Staying Calm in (What Feels Like) a S#!t Storm, Part I: Resiliency
There are many times in our lives when we may feel like the proverbial rug has been pulled out from under us. Maybe it is a financial crisis, a sudden job loss, violent act, or a marital confession. Whatever the cause, the hours and days following the shift can feel like a s#!t storm. The numbness may vacillate with thundering emotion. The desire to DO SOMETHING is frequently met with a fatigued inability to hold onto cohesive thoughts. A fellow therapist once offered the description of being in a wooded ravine and a bomb goes off. When we first revive, our ears are ringing and our head is ringing. We must first get oriented before we can get to safety. It will take a bit before our eyes can focus on the trees, then the forest, then find our way forward. These ideas for reorienting and finding your calm are general ideas that can work across many situations. This first post will consider preemptive steps. These are resilience building ideas, in anticipation of life's rains.
*** If your crisis has left you feeling suicidal, with narrowing thoughts and fewer options, or homicidal with a plan, please seek emergency services right away. Call a friend to get you to the ER, call your therapist, call 911. The ideas feel real, but they are a fiction, born out of your shock and grief. Call in help.***
Just like we plan for atmospheric disruption with tornado drills or family emergency plans, so it is with our personal lives, as well. Before the first winds of your life storm blow, there are steps you can take to secure your well being. So, step one: Before crisis, acknowledge that crisis may happen. Living in denial will make you unnecessarily vulnerable to the winds of change. Of course, I don't advocate being a fatalist. What's the joy in that? Beware, though, of creating narratives that lead you to believe that you would be obliterated by a certain thing that happens. Let's say a person loves their house. They may say, "I'd die if I couldn't live in this house." This is hyperbole. And it undermines your resilience practice. If this way of thinking creeps up, ask instead, "What would I do if I lost this house? What are my favorite parts of this house? Where might I rebuild if I lost this house?" See the difference? Even just generally thinking, "I would feel injured and really really bad if ___, but, I know I am a survivor, and will survive" can be helpful with resiliency building.
Second, cultivate true intimate relationships with people in a variety of roles. When we become solely dependent on one other person, we become unnecessarily vulnerable. Instead, explore and build and fortify relationships to increase resiliency. Having a friend at work with whom you can commiserate, a long standing personal friend, and an intimate partner can help you to rely less on one person to be your everything. If you develop an outside interest, theater, art, skeet shooting, what ever it is, cultivating relationships in this sphere will be important, too.
Another resiliency task is to be mindful of your gifts. Sounds ridiculously simple, I know. This is why it is critical. In a crisis we may search for control and find it in self-blame. Thoughts like, "Had I cooked more," or "I guess I wasn't effective in my job," can be dastardly. While trying to feel a sense of control, we actually belittle ourselves, just when we need to be our own strongest advocate. So, make a list of your personal gifts. Make sure that your list isn't filled with other people's pronouncements about you. "I am funny," isn't necessarily going to help when you've suffered a job loss. However, if deep into your core you know that humor has helped you through trying times before, your list may have an item such as, "When I'm in a tough bind, I know that I can use my humor as a coping strategy." These are baby steps.
Make a list that includes strengths across many domains. Think about your work. Rather than defining yourself as your job title, really give thought to what you do. Since you are making this list as a safety net for a potential crisis, rather than from the center of the crisis, go ahead and dream a bit! What kinds of work might I like to do in the future? What are creative pursuits I have wanted to explore? What feeds me? Think of all your gifts, and go ahead, brag about them! On paper! For future reference in the middle of a s&*t storm. Next up: Next Steps.