I recently moved out of a house I was renting and am currently wrangling with my former landlord over getting my security deposit back. I’m certainly tempted to denounce him here, to list what I see as his misconduct and wrongdoings in an attempt to show you what a terrible person he is and how justified I am in being upset at him for causing me trouble over this issue. This way, however, lies madness (or at the least, unproductive angryness).
All the ingredients for crazy-making
Honestly, the issue of getting back the money I gave him in good faith is the kind of thing that can easily drive me nuts. It’s a combination of money matters plus uncertainty plus a feeling of being wronged, each of which has its own specialized cohort of broken ideas, things like “I need that money” and “He should stop trying to steal from me!” and “What if I can’t get him to play fair? Will we have to go to court? How long will that take? What kind of evidence will I have to prepare? Will the judge see it in the same light I do, or will I get screwed?” And on and on: fortune-telling, mind reading, “should” statements, magnification, and more broken ideas (see “All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair“). It’s an ideal formula for driving me up the wall, in recent history running a close second to similar problems with the same landlord while we were still living in the house he owned. (It’s bad enough having someone you feel is untrustworthy is holding onto your money; it’s that much worse to have such a person holding onto your money and in charge of the building in which you and your family live.)
However, this issue is not driving me crazy. While I certainly haven’t quashed every last bit of anxiety about it, it isn’t keeping me awake at night and preventing me from focusing during the day or making me unhappy–nor should it bother me, except to the extent that I may need that to do the things I need to do with the situation. What tactics have I learned that are helping keep me sane?
1. Dig out the broken ideas, and keeping digging
Broken ideas are thoughts that force us deeper and deeper into negative emotions. To clear my mind, I have to witness what I’m thinking, catch the problem thoughts in the act, and then replace them with more useful thoughts.
“He’s going to steal my money!”
“He may or may not take money that I don’t think he should have.” (That’s a twofer: not trying to predict the future and not labeling the situation in a way that makes it sound as bad as possible.)
For me, that rephrasing gives an immediate–though partial–relief. The problem then is that the broken ideas keep cropping up and continue to need to be repaired. The good news is that the more I do this, the sparser and sparser those thoughts become.
2. Stop making my happiness conditional on outside situations
I don’t know if there’s anyone in the world who always gets everything they want, but somehow I suspect even a person like that wouldn’t always be happy. Since sometimes things are going to go my way and sometimes they aren’t, and since making my happiness dependent on something that might or might not happen in the future postpones that happiness indefinitely, it would be smart for me to be happy with whatever I have at the moment–even if discomfort, deprivation, or injustice are involved. It worked for me last night at Taekwondo practice when I was holding a stance and beginning to ache and feel tired from it; it also worked for me this morning when I reminded myself that my happiness doesn’t need to be a hostage to whether or not I get my full security deposit back.
3. Relax, stretch, meditate, move, breathe
Anxiety and stress can accumulate physically in the form of tense muscles, aches, cramped posture, and the like. When I remember to let go physically and mentally, take short walks (see “The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise“), breathe deeply, meditate (see “Strengthen Willpower Through Meditation“), and consciously relax my muscles, I begin to feel better both physically and emotionally.
Photo by notsogoodphotography