No matter how great your life is, sometimes it just s*?ks. Perhaps things don’t go the way you want them to…your car breaks down…the kids act up…or you don’t get that new job. The pressures and obligations of work and family can become overwhelming, and turning on the news just makes matters worse. You know the drill.
I’ve been in one of those phases for the past month or so, and it’s likely to continue for at least a few more weeks. I have a lot of exciting yet pressure-filled things happening with the business and a lot happening with my family—some things are super-exciting and others are more challenging. But all of it seems to need attention now. There are nights when my husband, Ron, and I get home from work…hug…kiss…and then go to our respective corners to decompress and refuel, not seeing each other again until bedtime.
Sadly, with the untimely deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in recent weeks, we all have seen what happens when life sucks too much for some people. These are the public suicides…but there are approximately 123 suicides every day in the US! What tragedies…and what unimaginable demons these people were facing to make those extreme decisions.
I don’t want to project or assume anything about what is behind these decisions, but I do want to make the case that coping poorly with life’s ups and downs can lead to greater levels of distress, depression or worse.
Fortunately, Ron and I have our unique methods of coping. And everyone needs to figure out what works best for them. But here’s what I do when life sucks…
- Breathe. When I feel my body and head starting to get that “I’m going to explode” feeling as I run from meeting to meeting, I take a moment to follow the teachings of one of our experts, Jeffrey C. Zimmerman a doctor of Oriental medicine. Jeff has made me aware of the contortions that my body goes into when tension rises. I cross my arms, cross my legs, tighten my shoulders and roll them forward. If I took a picture of myself, I would look like a knotted pretzel as I hold on to my body for dear life. To counteract the tension, I unwind it—taking a few moments to breathe and, more important, get my body into alignment so that my head, neck and shoulders rest easily over my hips. Once Jeff made me aware of my contortions, I realized how the tensions in my body were directly related to my emotions and that once I relaxed my body, my inner anxiety also gets lower.
- Meditate. At the suggestion of Bottom Line blogger, Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, I started meditating several months ago. While I sometimes have a hard time fitting in two 20-minute sessions each day, when I am very stressed I find that taking the time to let my brain fully release makes an enormous difference in my energy level and my ability to focus. Our bodies can’t function in the constant fight-or-flight mode that occurs during these “sucky” times, and meditation helps me to recenter myself and clear my head so that I am able to face whatever I have to address next.
- Have a gratitude moment. Feeling grateful has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and even lower blood pressure and other markers for heart failure, along with a whole lot of other medical and emotional benefits. With Ron and I up to our eyeballs in challenges the past few weeks, we have taken the time to gain some perspective. We acknowledge that some of the stressors, such as exciting new work projects and big family events, are “good stressors.” And for those difficult ones, we know that in many ways they could be worse, and we are grateful for the support that we have from family and friends to help us through them.
One thing that Ron likes to say when we run up against the inevitable frustrations of air travel is, “Isn’t it amazing that we can fly?” It really puts things in perspective. Even though we are frustrated by the crowds, delays and what-not associated with air travel, think for just a moment about how miraculous it is that a hunk of metal weighing more than 70 tons with 50,000 pounds or more of humans and their luggage can get you from here to there in a matter of hours.
The same logic holds true for all sorts of situations. Gratitude. Perspective.
- List out those worries. I am a big list maker—I love writing things down, love crossing things off. Creating a list of everything that’s going on lets my brain not have to remember everything. I also avoid swirling on the tasks that need to be done and replaying frustrating moments.
Write down everything—whatever you can think of. Just let it flow. It’s therapeutic to write, and then you know that you won’t forget anything because it is on a list.
- Determine what needs to be done. If necessary or appropriate, outline the steps needed for each of the items on your list. Action builds confidence and strength. Feeling stuck by inaction or not knowing what to do only makes things suck more. If you aren’t sure where to start, just write. If you don’t feel like you have any control over the situation, ask yourself what you would do if you had absolutely nothing holding you back. Or, if it is difficult to imagine yourself with that much power, think of someone whose strength you admire, and ask yourself what that person would do in the situation. The goal is to identify steps that can be taken—big and little—so that you don’t feel like you are a victim of the situation(s).
The key to working through the down phases of life is to do just that—work through them. Acknowledge that some situations are harder and take longer to manage than others, and never lose sight of the fact that every phase has its start and ending. It may take some reframing. It may take some tough decisions. Or it may take a whole lot of endless patience as you ride the wave.