Something’s making you anxious. In today’s world it could be any number of things, and sometimes several in combination. Maybe it’s a big assignment at work with a pressure deadline you’re not sure you can do it all and you feel your job depends upon it. Or you suspect your husband’s having an affair and you need to make the confrontation. Or your adult child has just been diagnosed with cancer and chemotherapy starts next week and so does your new job. Or you’ve been out of work for 6 months and the bills are piling up.
Whatever it is, you feel overwhelmed and find yourself getting panicky sometimes. You’re going along okay and then it starts – your heart’s pounding, your pulse is racing, your eyes well up with tears, and you want to run or hide.
The trouble is that in this state you can’t think, and clear thinking is what you need. You need resources, a strategy with action steps, and calm resolution to take the first one. How do you get there from here?
STEP ONE: Self-soothe. All forms of panicking involve losing your breath, and you need your breath for inspiration; the root of that word means “breath in” incidentally. Your thinking brain needs oxygen in order to function, and you need deep breathing to accomplish this.
Breathe deeply. The knot in your stomach will relax. We experience our emotions through our bodies, i.e., shortness of breath, a knot in the stomach, sweating palms signal us that we’re anxious. Deep breathing is incompatible with the physiological effect of negative emotions.
STEP TWO: Clear Your Head & Add Positive Self-Talk and Prayer. Your head is spinning and the worst-case scenario-fantasy is escalating out-of-control. Breathe deeply. Replace “I can’t take this,” and “I’ll end up on the streets” with “I’m competent and can handle this,” and “I’ve been through tough times before and everything turned out fine.”
If you can’t get there, replace it with something neutral, the verbal equivalent of counting sheep. Run through the alphabet. Silently recite nursery rhymes. Do math equations.
Pray. Here is a method for praying if you need one: http://www.susandunn.cc/goldenkey.htm . You can submit a confidential prayer request to Unity here: http://www.unityonline.org/pray_submitprayerrequest.htm .
STEP THREE: Think Optimistically. This is functional optimism – or ‘learned’ optimism, as Martin Seligman, Ph.D., the father of positive psychology calls it. It has to do with how you look at what’s happened. Thinking it’s personal (“It’s all my fault”), pervasive (“I screw up everything”), and permanent (“I always have and I always will”), will make it worse.
The essence of Optimism is avoiding the downward spiral, so distract yourself. Keep your social life going. Rent a funny video (laughter helps the immune system and helps us think more creatively). Stay busy. Don’t ruminate.
STEP FOUR: Bring in extra resources for taking care of yourself. Treating your physical body well, and having someone to talk to will help. Also remember “water inside, water outside.” If you have plenty of money, just book the appointments: Get massages. Hire a coach or therapist. Make an appointment with a nutritionist and start supplements to bolster your immune system. (Stress attacks your immune system.) Sit in the hot tub at the Club an extra hour or take a cruise. (Drink water, be in water, look at water.) Sign up for the night tennis league for more exercise, and take Tai Chi and Meditation.
However, if you are also tight on funds, here are suggestions:
· Talk to your minister or rabbi
· Try the Stephen Ministry, an outreach that thousands of church organizations offer that’s interdenominational and free. You’ll be given a trained layperson to walk with you at this difficult time. Start calling churches to find one.
· If there is a lake, river or ocean nearby, go there and sit and look at it (paddle on it, swim in it).
· See if your friends’ apartment complexes have hot tubs or swimming pools you can use.
· Find free public facilities for swimming, tennis, biking.
· Walk in parks. Go to free art museums. (Nature and culture are healing.)
· If your problem is financial, or credit card debt, go see a bankruptcy attorney. The appointment is free. To make a plan you need information. You need to know your options, and your Uncle Henry’s is not good enough.
· Find a Prayer Service. Go there and let them pray for you.
· Check the yellow pages and see if there’s a non-profit counseling center that has a sliding scale fee.
· Drinking water is free. Do it.
STEP FIVE: Do NOT isolate yourself. This is the worst thing you can do for your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, and will have long-term effects beyond the current crisis.
When her husband died, my Great Aunt Louise, a very resilient person, told me, “If you’re having a dog fight, invite me. I need to be with people.” That’s healthy and assertive.
Get back into groups you’ve let drop, and join new ones. Add a mid-week religious service. Find a Sunday School class that’s interactive. Volunteer for group projects. Continue making and accepting invitations.
STEP SIX: Make a strategy. It’s important that you actually write it down. Make a column for each challenge you’re facing, and underneath each one write the steps you can take. Prioritize the issues, and take the first step under the most important one. Continue.
A coach, therapist or Stephen minister can help you with strategy. But first you have to calm your emotions (and take care of your health).
STEP SEVEN: Take action.
And P.S., stay away from negative people.
©Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach, http://www.susandunn.cc . I offer coaching, Internet courses and ebooks around emotional intelligence for career, relationships, transition, resilience. I train and certify EQ coaches. For more information on this fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program, firstname.lastname@example.org.