Who’s to say what the truth really is? If my story is different from your story, and we each have our own perspective, than where is the “truth?” Further, where is the truth amoungst our feelings? As life presents its various problems and situations to us, how can we find our truth-whether it’s a decision to make, how we feel, or a perspective?
Anxiety and depression can cause a case of the hamster wheel thoughts. If you live with one of these disorders, you know what I’m talking about- the “if this, than that”, or “but if it’s that, than this” and on and on it goes. At times, it seems as if we can conjure an argument to any opposing side of any situation based on how we feel at the moment. Mental paralysis sets in, and decisions are not made and feelings are not sorted out, and we are left exhausted with our wheels spinning. Moreover, our feelings can be left jumbled in a mess that is daunting to unravel, much less identify. How can we break the cycle?
Here are my tips to getting off the wheel:
1. Recognize that not doing is also an option.
Don’t feel pressured by anxiety or depression, or overwhelming thoughts of any kind. You can always not act. Much like walking away from the car salesperson-uncomfortable, yes, but you are not obligated to buy a car. If you are overwhelmed or unsure, there is nothing wrong with waiting. I remind myself that I can always act or speak later if I choose. Choosing to not act is not the same as allowing the hamster wheel to run wild; it is actually choosing to observe instead of engage.
2. Try to separate the feelings from the decision.
These situations remind me of quadratic equations in algebra: there are more than one variable to sort out. If you can remove your feelings from the equation, you can be left with a simpler set of facts. I typically use the “friend” strategy; if I were hearing this situation from a friend, what would I advise? Sometimes a perspective shift is needed in order to get our emotions out of things temporarily.
3. Remember that sometimes, there is no ideal solution.
This one is hard for me. I like to solve problems, and I want there to be a clear answer. Of course, life usually presents us with the opposite: a complex issue with multiple factors and multiple tracjectories. Sometimes it comes down to figuring out what holds closest to our values and ideals, and how we can look ourselves in the mirror each morning. And for others, we have to accept that there is no “best” way to act. Regardless, reminding ourselves that there is literally no good answer is helpful.
4. Zoom out.
This strategy also helps me gain perspective. Ask yourself questions: how will I feel about this in six months? Five years? What narrative will I tell myself and others about this situation? Is it possible this matters less in the future than it does right now? In the big picture, how does this affect me/my family/my career? What is the most important thing to me right now? What am I most worried about? What can I let go of, even if it hurts my pride or goes against how I would normally behave?
We want to get off the hamster wheel not to minimize our situation or our feelings, but to help us gain an understanding of the true effects of our choices down the road. Once we can accept and acknowledge that the issue on our doorstep isn’t necessarily what requires our attention, we can decide where to focus our efforts. Good things and bad things are going to happen no matter what, but how we think while we wait for them is up to us. How we engage in our thoughts determines how we feel. If we attend to the untrue things, we miss our own voice in the process.
My teacher, rest her soul, was wrong. We all hold our truth. The truth is really within us, all the time. We need only to pull away from the noise to hear it.