Maybe you’ve heard this question posed at some point in your life: “How do you eat an elephant?” If you haven’t heard the question before and don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you: one bite at a time. This question has always seemed odd to me, mainly because elephants don’t strike me as being a tasty meal and if I recall correctly, they’re an endangered species (don’t quote me on that); so it’s highly illegal to slay and eat them. I do understand the point of that question, however, which is that the most effective approach to addressing large or complicated tasks is to break it up into smaller portions. One of the guided imagery activities I like to share with clients I see in my private practice who struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, poor organizational skills, or other related challenges is what I call “The Warehouse.” Interestingly, I’ve had some clients who work in logistics share that they found this specific activity very helpful both with their mental health and on the job.
Experiencing an overwhelming sense of loss of control is often a trigger for those contending with anxiety disorders or who may lack effective organizational skills. An important component of stress management and working through anxiety is identifying stressors. Consider being assigned the task of organizing a warehouse full of packages, equipment, and supplies in a manner that allows for efficient storage, exporting, and importing products, with an effective workflow. While it’s one thing to be obligated to deal with this type of issue in real time without proper support because it “pays the bills,” it’s much more desirable to deal with an imaginary situation of this sort with adequate space and time to think, plan, and execute, along with having sufficient support. This simulation helps individuals to see that what might initially seem to be an insurmountable feat, could become a comfortably manageable and routine responsibility, with the appropriate aid, tools, and mindset.
One of the comforts of this activity for individuals is that there is no one right approach to addressing this cluttered warehouse; the process is managed from beginning to end with the client being both the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief of Operations. As the facilitator of the activity, my role is that of a hands-on consultant who’s there to support the client’s efforts to identify and acquire the needed skills and resources and help make objectives and processes as clear and seamless as possible for the client. This includes working through any limitations, barriers, negative self-talk, etc. Together, we identify and rate present self-regulation skills; if by chance none are present for the client or those typically used are unhealthy, I provide psychoeducation, allowing the client to learn healthy coping skills and techniques to better manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. What is often identified as impossible or too stressful to manage early on, often becomes an empowering and sometimes pleasurable activity for the client by the end of it.
The name of the game, or exercise in this case, is simplification. When larger, more complex tasks are broken down into simpler steps, they’re much easier to control and address. Increased control leads to improved comfortability, which is an intrinsic desire. This concept isn’t just applicable for this activity, this often rings true when dealing with other real-life situations that increase our emotionality and negatively impact our mental health. Essentially, the issues that we feel the most powerless to control are the ones that we tend to magnify; however, the more control we are able to exercise and the more comfortable we become with our ability, the better we are able to manage issues, including our responses to them, and the smaller they become. In a similar fashion to decluttering and organizing a warehouse in total disarray, we can become much more adept in structuring our approach to dealing with the complexities of life, and our associated thought processes by seizing control of the things we are able to control and moving forward, one step at a time.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC