They took all forms, but largely leaned on cliches and aphorisms about living in the moment, putting life in perspective, and (wait for it) telling ourselves everything is fine.
I hate to break this to you, but no — everything is not fine.
I’m happy to play the bad guy here, because, well, psychology has long told us the “shuffle it under the rug” approach to crisis is not only unrealistic, it’s damaging.
“Avoiding your negative emotion may feel like an effective stopgap measure, but in fact, it simply postpones, and perhaps escalates and exacerbates, a flood of negative emotion sometime in the future,” notes John Duffy, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist.
Still, we lean on laziness. It’s easier, perhaps, to momentarily inhale the fiction of “fineness” so we can go about our work, our relationships, our existing. And while that might seem momentarily expeditious, it’s a whole lot of wrong.
In my case, it leads to severe panic attacks — not planned ones, mind you, but the kind that ambush you in the middle of a work meeting with a client or double you over with inexplicable fear in aisle 9 of the grocery store.
Even if panic attacks don’t hit, the piled-on emotional baggage we choose to ignore puts us just below the boiling point — and not for a passing moment. It lingers, making emotional availability impossible. Relationships are ravaged, and equally as important, communication becomes a challenge.
The moral is: Stop telling yourself everything is fine if it isn’t.
It’s far better to acknowledge the state of things in the moment and your emotional reaction to those things. Then, find someone to share it with — not to solve the problem for you, but to articulate it.
As another clinical psychologist, Dr. Ryan Howes, notes, the act of articulation itself is a way to understand our fears and what’s triggering them. The more we understand, the more we know how to move ahead — not in wanton avoidance but in a way that addresses our emotions and the less-than-fine circumstances we face.
Here’s another tip I recommend that’s worked well for me: Step away from the pressures of the moment. Lie down. First, acknowledge both what you’re feeling and the negative triggers that surfaced those feelings. Next, think back to 1 year ago and imagine what you were doing. Spend some time thinking about the good and the bad, remembering the changes that occurred between then and now. Finally, look ahead a year and imagine your life as you would like it.
This seems silly, but it does a couple of things very effectively. First, it puts your current situation in perspective. A lot has happened in your life and this is one moment. It doesn’t define you or determine what’s to come. Second, it emphasizes the constancy of change. Yes, things aren’t great in the moment — but they will likely change. Third, remembering what you did and where you came from reveals an important part of your reality: You are the ultimate director of your life. While things affect you outside of your control, much is in your control, and decisions can push you to change things for the better.
As always, if you feel what’s happening to you is beyond you, reach out for help. But I recommend pausing in the moment first to gather your thoughts, level your emotions, and acknowledge what is, what was, and what can be.
Simple. Not easy, but simple. And much, much healthier than the damaging memes telling us “everything is fine.”
Perhaps we need a new one: “Everything is not fine. I’m dealing with it. Give me a minute.”
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