We, like Pavlov’s dogs, act on a trigger-response basis, especially when we’re anxious or depressed. When the rational part of our brain is on hiatus, there’s not much left apart from slobbering hounds. Charming.
Get to know your patterns so you can anticipate your responses. When you know, and can predict, your reactions you can put in place mechanisms to remain a vaguely functional member of society even on Black Dog days.(disclaimer: you’re totally allowed to spend all day in a bath full of baked beans if that’s what you need to do).
But let’s not be all doom and gloom – Pavlov’s dogs were expecting good things, after all. So, make it a saliva situation! Try to break your negative patterns, using a positive reinforcement technique like Pavlov. Unlike the mad scientist though, don’t forget to actually follow through with the proposed treat because a) you’re not actually a dog and b) it’s just plain mean.
Allow yourself some time (10 minutes maybe) to sit down and concoct a plan of realistic situation-response-solutions. Make sure they correspond in a meaningful and constructive way, if you can. For example, if you have to give a presentation at school/uni/work and you know it will be a major stress-trigger, plan a lunch-date on the same day with someone you know will make you laugh, or help ground you. Don’t go out and buy yourself a £200 kitchen gadget for the same reason, though. If you have your eye on some big investment piece, make it a future goal to celebrate something huge, like passing your driving test or, you know, making it to the end of your month’s notice period without telling your boss to stick their [insert object] up their [insert body part].
Here’s an example of a situation-response-solution plan:
Situation: Phone call (I’m choosing this because it’s one of my triggers and it is a common thing which people with anxiety find hard)
Response: Avoidance, Physical symptoms (Phone calls always manage to fall to the bottom of my list because I worry about the nausea, sweating, shaking etc. that comes hand in hand with making them)
Solution: The anticipation is ALWAYS the worst part, so just do it. When you have, take a moment to genuinely appreciate what you’ve achieved. It was maybe bum-clenchingly awkward, but you did it. Get yourself a hot chocolate and a biscuit and bask in your glorious radiance. Try writing a weekly list of small wins – they add up! When you make it physical, you can see and go back to what you have already overcome. If you want, make a sticker chart – why the hell not??
Other tips for the dreaded phone call:
- Write a little script so you don’t have to worry about going blank
- Have paper with you and make notes as you go – or doodle to help you relax
- Tell the person on the other end of the phone that you find this difficult – if it’s a doctors’ surgery or something like that they should be supportive and helpful.
- Don’t be rushed – some receptionists can be very busy, but your call is just as important as everyone else’s!
- Call first thing in the morning so you don’t have to stress throughout the day.
- Be polite – if you are pleasant to speak to, the person you’re talking to will be more willing to go the extra mile for you.
- Be direct – they don’t need to know your whole life story, though.
- Share your achievement with a loved one. Having someone reaffirm that you’ve done well is a great feeling and makes the next time easier.
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the bum-clenchingly awkward social experiences slightly less bum-clenchingly awkward! Go forth and unclench your bum!