This has been a unique and challenging time for our patients, our community, and the world. But along with challenge comes the opportunity for growth. Over the next several weeks we will be periodically posting ideas for maintaining or improving mental health during this time of social distancing and increased anxiety. Covid-19 has presented us with several unique challenges all at once. These range from fear of ourselves or loved ones contracting the illness, to job insecurity, relationship stress and many others. One helpful technique that you can try today is thought labeling.
Thought labeling has been used for thousands of years for meditation practice but can be used for more mindful daily living as well. The problem with anxiety is that it is your minds way of telling you that something needs to change or be done. That’s not always a problem, especially if it is a problem that you can take some time and work it through to a solution. The issue arises when now is not the time to solve this problem. So, when an anxious thought comes into your mind ask yourself is this a problem I can solve? If yes, then ask, is now the time to solve this? If yes, then do so. Pull up a chair and a notepad, write it all down and work out some possible solutions. If the answer is no to either of the previous questions, then it’s time to let it go.
Our brains are funny things. They like everything to make sense and each idea or mental object to have its proper place in the filing cabinet of our mind’s storeroom. Anxiety is worse when a problem or idea doesn’t have a neat place designated in that storeroom, but we can create a mental box to place it in. This is where thought labeling really works and here is what you do. When you notice a thought that is anxiety producing and you have answered no to the questions “can I solve this” or “is now the time to solve this”, you label that thought with a word. Any word will do. This is your box. I like the labels of “Past” for thoughts that come from the past or “Future” for anxieties about the future. You can also use “Useful”, “Not Useful”, or “Fear”, “Judgment”, but really anything can work.
Once the thought has been labeled you will find that it’s much easier to move past it and get on with things that you find more helpful, fulfilling, or meaningful. This is a practice and you are strengthening your mindfulness muscles. The thoughts may return but when they do be kind to yourself; just label them again and put them back on the mental shelf. Try this first with low or medium intensity anxieties and then move on to the more difficult ones. Doing this each day will bring you one step closer to a more peaceful and “in the moment” existence where you can give your full attention to what matters most.
Be kind to each other and remember, be kind to yourself.
Landon Moyers, DNP