In my last Blog I shared about doing something visible. Encouraging readers to stop vegetating -reviewing- regurgitating bad stuff in our heads and taking small steps that can be noticed to shift thinking.
This time I will talk about those days in life when something really tough happens, a broken heart, sad news, a significant loss, a major disappointment, being laid off or terminated, losing a championship, a pet, a role that was important. Losing a spouse, child, or health. . .
In these moments, when we have to walk away, put down the phone, hang up, turn it off, or hear words we never invested in - is when our best as well as worst is revealed.
Some confront, some avoid, some cry, scream, or yell. Others detach, deny, or distract themselves. There is no 'right' way to do these moments. Getting judged or criticized for not doing what is expected by others is profoundly unfair. Too often we judge when someone handles these events differently from what we expected, needed, wanted.
We carry the pain of their lack of interest, involvement, action, reassurance in our memories -that too often shape our perception of them but also the world and how it will or should treat us.
Too often we take it so personally, too personally, that we disconnect ourselves from any attempt at making it work in the future.
I share this because I work with so many who are grieving. When you build a practice in counseling, grief and addiction come with it. We cannot do life without loss. It is how we manage loss that can crush us or strengthen us. The experience is not 'taught' ahead of time. Our culture doesn't do a very good job of embracing it either. In our incompetence or lack of experience we do what we know and too often those choices aren't reflecting what is best for us.
Here are some suggestions on what to do in those moments where life takes your breath away. . .
1- Breathe deeply at least 3 times. Pay attention to inhaling and exhaling. Pay attention to smells if it will help anchor you.
2.Assess safety and comfort. Sit down, secure your setting -close a door, move away from noise or distraction, ask for others to leave room or join you. Remove yourself from busy traffic, pull over, find a bench, step out of the way of others. Clear your setting so nothing else prevents you from hearing or thinking clearly.
3. If you are experiencing anything physical that feels overwhelming or uncomfortable - such as inability to catch your breath, racing heartbeat, sweating, shaking or not thinking at all - STOP and just start looking around and naming 5 objects around you that you see. This will help you disconnect safely from what your body is doing. You may feel serious distressful physical sensations at this point. They are not life threatening. They may feel like it - but they aren't. They will pass.
4. If you are still experiencing physical panic - start listening for 4 sounds you hear. Anything. It may take a few moments. Take your time,. This will further disconnect you from the physical side of your experience - helping to ground you.
5. By now you should feel less overwhelmed - but if not then count 3 'feelings' you feel. The way your hands are touching. The way your legs are positioned. Not emotions!
6. Now you can think more clearly about what you need to DO next.
- Do you need to move away from the threat, person, situation?
- Do you need to assess the situation for what is really happening - not what it might be stirring up?
- Do you need to just ground yourself with a positive statement to remain calm, to be quiet, that this is temporary. . .
- Do you need to leave -with a quick explanation - to a safer - less confrontational place?
- Do you need to go to a private place to compose yourself? Restroom, bedroom, outside?
- Do you need to secure other people or pets? In your shock or panic you may not realize who/what isn't getting proper attention. Some shocking moments are that serious. Look around you - is everyone safe? Secure "who" first - then "what".
- Some do better when they switch their focus at this point to others - but others may be so sensitive - blindsided or less equipped that reaching out to others is impossible. This is when reaching out to others for help, assistance, guidance, directions is best. Ask for a hug, hand, directions, a call or a referral. . .
- If you are the more capable or strong one in the moment - reach out and secure the environment for the one not managing as well. Pick up a young child, sit with someone in tears, remove threatening people from the room, provide a ride to a safer place or professional.
7- When you feel safe - secure - and calm - then you can start sorting about what is urgent and important - that you will attend to immediately - or ask someone to help with. If it doesn't maintain life, have a deadline, expiration, or cause physical pain to yourself or others - it can wait. Sort through slowly and carefully what needs to be done NOW - the rest can wait and should.
It is very common when people are in a distressful situation to do things that don't make sense to anyone around. In blizzards they will spend their first hour shoveling where you rarely walk, they will worry about calling a distant Aunt, worry about the collection agencies of the costs . . . try to stay focused on what needs attention TODAY -this minute - this hour - before you go to sleep. . . the worries will wait. . . in fact they will be waiting for you when you get back to them!
8- Take a Nap. . . These kinds of events are taxing on every pore of our being. Broken hearts, grieving of loved ones and dealing with unexpected trauma wipes us out physically, mentally and emotionally. It demands every ounce of energy to manage and survive. WIth this demand we may start with not being able to sleep to requiring naps to get through a day. TAKE ONE! Seriously, when your day is filled with this level of emotion - a simple nap may be the BEST and smartest thing to DO. Leave the other "To DO List" until you are better rested. Naps also seem to work better during these times in life because they happen when your body is literally out of fuel - so sleep comes easily - rather than feeling forced at a prescribed time. Stop worrying about being perceived as lazy, lacking ambition, not grieving enough, not doing something. You are - you're re-generating energy!
9- Take one minute - hour- day at a time. Seriously. Make life small. This is not the time to review old - bury yourself in regrets-project fears into the future. No one knows what's ahead for the next 5 years - much less tomorrow. Remember how naive we were the day before September 11th, 2001? The news was about sharks in Florida! The stuff we worried about before that day seemed really dumb. . . saying "I love you" to a spouse on a phone was suddenly THE most important thing to DO. . .
10- Pick up the phone. email - text- reach out.
Call those nonjudgmental - supportive friends and family who will listen. Have several so you don't wear any specific one out. Set up specific meeting times ( coffee- lunch- prayer) and days - to look forward to. Ask for hugs if you have lost a loved one or pet - you will miss touch! Get a referral for a counselor - get one in place even if only for a short time - to be another 'audience' who will help encourage and empower you for the changes ahead. Don't attempt to do it alone. Let someone get the 'feel good' of helping YOU.
Let Happiness in! Start counting what's going right . . .