8 Jan 2018

'If you're not going to use thoughts to change behaviour, get rid of them'

From Summer Times 2020/2021, 10:45 am on 8 January 2018

Returning to work in the new year after a summer holiday can feel like an extreme case of Mondayitis with a side of existential malaise. It can be helpful to question your unwanted thoughts and soften the language you talk to yourself with, psychologist Gwendoline Smith says.

Mondayitis isn't purely psychological as even over a weekend the 'whole biorhythm of our system gets kicked out', she says.

"Friday can often be a slightly late and social night. You get up a little bit later on Saturday. Because you've got up a bit later you're not as tired so you go to bed a little bit later on Saturday. Sunday is often 'Have a coffee, read the papers or Kindle in bed, etc' so by the time it comes to Monday we've got to force our body back into rhythm."

Returning to work in the new year after a couple of weeks holiday often brings up big existential questions – "What am I doing? Where am I going? Am I happy? Am I going to be able to do this for another year?" – Smith says.

Gwendoline Smith

Gwendoline Smith Photo: supplied

She takes a hard line on addressing unwanted thoughts.

"If you're not going to use the thoughts productively to change behaviour, get rid of them."

One way to work on this is to ask yourself whether the thinking is helpful to you.

"When you ask the brain a question it's much more effective than telling yourself not to think about something because the brain then looks for the answer. And the answer will be 'This thinking isn't helping me' … The more you practise that the quicker you will get at getting out of that loop."

The language you talk to yourself with determines your emotional response and is something you can work on, she says.

  • 'I should have' leads to guilt and regret
  • 'I shouldn't have' leads to guilt and self loathing
  • 'They should have' leads to anger, frustration and disappointment
  • 'They shouldn't have' leads to anger, frustration and resentment
  • 'I have to' leads to pressure, tension and demandingness
  • 'I must' leads to even more pressure and tension

It's kinder and ultimately more effective to talk to yourself with language that allow for choice such as 'I could', 'I might' and 'I'd like to', she says.

"You're giving yourself permission for human error – and let's face it, there's plenty of that around."

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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