Do you ever say to yourself, “I should have…..” (fill in the blank)?
It could be: “I should go to the gym” or “I should ride my horse today” or “I should eat more greens”.
These “should haves” are actually considered thought distortions.
- A thought distortion is an exaggerated or irrational thought pattern involved in the onset or perpetuation of psychopathological states, such as depression and anxiety.
Which means that these simple “should haves” in your brain can actually lead to depression and anxiety.
In the moment, it’s hard to realize that these simple thoughts can cause such big issues.
Here’s an example of how this happened to me this weekend:
Apollo’s pasture mate, Harry, moved to another pasture on Saturday to be with his owner’s riding buddy. So, Apollo was to go into another pasture with a mare named Comet as his new pasture mate.
Comet and Apollo had been together for a few hours on Friday and it had all gone well. But not on Saturday.
Comet was too upset that her pasture mate, Gunner, had left the ranch that morning. So, when Apollo went into her pasture, she went ballistic on him. She was not having another gelding take Gunner’s place. Oh no.
She chased and attacked Apollo a few times and luckily, he just kept running away from her. She would calm down for a few minutes and then start back up, and then calm down again and start it all over again.
It was just not going to work no matter how much time went by.
I went in when I realized there was no hope of them getting along and I brought him out of the pasture. He just looked at me with a sad face, like “what was that all about mom?” Poor guy, he really liked her.
Now what? I had a horse that didn’t have a pasture to go to and I had no backup plan.
My stress level went from 2 to 60 in a heartbeat, as you can imagine. I couldn’t leave Apollo alone at the end of the road in his old pasture as he would be completely isolated. His pasture mate was gone and the pastures next to him were now empty as well waiting for horses to arrive in 3-4 weeks.
All that drama and excitement put me right into the “stressful zone”, as I call it. That’s when my heart rate goes up, I get a little sweaty and nervous, and the anxiety starts to build up quickly. I’m sure you know what I mean.
All I could think about was, “what should I do?”
I had to start thinking about a Plan B and how to make this right for Apollo and keep him safe. Putting him back in with Comet was not an option.
“What should I do?” That’s what my brain kept repeating.
My stress levels were quickly elevating, and I had to just stop. Stop my movement, stop my thinking, stop my anxiety from increasing even more.
This is when I realized that I needed to relax and reevaluate the situation and take a breath. But I had to stop everything first, just for a second or two.
Because if I didn’t, it would just get worse and probably snowball into worse anxiety or possibly into depression and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Fight, Flight, or Freeze is the natural reaction in a situation like this. My first reaction was to freeze.
Thank goodness for our instincts, right? Our natural instincts and first thoughts are usually right on if we pay attention to them.
Ok, I stopped. Then I had to think about step two. Here is the process that helped me out of the “stressful zone”.
Remember what got me into that zone in the first place…me asking myself “what should I do” about Apollo’s situation.
When you think, “I should…” try this little trick to help you reevaluate and stay out of the stressful zone.
First, stop what you’re doing and take a physical and mental step back.
Second, ask yourself –
1. Do I want to?
2. Do I need to?
Let’s discuss Question #1 – Do I want to?
Let’s just use this should have… “I should ride my horse today”.
Hmmmm, Should you? Really?
The first step in deciding if you should go is asking yourself “do I want to ride today?”
- Maybe you’re excited to go out on trails with your horse
- Maybe your friends are going out riding and this is a social outing
- Maybe this is exercise for you and it makes you feel stronger
- Maybe you’re meeting your trainer and learning a lesson
If so, and the answer to this question is “yes”, then yes you should go. But instead of saying “I should” go on a ride today, say “I want” to go on a ride today.
This one little mind trick really does help your emotional state of mind.
However, if there are other factors to think about like…
- Maybe your worried because it’s been raining a lot and the trails are slippery
- Maybe no one is available to ride with you and you’re not sure if you want to go alone
- Maybe it’s the first time on your horse in months and you’re still afraid to get on after a fall
- Maybe your trainer cancelled your lesson
If so, and the answer to this question is “no”, then no don’t go. Again, instead of saying “I should” and putting all that pressure on yourself (and your horse), say “I don’t want” to go riding today.
With all the possibilities that go through your mind, a simple choice of wording can relieve the pressure quickly and easily.
Now onto Question #2 – Do I need to?
Let’s us the same example as above – “I should ride my horse today”.
The second step in deciding if you should go is asking yourself “do I need to ride today?”
There are very few instances when you actually need to do something.
Nobody is holding you at gunpoint, and you, as a red-blooded human being have the luxury of freewill and the freedom of speech. (in general)
- You need to pay your taxes (if you don’t want the IRS to come after you)
- You need to renew your driver’s license (if you want to be able to drive to work or the store)
- You need to eat every so often (if you want to stay alive)
But chances are you don’t “need” to ride your horse today. However, if the answer is “yes” because not riding will affect your horse’s health, then yes go ride your horse.
But if the answer is “no”, then no, you “shouldn’t” go ride your horse today. However, you still “can”.
So, if you want to ride your horse today and you “can” ride your horse today, then change your thought to “I can” go ride my horse today.
Another word/thought change that will relieve the pressure and help you stay out of the “stressful zone”.
Words are powerful!
So, to summarize:
When you tell yourself “you should…”, ask yourself the 2 questions: Do I want to? Do I need to?
If the answer to either of these is “yes” then yes, you should. But if the answer to both of these is “no”, then no you shouldn’t.
Back to what happened this weekend…
I’m holding Apollo and I’m thinking, “what should I do, what should I do, what should I do?”
I then remembered the above trick and I changed it to “what do I want to do?” and “what do I need to do?”
The answer to “what do I want to do?” was that I wanted to find a good pasture mate for Apollo where he would be happy and safe.
Then I asked, “what do I need to do?” The answer was to look for a horse that Apollo got along with and keep him safe.
Luckily, the answer appeared quickly.
Here was my though process after I changed the words:
- Hmmm, who does Apollo get along with the best besides Harry? Answer – Ray.
- Well, Ray can’t have a pasture mate because of his size, but…
- Who shares a fence line with Ray?
- There is only one pasture that shares a fence line with Ray and there is only one horse in that pasture, Red.
- Aha! Now, do Apollo and Red get along? Let’s find out.
Luckily, again, Red’s owner was in the pasture grooming and I told her my situation and asked her about Red. It turns out Red’s pasture mate died last month, and Red has been very lonely.
She had been looking for a new pasture mate for Red but hadn’t told anyone yet. She was thrilled to hear that Apollo was looking for a new buddy and had also gone through the loss of a loved one just like Red.
We decided to try them out together and put Apollo in the pasture after letting them touch over the fence line. They got along fine. But we all know what happened with Comet.
Next, we put Apollo in the pasture with Red and thankfully they got along as if they had always been together.
After a few whinnies and some mutual grooming, Apollo left Red and went over to talk to Ray. This was just an added bonus. Apollo was so happy to be able to touch noses and be closer to Ray as well.
Apollo had a new buddy to keep him from being isolated and lonely, a horse that needed him for companionship, and he got to stay close to his buddy Ray. Win-Win for everyone.
I wish I had remembered the two questions earlier and had thought of this first. But everything happens for a reason. I’m glad it all worked out the way it was supposed to.
This little trick is simple, but very helpful. You know me… I love to push the easy button whenever possible. Life is hard enough as is, we don’t need to complicate it more for ourselves or our horses.
If you have a way that helps you stay out of the “stressful zone”, I’d love to hear it in the Comments section below.
Thanks so much for the reminder, Teddie that the words we use are very powerful. I love the idea of changing the "I should", to "do I need to , do I want to?" statements. How wonderful that Red's owner was there at the time and you were able to rectify the paddock situation. Hallelujah. Is that still working well?
In regards to tips re coping with stress. I have recently started a post grad maths course, as part as teaching maths part-time and have often felt overwhelmed. I am trying to remember not to say "I can't do it" or "what have I done?" but to take some deep breaths, take a break, sit outside for a bit or take a walk outside and remind myself, "one step at a time", and work out what that next step needs to be. Keep it simple, etc, etc. 🙂
It’s going great with Apollo. He’s in the perfect spot now. Keep up the good work on the post grad math course. Little by little, it will get better and you’ll have it down. 🙂