The Voice of Reason

“Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.” -Leonard Nimoy

For those of you living with a mood disorder, or if you are at all sensitive to stress and anxiety, you know that at times we lose our rational thought process.  I call this losing my voice of reason. Personally, a good analogy is the morning before I put on my glasses. Large objects are okay, but smaller things are blurry and I couldn’t see well enough to drive safely. My brain sort of feels this way when I lose my voice of reason-things take me longer to process and require more energy. Cognitive distortions are based on this very concept, that we as humans do not always see things as they are. To some degree, we all do this-it only becomes pathological when we do it more often than not and it interferes with our daily functioning. 

Part of what we work on in therapy is to try as hard as possible to keep and develop the voice of reason. There are many ways to do this, but we can also work outside of the therapy office to improve this for ourselves. Here are some things I keep in mind for myself when stress is starting to compound:
Keep a schedule. 
It’s amazing how fast we forget our usual routine when we don’t feel our best. These are the times when I convince myself that it’s okay to skip the gym because I have errands to run, but I’m always sorry later when I feel more stressed. Have a written schedule that you make when you feel good so you can refer to it when you’re not. I call it a “loose” schedule, because you want to leave yourself extra time for things that may take longer than planned.  For instance, if I only budget myself a fifteen minute block to complete two tasks (which is not enough time if I’m stressed) I run out of time which leads to MORE stress! The exact opposite of what I want. I usually take the time I think I’m going to need and double it just to be safe.
Keep your expectations low to reasonable.
I am the person who takes on too much, and often thinks, “how bad could it be?”  As I get older, I see that the answer to that question can sometimes be, “pretty awful.” When we start to lose the voice of reason that helps to “check” us, we can get in over our head, which again, leads to more stress. This is another one of those negative feedback loops that leads to the exact result we are trying to avoid, so it helps to head it off before it can get going. Setting small goals that we are relatively sure we can reach feels much better than falling short of a lofty idea that we can’t seem to tackle.
Develop a trusted support system. 
I know this has almost become cliche, but it’s truly important have people in your life that understand. They may be be professionals, they may be a support group, or a combination of family and friends or all of the above. Having those individuals in our life who get it, get us-and with whom we can be ourselves-is critical to keeping our voice of reason.
Check it out with others. 
Okay, so we don’t want to make it a habit of checking out each and every thing with others and be unable to make decisions without them. I get that. But, it’s okay to do this when we don’t feel well.  Sometimes we need a little help from a support person when we are worried we can’t trust our own voice. A skilled therapist is an obvious choice, but many others can help. As many of you know, what we think may be “intuition” might actually be our distorted, depressive or anxious voice talking! It’s easy to mistake one for the other, and we often feel we can’t trust our own judgment. So go ahead and bounce some things off of people that you trust when you need it, as long as they have your primary interest at heart-your emotional well-being.
Pretend it’s someone else. 
Since it’s sometimes easier for us to be rational (even when we’re feeling irrational ourselves) with a loved one, pretend the situation you’re trying to figure out belongs to them. What would you advise your spouse/mother/sister/friend in your situation? Sometimes that automatically brings our voice of reason back into focus. I use this technique often for myself when I can’t talk to someone else. Since I tend to be way more forgiving with others than I am with myself, so this really helps me to see whether I’m being fair to myself and to identify possible solutions. 
Think back on previous situations and identify alternatives.  
This one is tricky, I know, as we never want to look back at mistakes simply to make ourselves feel worse. However, there are times that we can benefit from looking back as long as we don’t ruminate, obsess, or allow our past to bring us down. As objectively as possible, think of a past situation and try to figure out what you would do differently and why. This may help you hear your voice of reason in the present more clearly. Something like, “I know that in the past, under stress, I don’t tend to make the best decisions, so I’m just going to put off buying a car right now until I feel better.” This one actually happened to me, by the way, and now I can say I am NOT the proud owner of a minivan (I’ll tell you that story later-it’s a good one.) But recognizing that I have that tendency helped me to avoid making another mistake in the present.

Name the irrational voice.
Name it so you have something to talk back to! I like to think of my irrational thought process as “Oz.” While it can be quite convincing, it’s simply not real. Naming the unhelpful thought process allows me some degree of separation, where I am free to just be irritated, but not swept away in cognitively distorted process that is no longer productive. 

Become a voice of reason for someone else.
Yes. Yes, you can. If you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet you’re one of the people who gets it, and paying it forward feels amazing. 
Whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not, or you love someone who does, I think all of these techniques are useful in day to day life for many of us. Coming up with our own list of tailor-made strategies to manage life’s stresses and surprises can go a long way in our emotional well-being and peace. Know yourself, and you can know how to be well. 

What keeps your voice of reason in focus?

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