When Everyday Is Game Day: How to Manage Distressing Thoughts
Thank you, Lee Corso.
Lee Corso, for the football uninformed, is the doddering analyst for ESPN’s College Gameday.
Specializing in well-worn cliches — with the occasional insight, Corso raptures poetic about grit, tenacity, and toughness.
“Wow, they really wanted it,” Corso gushes about a ballyhooed team. As the ESPN highlights roll on, an ebullient player appears on your plasma screen. He barks into the camera, “We just wanted it more. We were flat-out tougher!”
The talking heads offer the same banal analysis: The team’s desperation provided the decisive edge.
And your trusty Psych Central columnist derisively chuckles at this so-called analysis.
In sports — as in life, we correlate desire and results. If you want something badly enough, your determination will conquer all obstacles. Or so we mythologize.
Stealing a Corsoism, “Not so my fast, my friend.”
Mental health is a far tougher foe than East Tennessee Tech. If you suffer from anxiety or depression, you desperately want it to disappear. You shriek for relief. You lament depression’s blue glaze; you muffle anxiety’s screams.
And during those blissful moments of serenity, you high-step into the end-zone. You have finally silenced your mind’s deafening cries.
For millions of Americans, though, the mind blares louder than any college football fortress. Like an overmatched opponent, we grovel for relief from the lurking thoughts and emotions.
But unlike sportsdom — where shrieks of “push” and “fight” reign down as words of encouragement, it is impossible to outfight the distressing thoughts. To topple the indefatigable giant, you have to spin conventional wisdom on its head.
You have to be less driven. Less tough.
Whaaat? Let me explain.
Your drive is defeating you. You cannot outlogic the illogical. But you will exert toughness in other ways.
Before a big interview, I look like I have played four quarters against Alabama. My heartbeat races and hands glisten; sweat trickles down my face. In my desperation to appear poised, sharp, and likable, I appear disheveled and distracted.
Here’s the rich irony: When I allow myself to make mistakes, there is a preternatural poise to my responses — a natural, easygoing charisma. When you want something so badly — in my case a rewarding position, emotion clouds judgment. You become results-oriented; immediacy shouts down objectivity.
In college football, Alabama kingpin Nick Saban preaches incessantly about the process. Process hints at a controlled, measured response to your mind’s stewing torment. You have a systematic response to a bedeviling issue. Instead of ridding yourself of the anxiety right now, you rededicate yourself to the process — achieving daily, weekly, and monthly landmarks. You have a WRAP — a wellness recovery action plan — to reference during particularly troubling times.
When faced with unexpected challenges, sports instills in us persistence, collaboration, and tenacity — all admirable traits. Within the sports universe, there is an expectation that you will “tough it out” and “push through it.” These well-meaning homilies are ingrained in us–and, sadly, counterproductive to mental health management.
A more accurate homily: The harder you push your mind; the harder it pushes back. When desperate, we pray/hope/beseech our minds to cooperate. Not surprisingly, our Hail Mary prayers sit unanswered. The lesson: Trust the process and you won’t have to resort to a Hail Mary on or off the field.
Loeb, M. (2018). When Everyday Is Game Day: How to Manage Distressing Thoughts. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-everyday-is-game-day-how-to-manage-distressing-thoughts/