Sink Your Teeth Into Something

Recently, one of my all-time favourite shows, Twin Peaks, returned after ending 25 years ago. Those of you who are fans but have yet to watch the new season: Don’t worry, I won’t include any spoilers in this blog. I burned through the 18 episodes of the new season, got the Secret History of Twin Peaks out of the library (and listened to the old show’s soundtrack while reading it), and recently bought the Final Dossier, written by the series’ co-creator. I sometimes dream about the show, and I’ve already rewatched particularly captivating episodes. I’ve really been sinking my teeth into all things Twin Peaks these days. You might be thinking I should get a life, but I definitely have a life – one that is sometimes so full of things to sink my teeth into that my jaw gets sore. My old favourite show has been a wonderful diversion, but the thing I’ve enjoyed the most is that it’s something that takes thought and analysis. It’s not always 100% clear what’s happening, and you have to keep track of and remember important details to make sense of things.

I’ve worked with many clients who could probably use something (not necessarily Twin Peaks – it’s an acquired taste) to sink their teeth into. Some of the wonderful, smart people I’ve worked with often feel like a racehorse stuck at the gate, ready to run but stopped by various mental health and other (difficultly with friends, family members, financial problems, and so forth) barriers. Our brains are thinking, analyzing, pattern-recognizing, mulling over, planning, ruminating, and worrying machines. When we’re bereft of things to chew on, our brains will find a way to chew on things anyway, such as why we have the problems we do, what’s wrong with us, what’s wrong with other people, why we can’t seem to get where we want to go, why other people seem to have it so much easier, and so forth. This kind of thinking, often referred to as rumination, can be really upsetting. I think our brains are much more likely to fall into the trap of rumination when we don’t have enough to sink our teeth into. This doesn’t mean that work solves all problems, or that simply reading a good, stimulating book or watching a great show can conquer depression and rumination. I think, though, that one step in overcoming these problems is to find something to throw yourself into – something that requires focus, attention, and gets your mind working. Favourite shows, captivating books, stimulating physical/mental activities that involves concentration (one of the reasons I like martial arts is that it involves physical and mental challenges), and so on, can present excellent opportunities to sink your teeth into something. Indeed, one of the distress tolerance skills in DBT (Linehan, 2015) involves distracting yourself by activating your mind. That said, I’m not just talking about short-term distraction, but rather, longer-term efforts to build into your life something that you can really chew on. I also recommend a balance of work/obligation related activities and fun stuff to chew on. My favourites are cooking, martial arts, books, and shows, but there are many options. If you think one missing morsel on your plate is something you can really sink your teeth into, try to explore your options, start chewing, and see if it helps. ~ Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.