Mooring Lines: Anchoring Your Darn Amygdala

sea water ocean port

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

I hate boats. No, like HATE boats. However, I have an extensive knowledge of them thanks to my boat loving, sea-going husband. During our 13 years of wedded bliss (and counting), I have learned a lot about boats. Heck, they have become some of my favorite analogies in session with clients.

I want to share with you one of my favorite boat analogies: mooring lines. What in the world are mooring lines? Well, lives dive in (get the pun?) and talk about how this boat term is also an important mental health skill!

boat boating close up coast
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First, let’s start off with what mooring lines are in regards to boats. When you look at a boat, there are ropes on them. Some are for sails, some are for anchors, and there are some that tie the boat to a dock. The mooring is a place on the dock specifically designed to tie and anchor a boat to. With little boats (like my husband’s fishing/duck boat), a mooring can double as a pole that keeps the dock above water. For massive ships, these specific moorings are designed to withstand turbulent seas and hurricane-force winds and keep that ship in one place. The mooring lines are the thick ropes designed to keep the boat at the mooring point.

Now that we have the general idea about what mooring lines are, it is time for us to dive in to what mooring lines have to do with mental health.

Mooring lines are a very popular analogy to use when we talk about recovery from substance use. These are activities used on a regular basis (daily, weekly, or monthly) to help the person stay abstinent (or clean) from using the substance(s) they were addicted to. Essentially, these activities keep you “moored” to your new healthy lifestyle.

When it comes to mental health (like anxiety and depression), I have started to implement the same mooring lines idea with clients? Why? They offer a way to:

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  1. Create a healthy routine
  2. Provide your prefrontal cortex with evidence that you are doing better than your darn amygdala is telling you
  3. Increase the production of dopamine when you complete a task
  4. Improve your ability to stay motivated
  5. Help keep you committed and accountable to a new change

Talk about ferry (Ahhhh!!!) impressive! And we aren’t even halfway through this post yet!

On a serious note, I think this post comes at a-boat (Someone stope me!!) the right time with holiday stress and people thinking about New Years resolutions. Am I wrong? My calendar in my offices tells me that I am not.

We got the basic breakdown above about how mooring lines can help us, but how do we actually implement them without getting caught-up (I did it again) in all of the hype?

Coping Skills Alert!

When using mooring lines, we first have to identify activities we can do on a regular basis. These can be simple, like activities of daily living (brushing teeth, taking a shower, eating three meals a day, you know, things that keep you alive). They can also be hobbies (like sailing, crocheting, rowing, or making models). They can also look like household chores (keeping the dishes out of the sink, cleaning the bathroom, maybe even sweeping the deck…I mean floor). The activities you choose must:

  • Aid in promoting your physical and emotional well-being
  • Be realistic (SMART goals anyone?) for you to complete
  • Create a routine that helps you, not stresses you out more

Want a list of activities to use as mooring lines? Here is a great resource to use!

Once you have decided on a few activities that you want to use to moor (hardy har har!) yourself to your mental health journey, it is time to figure out how often you should be doing these.

Traditionally, I tell my clients in session that we should pick out:

november calendar on gray wooden surface
Photo by Monstera on
  • 3 mooring line activities you do on a daily basis
  • 2 mooring line activities you do on a weekly basis
  • 1 mooring line activity you do on a monthly basis

It might be one hull (hehehe!) of a time trying to do these all the time, seven days a week. One thing to remember is that these should fit into your SMART goals and align with what you require. These activities are there to help us identify when our mental health is smooth sailing (oh, I did it again), but also help us identify if we are entering some rough seas (before you ask, I will not stop!).

When we start to neglect these mooring lines, no different than with a ship, things start to fray. That means we can be set adrift and we can move away from mental health and back into that survival mode where our amygdala can try to stage a mutiny. When we track these activities, we can start to identify patterns that can signal if our mental health is about to turn face.

So, why do you track these mooring lines? Great question! Tracking when you are using these mooring lines is a crucial part to be able to understand anything that could trigger your anxiety and/or depression symptoms. You can pinpoint areas you are struggling with to identify when you’re mental health is on an even keel (trackability helps your prefrontal cortex recognize facts and change what your darn amygdala is saying), and give yourself the much needed dopamine-boost when you accomplish your mooring lines.

Back on course. The best way to track your mooring lines is to (wait for it…) keep a Captain’s Log or rather, Journal them! That’s right, Journaling is really important to being able to understand your mental health patterns. It gives us data to look back on (and help the prefrontal cortex collect facts). It allows us to keep track of what we have to do (so the hippocampus and hypothalamus are not so pressured). It promotes the release of feel good neurotransmitters when we accomplish our goal of feeling better about our mental health. Journaling and tracking your mooring line activities can (and will) change your mental health for the better, and that’s knot (not sorry) a lie.

Are you ready to take the plunge and improve your mental health? Sail over here to learn how you can work with me to do just that!

Thank you for joining me on this journey of nautical jokes and mental health skills that just plane (ahhhh, I switched it up!) work. I know as you take the time to use this particular set of skills, you will be able to start to gain confidence in your mental health, and that’s no bullship!

To recap this post:

– Nautical puns are boundless!

– Mooring lines are a beneficial way to keep you tethered to your mental health goals

– Journaling and tracking your mooring lines help you identify patterns in your behavior that help/hurt your mental health

Bonus Material!

Handouts are created to help you remember the facts of each post and help you implement the coping skill into your life. This week’s handouts (that’s right, handouts!) go over mooring lines, how to track your mooring lines, and things you can do that keep you drifting away from your mental health. Enjoy!

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The one-time payment option allows you to get all the handouts in one neat file, or with each post.


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2 responses to “Mooring Lines: Anchoring Your Darn Amygdala”

  1. […] goals are a mixture between creating a new routine, coupled with last week’s skill of mooring lines. I love multi-tasking skills, don’t […]

  2. […] easy enough for us to say “Amygdala, stop being stupid! I’m not going to fall off the boat, I need to be in a boat first!!” but in other cases, you really have to think about if your […]

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