Elisa A. Escalante/ LMSW/ 11-25-2020
“We do not owe anyone the labor of our hands or minds. It is for sale or trade, not to be stolen by a vampire or zombie.” -EaE
There is only so much stress we can allow into our minds and bodies before we start to feel the erosion/ drain associated. Especially this year, I make it a point to educate and reinform the importance of moderating our dosages of toxicity. In many cases, we feel as though we have no choice but to be victims to the difficulty that our society has placed on us. To some extent, it is true. We only have so much control, often, we fall victim to being controlled and coerced. However, I will never stop empowering individuals to be the healthiest version of themselves that they can be. More importantly, to focus on ways in which they can protect their own mental wellbeing and shield out the damage done to them by powerful external forces. When I first introduce the concept of mind shielding, moderation and boundaries, it often get’s met with resistance. In many cases people ‘do not feel they have a choice’. They ‘must watch the news and be informed’, they ‘must deal with the toxic family member to keep the peace’, or they ‘must keep working nonstop to meet deadlines and goals’ despite what it costs them.
Mind shielding is a technique that will change your life for the better, however, it will initially get met with resistance and confusion and yes, we will be very uncomfortable when we initially start using the intervention. Why? Because change is uncomfortable, even when it is good for us. So just to reinforce, if we want to improve our lives, we must be willing to accept that parts of the mental health journey can/ will be uncomfortable. Habits, even when they are toxic, are extremely hard to pull away from. Humans often confuse habit with a ‘need’ in their life that cannot be compromised because of x,y,z. However, I want to reinforce how often our stubborn destructive habits have zero purpose but to keep us in a continuous cycle of stress, anxiety, depression, and anger.
What needs a lower dosage? (Note that in most cases we cannot shield ourselves from everything, some stress is necessary and even good for us. But we can often lower our dosages of toxicity!)
- Manipulative & Codependent friends/ family. Examples may include those that are often asking you for your money, time or feedback to a point you feel you have no time and/ or resources to focus on the things you want/ need for your own wellbeing. A good series of questions: Does this friend/ family member add or multiple to my life? Are they neutral? Or do they often take away or divide me? What dosage can I take from this person? I often deal with them 80% of my life and would like to lower the dosage to 45%…. “Now that I have lowered my dosage of this person they are ‘making’ me feel guilty”. This is normal, it will happen, and it is important to process this guilt and understand how it is directly playing into our compulsion to enable and save others. Do not give into the guilt, rather, understand where it is really coming from. Realistically, the saving of one person should not disinhibit the livelihood of another. Helpful reframes include “This persons issue was not started by me, therefore it is not my job to solve it in it’s entirety”, “Working on my own mental and physical well being is already a full time job, I cannot do it for someone else too” and “If I am working harder than this person is at their issue’s, there is something wrong with this picture”.
- Excessive work, especially more than what we get paid for. Because working 40+ hours a week is such a norm, many believe that it is not harmful to our mental and physical wellbeing. Work is ‘just something that should be done’, ‘it’s just the way it is’. This could cause some people who are being mentally compromised by their jobs to feel inadequate and weak. This stigma is inaccurate. Let’s be real, work can/ will be stressful. Most likely, we will get in trouble or stressed over things that are literally not our fault. Some people will even take on their jobs as their literal identity and use it to gauge their own personal worth in this world. Many use jobs to ‘compensate’ for where they lack elsewhere in life. Many also compulsively work to avoid other things that are going on in their lives. This causes a toxic pattern of overworking, over producing and over consuming to make up for it. Healthy reframes include: “I do this to get paid and to then pay my bills, that is all”, “I have no control over how hard working or how lazy my coworkers choose to be, nor do I have to make up for their laziness’, and ‘This is only a part of my life and when I get home, I will do what I want/ need to unwind, I owe it to myself”.
- News/ politics. Simply put, because there is news regarding every single topic in the world in almost every area, we now feel this heightened sense of obligation to be informed. It also spikes secondary trauma and anxiety, constantly being exposed to all the bad things that are happening every second of everyday. “I must be informed”, “I need to know what’s going on”, these are the common lines that are being used to justify 8-12-hour news/ politics binges. A mass quarantine makes it all the easier to get wrapped into the ‘black hole’. It get’s to a point, unfortunately, where people stop living their life, only to live a life of ‘knowing’ what’s going on with other people. Other people we do not know, other people that hold ‘power’ but not nearly as much power as we give them credit for. Truthfully, if someone wants to care so much about social issue’s and change, I would encourage them to direct their energy into making a difference, vs directing their energy into ‘knowing everything’ but doing nothing with the knowledge other than ‘ruminating’ and ‘fixating’ to a point of panic attacks and anger outbursts. Helpful reframes include: “More news today would be counterproductive as evidenced by my heightened anxiety, anger or depression”, “Today I owe it to myself to focus on myself and what is in my control”.
- Negative social media patterns Again, much like the issue with news & politics, in the world of social media we have created another sense of obligation in which we ‘owe this online social world’ the majority of our attention. I always tell my clients to ‘remember, you control the phone, the phone does not control you’. We can moderate how often we look at a screen and how much we will allow the screen to distract and consume us. We can control our notifications, banners, sounds or lack of sounds, apps, how often we want to respond or not respond. Also, with this new online social world comes the responsibility to ‘train people’ on how often we are available or not available. Realistically, just because we can be reached 99% of the time, does not mean we want to be reached that often. Just because the online world is 24/7, does not mean we must neglect our organic lives to appease it. We also have many ways to filter out toxic people in the social world: blocking, unfollowing their wall, posting but hiding the post from them specifically, or avoiding the rabbit holes of pointless arguments that will go no where and only exacerbate our mood for the rest of the day.
Outside of all this practical and logical advice, I still recognize how hard mind shielding and lowering dosages will be. The temptations to these vices and maladaptive patterns are very real. It takes self-determination, a willingness to be uncomfortable and bored at times, and the ability to care about ourselves beyond what feels gratifying in the moment. We must ask ourselves do we want long term helpful changes, or instant gratification while also being miserable for days on end? Many people believe that the answer to their own mental well being and ‘happiness’ involves a miracle answer or cure that they may ‘find one day’. The reality is we will never be 100% ‘cured’ or ‘happy’, that is a fictional reality that we have made up that cannot be attained. Instead, improved mental health is actually a long-term journey that requires daily self-care, as individuals we must take personal, long term accountability toward our own mental health. This often does not mean attaining or putting more on our plates, rather lowering our number of stress, grievances, and toxic patterns over a lifetime. Live, learn and hopefully be a ‘happier’ version of yourself in the future.
One thought on “Lower the Dosage (Mind shielding)”
Another great article. I agree that there is so must toxicity in the news and political world right now that I’ve had to stop watching, for my own self-being. However I still fall into the trap of the covid news. My anxiety with that alone is more than I can handle at times. But each day I watch a little less and try seeing at least one positive thing that Happened that day. Thank you for always giving advice we can incorporate into our daily lives to help use toward that healthier future.
LikeLiked by 1 person