improved photographs of my products today >>>> If the lighting is okay today, I might take a few new photos of a couple of my products and upload them to Etsy
  • I really should get all of that washing done whilst the weather is okay >>>> it would be good if I did some washing this week as the basket is getting pretty full. I might do a load tomorrow and hang it out in the sunshine

You’ll notice that I’ve been more gentle and kind with my expectations too as another way of putting less pressure on myself. This is a big part of being more self compassionate which is what our wonderful therapy group is all about.

I hope you’ve found this blog post interesting and helpful. Maybe it’s made you think about the expectations you set and how you might re-frame your thoughts. Perhaps over the next week, you might notice yourself using ‘I must…’, ‘I need to…’ and ‘I should…’ a lot and you might try to be more mindful of what you say or think. It would be great if you let me know in the comments, but remember, you don’t ‘need to’ or ‘have to’, you just might like to or want to!

Much love and kindness.

Posted in wellness

Writing as therapy

We all find ourselves struggling at times and in different ways – maybe you have a really difficult decision to make, or maybe you’re finding it hard to fit it all in and still make time for yourself. Or perhaps, you’re having issues with a colleague at work or a family member and it’s getting you down. Or maybe, the cold and miserable weather has made you completely demotivated and you struggle to even get out of your cosy, warm bed in the morning.

Whatever you’re finding hard at the moment, and most of us can identify at least one thing, a technique which you might find really useful is to have a go at writing it down. There are lots of different approaches that you can try depending on your particular needs, but the act of writing has been shown to be really beneficial for improving your mental health. And, of course, all you need is a pen and some paper or a notebook (and perhaps a quiet space to sit).

As you write, you may find solutions or alternative ways of thinking popping into your head and this is your inner wisdom helping you work through your problems or look at things from another perspective.

All you need is notepaper or a notebook and a pen.


Freewriting

Freewriting is a really simple technique where you just write whatever comes into your mind. Start with a blank piece of paper and just get out whatever is in your head. Try not to worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation, focusing instead on just keeping the writing flowing.

When you’ve finished your writing, try spending a few quiet minutes focusing on your breathing or thinking about how you currently feel.


Writing about your emotions

This is a good one to try if you’re feeling uncomfortable emotions such as upset, angry or frustrated. It can help you distance yourself from the emotion in order to rationalise your thoughts or empathise with yourself. Spend time journaling about how you are feeling and why. Don’t judge yourself in any way. Just record your thoughts and this will help you process them, rather than trying to avoid them by doing something else or, trying to switch them off.


Start a gratefulness diary

At the end of a busy day, just before you start to wind down and go to bed, spending a short time writing one or two things that you are grateful for can be a great mood booster. They can be simple things such as having an umbrella when it started to rain or a relaxing bath to soothe your aching muscles. Whatever made you happy or made your day that little bit easier write it down. You can choose the form in which you write, from a simple list to a random explosion of colour with little doodles for each one depending how creative you want to get!


Write a letter to yourself

This is one that I tried a while ago and I often come back to it and re-read what I wrote. First of all, you need to think about how you are feeling right now and what issues and difficulties are present in your life. Then, take a step back from your problems and write to yourself as someone who loves you unconditionally for who you are and shows kindness and compassion in their thoughts and understanding towards what you are going through. you don’t need to add in any solutions or advice but it might be helpful to offer support in the form of understanding and acceptance that things will improve.


Putting the day to rest

When you’ve got lots on your mind and are feeling really stressed, it can be difficult to quieten down your thoughts and relax at the end of your day. This can make sleep extremely difficult as you lie in bed analysing or worrying about what’s ahead. Putting the day to rest is a journaling activity which you can do for about 20 minutes each evening, not literally right before bed, but as a way of recording your thoughts and feelings so that you can switch off more easily. Here’s how it works:

  • Try to do this activity at the same time each evening – write it on your planner or set a reminder on your phone.
  • Use pen and paper rather than a laptop to avoid the glaring light of electronic devices.
  • Start by reflecting you your day – what are you general feelings about how it went?
  • Next, write down the main points of your day and identify what went well, what troubled you etc.
  • Write a to do list of anything which didn’t get done but is a priority.
  • Think forward to tomorrow – what is scheduled? How do you feel about it? etc.
  • Make a note of anything you are unsure about with regard to your day tomorrow and schedule some time to find out in the morning.
  • When you go to bed, if you start to think about things from your day or for tomorrow, remind yourself that you have already dealt these thoughts.
  • If new thoughts arise then you are already in bed, note them down on a piece of paper to be dealt with in the morning.


Ask yourself questions

As a keen bullet journalist, I use this technique regularly to help me to find ways to live my best life. I create a page with a question as a title and then list possible answers. Again, if you want to try this and like getting creative, you could add little doodles to your answers. Here’s some examples of interesting and thought provoking questions you might choose to ask:

  • How can I treat myself?
  • How can I get more organised?
  • What makes me happy?
  • What do I want to achieve this month?
  • How can I improve my relationship with …?


Brain dump

A brain dump is simply a page where you write words and short phrases to get down on paper all of those random thoughts that pop into your head throughout your day when you’re trying to focus on a particular task or activity. In this way, you can get back to the matter in hand and return to your random thought or piece of inspiration when it is no longer a distraction and you have time to further process it.


I hope you find these suggestions useful. Let me know if you try any of them or if you use any other useful therapeutic writing activities to help with the stresses and strains of life.

Thank you for reading.

Laura x