Anxiety and stress can often feel like you’re stuck in mental quicksand – The more you struggle to rid yourself of anxious feelings, the worse it gets…
It often starts simply – you’re worried about something – then suddenly, you notice that you’re worried, which makes you worried about being worried. Before you know it, the thing stressing you out the most is the feeling of being stressed.
This spiral is called Rumination – deep philosophical thinking… which leads to deeper, more philosophical thinking… which leads to overthinking… which clouds your ability to think rationally… which slowly sucks you in and down.
The best way to free yourself from rumination is to think of it like mental quicksand. And the best way out of mental quicksand is the S.A.N.D approach.
Stop – First, stop struggling and accept that you are, in fact, in quicksand. Ignoring it won’t help. Neither will distracting yourself, or fighting against it, or arguing with yourself. Find a quiet place, close you eyes, take a few deep breaths, lie on your back (remember, you’re in quicksand) and take a moment to slow down. Your goal is to simply notice how you are feeling.
Accept – Second, name your feelings and accept them. I find it helps to use the voice (in my head) of a wise old professor. ‘Ah, I’m in quicksand again. Bother! I’m feeling rather challenged / uncertain / worried / afraid / nervous / anxious / overwhelmed / angry / frustrated / underprepared…’ Naming your feelings, and accepting them, can help to remind you that they are a temporary state. It also stops the cycle of rumination.
Normal – Next, remind yourself that these feelings are part of the normal ‘human experience’. Everyone gets stuck in quicksand from time to time – everyone! It doesn’t make you weak, or stupid, or a failure – it simply makes you a normal human. This is good news. If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent most of your life secretly thinking that you’re a bit of a weirdo.
Remind yourself that, eventually, you will find your way out of the quicksand – you always have and you always will. But, only if you follow the technique.
Discuss – Lastly, reach out to someone. You can’t fight your way out of quicksand on your own. You’ll need a friend… or an intelligent horse, if movies are anything to go by.
Importantly, you don’t need to ask for help. You simply need to share how you are feeling. This is you reaching for a branch. Call (or text) a friend and simply tell them you are feeling stressed (or anxious, nervous… etc).
Every time you do this, you teach your brain that being stuck in quicksand invariably leads to support.
Funnily enough, you can actually do this with a horse. Animal therapy has been shown to be effective in alleviating anxiety and stress, although most of the studies also include human helpers… so for now, best to stick to humans.
In a society that’s littered with quicksand pits, the SAND approach can help slowly rewire your stress response. The more you practice the technique (particularly the D part), the easier it will come.
Lastly, share this technique (article) with a friend. You never know when they might find themselves stuck in quicksand.