Do you know those days when by 11am you’re starting to feel like life is out to get you? And onto knock number one piles knock number two piles knock number three and all of that on a day when you’re feeling your most weak, vulnerable and doubtful to start with? Those days where you find yourself doubting that things could ever be good for any length of time, at all?
And here you are, armed with the best strategies to stay well in rough times, all laid out perfectly straight in your head and you just feel too devastated to use them??? And when you do, you do so halfheartedly while secretly holding onto the belief in your head that they simply won’t work, anyway.
These days happen, and they happen to all of us. And they are an absolute gift.
Because how easy would it be to get complacent about yourself otherwise? And how easy would it be to stop growing and become less than the best possible version of yourself?
But sometimes it’s hard to see that - especially when you’re in it. It much more feels like the end of you. At least for today.
Here’s what to do on those days (or in those moments) when things are crashing around you and are taking you down with them…
If life knocks you to the floor, that’s where you start. This is not about aiming for serenity. This is, initially, about restoring basic functionality. Checking that the stand-by light is still on.
Are you still breathing?
This is not a joke - we often completely unconsciously hold our breath when we get stressed - further cutting the oxygen supply to our brain, which makes finding your way out of the slump with any sense so much harder. So: breathe.
And if you can, try to breathe a little more deeply. And a little more slowly.
For a while, that may be all you can do.
Stay there a while.
Vital functions - check.
Next, check your body. That awful anxious, painful feeling you’re experiencing… that stress or fear, or anger or whatever it is: it has a home. It might cling to your shoulders with the grip of a vice or it might hit you in the belly with the force of a sledgehammer. Maybe it has it’s icy hands around your neck, slowly clenching your throat.
Find out where it lives, and then deal to it. This is physical pain, you can do something about it. Gently massage your solar plexus with your hand. Apply a hot water bottle to your shoulders or roll your head to release gently. Do whatever is necessary to deal with the painful feelings in your body. Definitely change your posture - straighten up, stretch.
Once you’ve located and seen to the pain, check the rest of your basics - are you thirsty, hungry, tired? - Take care of that. That’s easy. Even now, you can do that.
Body - check.
Ready for step 2...
2. Adjust your meaning
Once you’ve taken care of those basics, at the very bottom of pit, it’s time to do a bit of active engineering. Whatever unpleasant thing is happening, it’s likely that your mind is having a field day over it. If you’re feeling affected, something in you has been triggered and it is spinning you out of centre. And while you may not be able to control the circumstances, you can control what meaning you give to the situation.
And let me tell you - if your meaning at present is that your life is too hard and hopeless - it’s not going to make you feel very good. Downward spiral, here I come…
So it’s time to adjust.
Note: What comes next, is not going to come to you naturally or easily. This is not a ‘quick fix feel good all is well’ thing - it’s going to take some actual effort - but it is far from impossible.
Once you’ve got your body sorted, try to focus on coming up with a new meaning for whatever things have just happened. What can you find in this that you can feel grateful for? What could you be learning? What is the opportunity that is buried in this situation that you can access only now (even if you don’t want to take it)? Which door has opened that was previously closed?
With a little (or a lot) of digging and searching, you will find something. And when you do, THAT is the thing to focus on. And every time you are going back under, rinse and repeat. Come back to that meaning. Place your focus there - and hold it as long as possible. Remember it.
By looking at things this way, you will also be able to place that tiny but all important space between yourself and that crazy trip your mind is just sending your body onto. And then at least you can see it for what it is: a crazy ride.
3. Do something (else)
By now you should be feeling those icy grips starting to loosen and you might even slowly start feeling like there might be a tomorrow after all.
The next best thing to do is: something else. Ideally, do something you enjoy. Or, just return to business as usual for now. Any sort of activity is good - especially if it is in some way demanding of your brain. But even mundane tasks can be good if they involve movement (and maybe loud music)?
And the secret tip to make this work even better is this: do something for someone else. Or at least ask someone else how they are - and genuinely listen to their answer. There are always people who go through stuff that’s even harder than yours - now is the time to help them out. And - try not to talk about your problem. Or if you do, keep it lighthearted and positive.
While it can be really helpful to be able to tell of your challenges and talk about our emotions - it can also amplify whatever story we made of the situation. While the connection we get there can provide great reassurance, it also drives us deeper into the mud (and gets us stuck). So sometimes it’s better not to talk about things until you have put a bit of distance between yourself and the matter of the moment… there’ll still be plenty of time to deal with things then.
And remember that this, too, shall pass...