Structure, organization, and consistency are highly encouraged in the workplace, at school, or in parenting. But how much is too much? At what point do we become too rigid and inflexible?
As a clinical psychologist, I'm not surprised that I frequently see rigidness in individuals who are depressed and anxious. A good source of ways to learn about managing symptoms of anxiety and depression is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) website.
People who are controlling and inflexible often find themselves frustrated because the rest of the world doesn't live by their rules and expectations. Just because you want to eat green foods only or arrive to the airport three hours early doesn't mean that anyone else wants to, so you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Flexibility means seeing things from different perspectives, tolerating ambiguity, taking risks, and learning from mistakes. It helps us adapt to a constantly changing environment and shows that we can handle diversity and accept other people's preferences. Flexibility leads to openness, more opportunities, and less depression and anxiety.
Adults and children must find a balance between structure and spontaneity. Structure allows for a framework, choices, and some flexibility, but rigidity means you follow the rules -- or else. How do you find balance? The best thing is to maintain structure and organization, but allow time for fun and taking advantage of opportunities that come your way.
Some people can do this on their own. But others need the help of a therapist. With appropriate treatment from a mental health professional, you can overcome anxiety and depression, which leads to a healthier quality of life.
Try these 10 ways to increase your flexibility:
1. Observe your rigid behaviors. Spend a few days actively taking note of your routines and rules. Ask your partner, children, or friends to tell you when your rigidness appears. This exercise isn't meant to make you feel bad; it should help you learn to make your life more flexible.
2. Try new things. Try a new food, sport, type of movie, deodorant, anything! Get your brain used to doing things differently. If you have social anxiety and are worried about being judged by others, be honest about the worst thing that could happen: You might feel uncomfortable. But taking a risk will help you tackle the unexpected and open up to new experiences.
3. Embrace opportunities. Don't say "no" purely out of habit. Instead of thinking of 20 reasons not to do something new, think of five reasons you should do it. Keep the bigger picture in mind. For example, I might not feel like going out with friends, but I want to continue to build friendships.
4. Be in the moment. Don't think about all the other things you need to do. Slow down and focus on what you are experiencing internally and externally at that moment. Remind yourself of what you value most. I'm guessing that having good family relationships ranks higher than a clean kitchen.
5. Mix it up. Do you always do things exactly the same for a reason or just out of habit? Practice doing things differently. Drive a new route to work, substitute spinning for yoga, or build a fort with the kids and let them sleep in it. Show yourself that you can do things differently, and nothing disastrous will happen.
6. Go with the flow. This one might be a bigger challenge: Allow others to take charge. Have a day where your partner or friend plans everything without your opinion. This is a great way to see how it feels to be on the other side of rigid.
7. Compromise. Identify the situations where you are always in charge. Are there others in your life who deserve some input ? They may have stopped giving their opinions because you don't acknowledge them, so this will be an adjustment for both parties. Actively listen to others and see if you can meet them half way.
8. Let it go. Practice letting the small stuff go. If your partner doesn't fold the towels the way you like or the kids don't make their beds well, just let it be. Keeping quiet will be very difficult at first, but consider how much freedom you'll gain not having to monitor or complete every single task on your own.
9. Catch yourself. Monitor your vocabulary for "can't," "shouldn't," or "not right." These are red flags that you are moving into rigid territory. Try "let's see," "let's find out," "I'm not sure," or "what do you think?"
10. Practice. Just as you have to practice stretching your muscles to become more physically flexible, you must do the same thing to become mentally flexible. Set small goals at first, such as making one small change each day. The more you can challenge yourself to allow for new experiences, the easier it will be to integrate them into your everyday life.
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