Looking down the tracks and taking the long view

So, you’re on the platform, staring down the tracks, having missed that train (see last week’s blog http://headspaceguildford.co.uk/trains-traffic-and-emotional-regulation/) and feeling awful. Just at that moment it seems like the worst thing in the world.  Feeling overwhelmed and not quite sure how you’re going to manage, beyond holding back the tears or the impulse to punch something.

When this is happening our thinking brain isn’t really in control. It is hard to think when you are very emotional. Instead we’re in survival or coping mode. It takes a bit of brain strength to pull back from this. The first step is naming where you are right then. I don’t mean “I’m at Guildford station”, I mean naming what’s going on for you emotionally. “I’m feeling really angry that I missed the train and worried because I won’t get to work on time and I may get shouted at when I do finally get there”. This is really important. The act of naming how you are feeling allows us to switch on the thinking brain. (Thanks to amazing advances in brain scanning, we can actually tell that this is really what’s happening).

Once you’ve switched on the thinking brain, one thing you can do is to take the long view. This means getting some perspective on the problem. Right now, in this moment, missing the train might feel like the worst thing in the world. But is it? In 5 years’ time, how much will it matter that you missed this particular train? Or, in the grand scheme of things, is missing this train going to matter all that much. Now granted, if it was the train getting you to an interview for your dream job you might decide it does matter (and if this is the case them I’m going to advise you now, get an early train and give yourself time to spare!) but mostly it isn’t going to be as important as we think it is.

Sometimes the brain does something we call catastrophising. It’s when we do something like this

“I’ve missed the train….now I’m going to be late for [school/the meeting]…everyone is going to think I’m such an idiot for this…people are going to shut me out…how am I ever going to recover from this?…it’s social death and it means I won’t do as well as I wanted to…and…and…and…”

If this is the case then you can again recruit that brain strength again. You don’t know what’s going to happen because no one can predict the future and we especially can’t predict how others will think because we can’t see inside their heads. So, deal with what you can deal with.

“I’ve missed the train. I’m going to be late. I need to call ahead and let them know.” And don’t entertain the rest of the thoughts. Breathe (sorry if I’m getting boring for the number of times I suggest this, but it’s genuinely a good idea because it helps the thinking brain take back control from the emergency brain).  Distract yourself with a game on your phone, read a book, call your mum, count the number of passengers in grey raincoats or do anagrams with the station adverts. Take the long view. This train, in the grand scheme of things, is just one train, on one day. You’re more than that. You can cope with this.

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