How to compartmentalise for peace of mind

It can be really hard to mentally ‘put down’ things that trouble you.

Perhaps it’s an issue in your home life, or a problem with a friend, or a triggering message from an ex – sometimes it feels like these things need to be attended to instantly, in order to rid ourselves of the pain of them.

However, that isn’t always possible.

Maybe you’re hit with a horrible text just as you’re due to go into a work meeting, or a lingering issue is plaguing your mind while out at a fun event.

At times like these, it can help to learn how to better compartmentalise, so the one problem doesn’t take over and seep into all aspects of life.

Compartmentalising means the problem can be dealt with when there’s time and space for it.

Easier said than done, though.

Dr Rina Bajaj, counselling psychologist, says: ‘It can be very normal to struggle with this as we are in our primitive mind rather than our logical mind.

‘The goal is to get our logical mind switched back on so that we can process our emotions and thoughts more healthily and cope better overall.’

What does this look like?

When we’re triggered, we feel under threat – this makes the brain go into fight or flight.

Until we feel ‘safe’, as Rine explains, it’s hard to be grounded in the present moment as our minds are focused on the problem.

She says: ‘This means that it can be hard to focus or concentrate.

‘Even when we are settled, reminders can kick in the survival mechanism.’

This is why it can be so hard to temporarily let go of problems we can’t do anything about in the present moment.

How can you better compartmentalise?

Compartmentalising isn’t about suppressing how you feel – in order to process something, we need to authentically feel it to heal it.

All this method does is help to prevent the negative issue in your life from taking over all the other joyful, or mundane things.

Rina suggests journalling and carving out ‘worry time’, which is when you set aside planned space to work through something. It can help to set a boundary around the issue.

She says: ‘Writing or drawing your worries can be a great way to get them out of your head in a contained way.

‘You can also incorporate “worry time” where you give yourself a set time of 10 minutes to sit with your intense feelings and thoughts and then you change scenery and distract yourself with a more positive activity.

‘This ensures that you are giving your emotions a space in a contained way.’

It’s also helpful to bring attention to what’s going well in life, as ‘this helps to counteract your brain looking for danger and the negative’.

Focusing on the present moment helps too – even if it’s only for fleetingly.

She suggests: ‘When we feel overwhelmed with emotions, it’s hard to stay focussed in the here and now. Often we are worrying about the past or the future.

‘So take a moment to bring your senses back to this current point. What can you see, hear, smell, taste or touch? This is a reminder that you’re safe in the present moment.’

How to take back control of your emotions

What happens when you’ve crossed the metaphorical precipice, and it’s already hard to keep the problem out of your mind?

It’s time to get grounded once again – and away from the panic.

‘Carve out time for regular self care,’ she says.

‘This can be as simple as drinking enough water, expressing yourself creatively, engaging in activities that you enjoy and tapping into safe and healthy support. This can be a healthy form of distraction. 

‘Practice grounding and relaxation strategies – this can include taking a breath, spending time in nature or exercising to release pent up frustration.

‘The aim is to change your physical state from tense to relaxed. This will signal to your body that you are safe in the now. 

‘Challenge your thoughts to engage your logic. Look at whether your thoughts are more skewed towards the negative rather than being more neutral or positive.

‘If you find yourself catastrophising, start to question whether your negative thoughts are 100% true – they’re probably not – in this way, over time, you can start to neutralise your thoughts, which will have a positive influence on how you feel.

‘Focus on what’s in your control in this current moment, rather than the “what ifs” or past regrets.’

Speaking to someone – such as a mental health professional or even a friend – can help with letting the thoughts out, considering how they sound when said out loud.

This is no easy fix for this – we all get stuck sometimes – but trying to compartmentalise can benefit your ability to cope with the problem.

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