Most of us have probably experienced "a problem shared is a problem halved" first hand. Talking to someone can really help. It can put problems into perspective, make us feel validated and sometimes help us to navigate our way through tricky times.
Counselling, sharing your worries and concerns with a professional, has additional benefits. Your counsellor has no preconceptions about you. They take you at face value and won't judge you. They listen to what is important to you. You don't have to present an 'edited' version of yourself to protect their feelings or keep some things secret. Your counsellor will also have the knowledge and skills to work with you to recognise patterns of behaviour, origins of feelings and ways of making positive change.
All counsellors work differently and each relationship between a counsellor and their client is unique but there are some questions I regularly ask clients which I think are really handy in every day life, not just in a counselling session. Here are 5 of my favourites.
"Do I have any control over...?"
Often we worry about issues over which we have no control. We can get sad, angry, anxious and sometimes spend a lot of energy creating imaginary scenarios in our heads.
A good example of this is worrying about something someone else may or may not think about you. Ask yourself - do I have any control over what they think? Of course, the way you behave may have some impact on what they think but ultimately you have no control over their thoughts.
So, ask yourself the question. If the answer is yes, then take control, explore the options, weigh up pros and cons - take action. But if the answer is no, then it really is a waste of emotional time and energy ruminating over the problem. Challenge your thinking, accept that you have no control and move away from the issue.
"How does this help me?/How does this serve me?"
This is probably my favourite question! Sometimes our behaviours are learned behaviours or simply habits. We react in a particular way because that's what we have always done. We don't really question it. Here's a simple example. Imagine that you meet up with an acquaintance. She leads a life which seems to be perfect. You always come away from these meet ups eaten up by envy and this leaves you feeling sad and inadequate. How is that helping you?? Why put yourself through it? Will feeling envious change anything? Of course it won't. So, challenge the thoughts that lead to the feelings. Reframe your thinking. Focus on the positives in your life and accept that you have no idea what her life feels like. Ditch the unhelpful thought pattern - it isn't helping you.
"In 5 years time, do I think this will still be a concern for me?"
This question can really help to filter out the important from the 'trivial' matters. Think back a few years to something you were fretting about. Is it still an issue? Was it worth the anxiety and upset? The '5 year rule' asks is this 'thing' I am worrying about going to matter to me in 5 years time? If the answer is no then don't spend any more time worrying about it - just do what will bring you the most happiness or peace now. We can waste so much time worrying about something that we won't even remember in 5 years time.
"Is this my problem to own?"
Often we get caught up in other people's drama. Some people have a really good knack of drawing friends and family into their emotional issues. We can find ourselves getting worked up, anxious or sad about a problem that doesn't really belong to us. We may try to rush in and problem solve or rescue. But inevitably we end up feeling sad, anxious, worried about something over which we have little control. I am all for being a good friend, listening and being supportive. But that doesn't mean that we need to take on the emotions that do't belong to us. If it isn't your issue to own, leave it firmly with the owner.
"What can I do differently?"
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (this quote is attributed to Einstein although he may never have actually said it). Have you ever noticed that feeling of déjà vu? You always end up feeling snubbed by a particular co-worker, for example, and you react by having a good old sulk. The cycle repeats regularly. How about trying to break the cycle? Maybe have a conversation with the coworker about the specific behaviours which leave you feeling snubbed. Or choose not to take it personally - are they in fact like this with everyone? Could you be more proactive so they have to interact differently with you? Is sulking really helpful (see question above)? Changing just one of the behaviours in this cycle can change the whole chain of events.
A lot of our reactions and behaviours have just become habits. We have always reacted that way. We have a thought (often based on previous experience or our beliefs and opinions) which triggers a feeling (anger, shame, sadness etc). This makes us react (sulking, leaving the situation, starting an argument). The good news is that it is possible to change by catching the behaviour cycle and asking yourself a question. Give it a go - you might be surprised by the result.