By Carlos Oropeza, Wheels
(This article first appeared in Fleet Insight, AFLA’s member newsletter, May 25, 2023)
She wrote: “As I stared into the glow that my school iPad projected, my heart sank at the thought of the state I found myself in. Moments before, my legs could no longer turn back after walking through the doorway of my first class of the day. My eyes wandered off and my mind became focused on the other students in my first period class. Specks of jealousy spread inside of me as I began to assume that the other students were able to get their school work done and stay on top of their work.
A small sigh that escaped out of me was filled with sadness as my focus was now on a blonde girl sitting at a table in front of me. The organization and efficiency of a girl who I barely knew screamed at me and at my thoughts that were holding me down and keeping me from getting started on my work. Yet I couldn’t move forward.
Although the time I needed for homework evaporated with each moment that I let pass, I remained immobilized, without getting out my school iPad, due to what is going on inside of me. Sadness at the fact that I was not finishing my work covered me like a small, thin blanket – not enough to make me collapse with sadness, but enough for me to be aware that I was not in a position that I wished to be in.”
The words above, written for an English assignment, are those of a loved teen family member silently fighting for a day of good mental health, though we didn’t know it at the time. These words were a window into the silent battle that paralyzed her. A barrage of unwanted negative thoughts that made her doubt her abilities and then froze her in her tracks without full understanding of what she was experiencing.
It all makes sense now when I look back on the pictures of my loved one and see the drastic change over the past few years. That young, optimistic little girl who had an enormous smile with a wrinkled nose, stopped smiling a few years ago—and that should have tipped me off that she was facing a real challenge. It breaks my heart to know she was dealing with these challenges, and I only learned about it within the past year.
Mental Health Month
May is Mental Health Month. Forbes Health reports that millions of Americans experience symptoms of a mental health condition and that people seeking treatment have been trending upward. Today I would like to share three tactics that helped us get our loved one back to grounding herself in reality and allowing her to cope with her challenges. I hope they can help any of you traveling this journey.
Three Tactics to Help You Manage When Your Mind Gets Stuck
1: Writing down irrational thoughts vs. rational thoughts. When any of us gets that little voice in our heads asserting that we may not be good enough, or if we are filled with negative emotions and make assumptions about an outcome—write down that thought. Next to that thought, write down a rational thought from a different point of view. Look at it from a different perspective and write down what a rational person would see in that situation. When you go back to these handwritten notes the next day, you will see that the rational thought was correct most of the time. If the same negative thought returns, refer back to the rational thoughts you wrote down.
2: The Pomodoro Technique. When you can’t focus on your work, this time-management tactic allows progress to be made in small increments, helps with procrastination, and is effective when any of us need to get work done. The Pomodoro Technique breaks down work sessions with frequent breaks. Using a timer, you work on a task without interruption for twenty-five minutes. When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break focusing on anything other than the work of the past twenty-five minutes. Return to another timed twenty-five-minute focus session followed by another break. After finishing four twenty-five-minute working sessions, take a 15 to 30-minute break to do something fun. The Pomodoro Technique helps to keep activities moving forward when you’re mentally stuck.
3: 5-4-3-2-1 Method. This method lets you clear your head and momentarily remove anxiety and nagging doubts by grounding yourself. When you have a situation where you are mentally struggling, stop the negative thoughts and start using your senses:
- Recognize five things you see around you and acknowledge or describe them out loud.
- Find four things you can feel with your hands, touch, and describe the texture.
- Listen to three things you can hear and describe the sound.
- Find two things you can smell and describe what you are smelling.
- Find one thing you can taste and describe that taste.
Using your senses allows you to focus on the here and now and relaxes the tension you feel.
Take Action to Support Each Other
I don’t need to tell you that being a fleet professional is stressful. We face numerous challenges that keep us up at night, such as cost reduction, driver safety, doing more with less, staying up to date with data for strategic decisions, and staying on top of the latest fleet trends. There are so many mental health resources available, but the first step is to acknowledge your situation. If you feel stressed or overwhelmed, try one of the recommended tactics. Should you feel the need for more help, don’t hesitate to contact your health professional to begin the process of receiving professional support.
It’s been almost a year since my loved one started receiving professional support. While we still have our good and bad days, she has made significant progress. She turned from failing grades to a place on the honor roll in her high school freshman year. Seeing her recent pictures with that beautiful smile again fills me with joy. It serves as a reminder that we can overcome whatever life throws our way. It’s crucial to get the support you need to triumph.
As a fleet family, let’s continue to look out for one another and offer a helping hand if we see someone struggling because they are stranded on the side of the emotional road. May your journey always take you to your final destination—and remember that none of us needs to travel alone.