That’s a theme I’ve heard frequently these last few months. I have asked that same question myself. The Uncertainty. The Overwhelm. The Disruption.
Finally… after a few months of stay-at-home, you’re finally feeling like things are back on some sort of schedule. Then…
…Your kid falls off their bike and breaks an arm.
…The water heater breaks and floods all over the basement.
…Your dog gets sick and needs constant care.
The precarious peace that you’ve worked so hard to establish is back in disarray.
We look at other people handling crisis. How are they staying so calm, so cool, so in control?
And here this one little thing is undoing weeks of work bringing ourselves back into a routine. What’s wrong with me???
I was a master at mentally beating myself up when things didn’t go as I planned. My “pep talk” routinely included: Why am I such an idiot… Am I that incompetent… If I had my act together… If I was better… I need to do more… I’m not good enough.
How DO normal people handle this?
Truth is, there is no normal.
Everyone handles stress (disruption) differently.
We all come from a different place, different experience, different environment, different influences. Even brothers and sisters in the same family. There is no ‘normal’. There is just you and what works to move you to a positive space.
I have learned that, instead of beating myself up, a more effective way of handling disruptions is building resilience and focus. Resilience is coming back to an effective state after you’ve been knocked off kilter. Focus is choosing what needs to be done in this moment to get you to where you need to be.
So, maybe the way you have learned to deal with disruption long ago—that seemed to be effective then—doesn’t help you move on to what you want now. Time to try something different?
First let’s set two ground rules and then I’ll share a little exercise that should help you get in a place to see more possibility, rather than despair.
First ground rule: Self-Compassion.
I’m not talking about allowing bad behavior or letting it slide. We generally do better when we are supported than when we are torn down (hello negative self-talk!) Self-compassion is accepting the human condition, that stuff happens, and we’ll do the best we can with it.
Second ground rule: You have choice.
What is needed now? What do you have to adjust? Avoid getting wrapped up in what shoulda, coulda, woulda. Focus on what is most important to take care of now.
Both of these ground rules require conscious attention. When we are stressed and in disruption, we usually respond with whatever default behavior has gotten us through life so far. Getting angry. Feeling frustrated. Imagining the worst. Giving up hope.
You need a practice that can calm your attention. If you already have a meditation or breathing practice, you might know what I’m talking about.
If you don’t currently have an attention practice you can draw on, try this:
First, move your body.
Not like in working out. Stand up. Shake out your arms. Do some arm circles. Wiggle your spine. Rotate your hips in a circle, like your balancing a hula hoop. Lift your knees like you are marching. Raise your foot off the ground and rotate your ankles in circles, a few one way, then a few circles the other direction. Gently shake your head up and down, back and forth, putting a gentle stretch on your neck. This movement disrupts the tightness your body naturally takes when it is responding to stress.
Next, take a deep breath.
Fill your lungs and let the breath expand your belly as much as you can. Blow it out through your mouth. Do this three times.
Now, close your eyes.
Or keep them open and gently gazing a few feet in front of you. Breathe normally.
Put your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your belly, near your navel.
Let your mind relax, try not to let it run around with your problems. And if it does, come back to the feeling on your hand on your chest and belly. Focus on the sensations around your chest and belly rising and falling with your breath. Stay like this for at least 30 seconds.
Finally, drop your hands to your sides. Open your eyes. One last deep breath.
What has become clearer? Are there possibilities that were hidden before?
Why this works:
To find new solutions, we need to have a relaxed body and positive mindset (Positive Emotional Attractor in psych speak). Stress usually has the opposite effect—generating fear, anxiety, frustration, desperation.
Moving your body, even a little bit, relaxes the shape we subconsciously take on when we feel stress.
Breathing and feeling into your body (hand on heart and gut) focuses attention away from the swirling mind. The brain in our head is not the only source of intelligence we have to draw on, but we need to slow down enough to “hear” what the neurons throughout our body are telling us.
When we are calm and relaxed, it’s like a dark curtain is lifted and we begin to see possibilities that we can try to move us to a more positive outcome.
We are all “normal.”
Trying to do the best we can in our unique way.
What has worked for you to get back to effectiveness when plans fall apart?
Photo credit: Photo by Jorge Salvador on Unsplash