What I Have in Common with Winston Churchill and Laura Hillenbrand

Tortoise2From time to time, I wake up with a feeling of dread, confusion and foreboding.  A glance at my “to do” list – write my April newsletter which is way overdue, write my blog post, promote my book on social media, keep up with emails, plan my July event, clean and cook, tidy my chaotic clothes drawers, organize my summer closet, plant the herbs and spring plants, paint the porch railings, paint the towel rack…and the list goes on – throws me into a tailspin, making me want to withdraw deep into my shell like a tortoise.

Unless they thrive on stress, most people would probably want to pull the bed covers over their heads at the very thought of such a list and not ever surface.  However, people with healthy brains can usually handle such tasks without undue duress, but when one suffers from clinical depression and chronic fatigue, perspective can be ones undoing.  The good news is that I’m not doomed. In fact, I consider myself in great company with the likes of notables who suffer or who have suffered from clinical depression. To name a few: war-time British prime minister, Winston Churchill, who used to refer to his depression as “The Black Dog”,  the great Charles Dickens, Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit and the late Mike Wallace of “60 Minutes.”black dog

Among other factors, notwithstanding a drawn-out sinus cold, looking at my “to do” list with dread caused my brain to overload and freeze which certainly didn’t help my productivity.  The brain is often likened to a computer. You get out of it what you program into it.  So to undo my sense of dread, I had to ostensibly ‘reboot’ my brain, as it were, through proactive thinking. I’ve learned that the brain is a marvelous organ that can be taught to change.

Researcher and consultant, Dr. Martin L. Rossman, terms it neuroplasticity [or malleability.] He says imagery is a powerful skill that can bring to bear positive outcomes and behaviour in the parts of the brain (the cerebral cortex, amygdala, thalamus and hippocampus) that control emotions, behaviour and processing memory, and recollection. One can determine positive results in self-directed neuroplasticity – in other words, self-talk.brain

How I dealt with the negative feelings with which I awoke over the past few days was to replace negative visualization and self-talk with positive imagery and actions. Firstly, I put on energetic, mood-uplifting music, I pampered myself with a cup of gourmet coffee, sat on my lovely porch and had a nice little chat with myself!

“Did the world come to a cataclysmic end because I missed my April newsletter deadline?”

“Am I a bad person because I have low energy and can’t perform like some kind of superwoman?”

“Do I wish to spiral down into the abyss with stress-inducing runaway thoughts that are energy-sapping and counter-productive to my well-being?”

My answer was “no” to all the above. Bad thoughts place one on a treadmill of worry, self-doubt, anxiety, fear and a downward spiral to one’s nadir. I chose to feed my cortex with images of peaceful and happy thoughts that travel to those parts of my brain where the neurotransmitters can create healthy senses, intelligence, movement and mood.

The outcome was pretty darn good – I got the newsletter written and turned it into this blog!