Retraining Your Brain

The Mental Workout

Something I’ve found strange whenever I leave counselling, (both group and 121) is how exhausted I feel. I leave feeling drained, I’m usually yawning away and if I can take a nap, I will! When you think about it, it makes sense. Much of what you do in counselling can be emotionally draining, but it’s also retraining your brain. Our minds are not weak, but many of the unhelpful thoughts we experience with depression and anxiety are as a result of years of learned behaviour.  Instead of accepting compliments we dismiss them,  it’s easier to believe the negative because one way or another our brains have been trained that way.

Retraining your brain is difficult. But it is possible. Its not going to always be foolproof. I know from experience that there are times when my head will go down a particular rabbit hole and there is very little I can do to change that. But what I have noticed is that while I may still fall, I don’t fall as far. Recovery from a relapse is quicker. While some people dismiss mindfulness, counselling and therapy as fluffy mumbo jumbo, it’s positive effect on mental health issues are undeniable. I speak from experience!

Retraining Your Brain Takes Time

You see, what we forget is that retraining your brain takes time, effort and perseverance. While medication can help level us out in a reasonably short space of time, the effort of overriding years of learned behaviour and negative thinking is going to be huge. When your head is so utterly convinced of your own worthlessness and has been for a while, one session of therapy is not going to magically fix you. And if we don’t persevere with the exercises and techniques between counselling sessions, how can we possibly expect to get results?

This is the part we all too easily forget. Recovery from depression and anxiety can be slow. You are in essence trying to re-wire one of the most complex biological computers ever created. To try and fix it quickly in the past, doctors were prepared to reboot it using electro-shock therapy or even via removal of specific areas of the brain.  When we look at such practices now we can see how barbaric and ineffective they are. But we can also understand the desperation of doctors and sufferers families, trying to find a way to fix a problem with something as staggeringly intricate and complicated as the human mind.

I know a number of people who say mindfulness doesn’t work for them. They find it hard (or even silly) to bring their attention to one thing, shutting out the other stray thoughts that creep in. But here’s the little secret; you have to practice! Not just for a couple of days and then give up. But to keep trying, again and again and again.  Look at this way, a marathon runner doesn’t just wake up one day able to run a marathon. They have to practice. It takes training. They have to make changes to their diet, pay more attention to what their body needs. It can take months (even years) of building up the strength and stamina to be able to successfully complete a marathon. And even then, they may not be able to complete a run in the way they thought they would.

It might take a while, but you’ve got this!

I mean that. I really do! Each time you do that little something to get you out of your comfort zone, you are making progress. The more you practice what you learn in therapy, the easier it will become. And no-one has the right to say how long that process will take. When someone once said to me at work whether I was really well enough to be there, I’ll be honest it made me angry.  Who was this person (who had no medical or neurological qualifications, let alone experience) to question the progress I was making?

It’s something that is personal to you. Your doctor and you are the ones who decide if the rate and means of progressing are working. If they’re not, again, it’s not someone else’s opinion that determines what to try next. Just you and your doctor.

But like I said. You have to put the work in! Retraining your brain is not something that will be achieved over night. Those little exercises you do every day that seem so silly? They are forming new habits, new pathways and coping mechanisms. Rebuilding your self-esteem and confidence that will help quieten those negative thoughts.

So I’m setting you all a challenge. I’m doing it too and if you want to leave comments either here on the website, or on Twitter or Facebook as to how it’s gone, I’d love to hear from you.

So here goes; your challenge is that every time a negative thought pops into your head think of two positives. It doesn’t matter how big or small these positives are. And keep doing it! If you look in the mirror and think ‘urgh, I look so disgusting today’, stop and take a good look at what is good. Be it you have nice eyes, a good smile…there always something. Mine today was I have good teeth and a kind heart! No matter who you are, you have worth. And if you’re struggling to see anything at all, ask someone who cares for you! Its amazing what you’ll find out when you see yourself through another person’s eyes!

Good luck guys, like I said. You got this!

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.

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