Last Friday, I had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan on my spine - nothing serious, just some postural stuff going on due to all the sitting on couches that I do, I'd say (the psychologists' occupational hazard). It'd been booked for around three weeks and I hadn't consciously thought of it in the lead-up other than it being an appointment I had to attend.
Monday started well, work was busy, clients were doing well, I'd squeezed in some exercise and had been watching Married at First Sight (I love that show - what a behavioural experiment!). Life was pretty good.
Tuesday, nothing out of the ordinary occurred although I noticed I felt more tired than usual but by Wednesday I noticed a total shift in my mood. I felt flat and not very enthusiastic about getting out of bed in the morning. My schedule of clients and programs to run weighed heavily on my mind (not a usual occurrence for me) and I had to drag myself through the day.
By Thursday, I felt on the verge of tears all day, which if you've read my previous article on crying, you'd realise was a sure sign there was something up. A couple of caring colleagues checked in with me that day, "Are you okay?" which caused me to reflect. Am I? "Yeah, I'm okay, just a bit tired I think," came my standard response. By the afternoon when I felt as though I didn't want to see my final three clients and actually considered cancelling them despite one already being in the waiting room (something I have never even considered before!), I realised something was wrong.
Thankfully, I managed to see my clients and give them quality sessions. I even managed to pick up my nephews from school, get them to sport, make my Pilates class and attend another appointment I had, all the while having the niggling question in the back of my mind, "what is going on with me this week?"
When I couldn't come up with a single definitive explanation for why I felt so unsettled/anxious/burnout/stressed I decided to work backwards.
I've previously described the ABC Model of cognitive therapies:
Where an Activating event is followed by a Belief that influences the Consequence - our feelings.
Sometimes, we are lucky enough that we are conscious of our thought processes and can easily put the A-B-C together in order in a serial fashion, but more often than not, our thinking occurs automatically on an unconscious or even subconscious level that either requires us to direct our attention to the problem-at-hand to solve, or requires us to appraise the situation in order to conclude the most likely explanation by working in reverse.
What that looks like in practice, is that we begin by noticing the 'C', the feeling. The change in mood was definitely the first thing I'd noticed over the week and it hadn't been pleasant.
To work backwards, you then retrace your steps in a way - going back to the 'A' the activating event - by asking yourself, "Okay, what's been happening in the last few days that I've been feeling this way?"
The fact that my mood had worsened the closer I got to Friday held the key for me and as I spoke to a beautiful friend on the phone Thursday night, I started processing my thoughts - the 'B' - on a conscious level, revealing the likely worries to myself at the same time as verbalising them to her.
I had surmised that I had subconsciously been worried that the MRI scan would show that somehow I'd had a cancer relapse. Not only that, I felt angry at and disappointed in myself for feeling anxious about cancer because "after seven years, I SHOULDN'T be worrying about it anymore - it was behind me". Not only that, but I also told myself that "I SHOULDN'T be anxious about having an MRI because I've had way worse things happen to me than that, so I SHOULD stop being ridiculous."
These are some good examples of unhelpful thoughts - any thought that is unproductive and is linked to uncomfortable emotions.
I'd obviously had all of that going on in my mind somewhere - any wonder I felt like crap!!
I'd been giving myself a really hard time and I didn't even know it. My fear about the MRI related directly to my fear of getting sick again, which all relates back to my fear of death. Thank you survival instinct. Thank you amygdala. My unconscious primal brain was just doing its job!
Once I'd identified and spoken about my fears, I felt immediate relief and was able to mentally prepare myself for the MRI the next day. It wasn't fun or easy but I chose to use it as an opportunity to practice what I preach and I'm happy to say that I successfully engaged in three psychological tools that helped me cope while lying in a small noisy tunnel for one and a half hours.
MRI's commonly bring clients into the clinic for assistance because they commonly cause anxiety in the form of claustrophobia. I'll be heading over to the Coping Toolkit now to write some tips on how to manage your anxiety if you have to have an MRI of your own. I'll also be writing about some common unhelpful thinking styles and what to do about them, not to mention an Analyse This article on claustrophobia. That should keep me busy for a while!
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