Life is beautiful. Yet along with all of its wonderful parts, life also comes with a significant amount of challenges.
Right when we think we have done enough work to enjoy a sense of safety, stability and order, some new crisis shows up that disturbs our peace and leaves us feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and alone.
Perhaps a significant relationship ends, we lose our job, or a family member suffers an unexpected illness.
I recently found myself in the midst of two significant family crises, involving two of the most important people in my life. These life developments came about, right when I had finally established a wonderful balance of living my life in alignment with my values. I launched my business, Myndzen, and was beginning to get some wonderful results helping Care Giving Professionals develop sustainable resilience against burnout and compassion fatigue.
With these family crises, my energy had to be redirected to elements I had not planned for.
I hope you did not take personally the lack of my on-line presence. I had to re-prioritize, re-distribute my energy, and take the necessary time to find a new balance based on my new life circumstances. I am so happy to be back with you again!
Sometimes, adverse life situations are long-term consequences of our own actions. Other times, they relate to things outside of our control.
Either way, the big question is: How do we minimize the pain and speed up our recovery when we face a significant challenge in our life?
Here are some strategies that were surprisingly effective in my personal experience.
- Take some activities off your plate.
When some unexpected twist of fate shows up in our life, we feel a palpable energy deficit. The way we usually attempt to fix this is by sacrificing self-care, giving up things we enjoy, or working late.
Let’s face it, when we deal with major stressors, self-compassion goes out of the window and we become rather self-critical. Right?
But does the inner critic provide us with the support we need to overcome adversity?
The world’s most prominent expert on self-compassion, Kristin Neff, helped me realize that self-criticism activates our stress response, which is already over-activated. We are only physiologically designed to elicit our stress response occasionally. When we are dealing with a crisis, we need to purposefully create ample space to revive in between sprints.
When a major life change shows up, what can you realistically take off your plate, at least temporarily, to maintain access to the problem-solving abilities of your powerful brain? It is both okay and necessary to give yourself the permission to do so.
- Be with the pain of the challenge you are facing with equanimity.
When things fall apart, we face the immediate, realistic consequence—the loss of a person whose presence is significant for us, or the direct loss of financial resources associated with losing our job. Yet often times, there is a significant amount of suffering that stems not from the event itself, but from the narrative that accompanies a painful life situation. We may find ourselves going down the road of feeling guilty about the time we did not spend with the loved one that we lost, or envisioning all the possible things that could go wrong when facing an unexpected re-organization at our workplace. The truth is, 95% of all the things we worry about do not actually happen. What does happen when we allow our mental activity to focus on regrets about the past and worries about the future is to short-circuit our thinking brain. The other thing that also happens, is an extended release of cortisol, which compromises the optimal performance of our body systems.
When events happen that take you off-balance, lean toward the pain and let it be without resisting or exaggerating it. Everything is temporary and this too shall pass. I promise.
- Recognize the human connectedness in all of life’s struggles.
When something happens that is linked to a negative outcome, we define it as failure. A sense of shame hides below the brave face we put on for the world, which leads to isolation. The truth is, we all have our fair share of vulnerabilities and the fear that “we are not good enough” is universal. The fabulous, grounded-theory research by Dr. Brene Brown has added much evidence to support this truth. This false sense of separation is a huge obstacle to self-compassion and connection, which is, after all, the most potent pain reliever there is!
Next time you are suffering, what if beyond acknowledging your suffering to yourself, you openly speak about your experience to people who care about you and support you?
Sometimes life gets more complicated than what we think we can handle emotionally and physically.
However, most of the time, it is during the difficult times that we feel compelled to re-shuffle our deck of cards, let go of things that no longer serve us, and chart a new course that is more aligned with our values and purpose.
Although sometimes I experience a great degree of intensity and discomfort in my life, I prefer to deal with it from an inner sense of calm and balance, while openly recognizing that this is part of our human experience.
I know that we live in a culture that does not give us permission for falls, failures,and imperfections. Yet the only way to change that is to slowly, but surely, plant seeds of kindness for ourselves. If we purposely replace self-judgment with self-compassionand isolation with connection, we may just realize that we have plenty of resources and support to transform unfortunate events into catalysts for positive change.