Let’s be real – sometimes life feels like an endless series of problems. The dog gets sick all over the freshly cleaned carpet, your car needs a $450 repair, the report you thought was due on Friday is actually due on Wednesday and you haven’t started it yet, and your mother-in-law wants to come to stay with you for “a little while” while her house gets redecorated. Your best friend’s mammogram has been flagged as worrisome, it seems like you might be developing an allergy to peanuts, and it’s pretty clear that you actually do have a colony of termites devouring the entire back third of your house. Isn’t life grand?!
You could have a few drinks, smoke your way through an eighth of weed, eat all the carbs you can get your hands on, run off to Bora Bora, quit your job, or leave your spouse. Sure, that would take care of the immediate problems. But then you’d have a whole new set of problems because problems abound in life. You’d be wondering about finding a new mate, a new house, whether or not you’ve gained five pounds, or looking up the definition of an alcoholic.
If instead, you were to sit yourself down firmly in the midst of your problems and really own them, you might find your perspective changing, the problems diminishing, or even discover that you have much more capacity to handle them than you ever thought possible. Even problems that initially seem insurmountable – getting diagnosed HIV-positive, having an eviction notice plastered on your front door, or finding out that your spouse has been cheating on you – can be made manageable. In your panic, your creativity is squelched and your perspective narrows and hardens.
Go ahead – make a list of ALL your problems – right now! It’s pretty long, right? Now take that same list, and counter every problem with a solution or a positive:
If you can’t do this exercise by yourself, ask for help. Your spouse, best friend, teacher, or yoga classmate may be amazing resources, and see things quite differently than you do in the moment.
I’m not trying to turn you into a Pollyanna. I AM trying to demonstrate the power of positive thinking, and the energy of creativity, resourcefulness, and connection. When you’re overwhelmed with a laundry list of problems, slow down, break it down, and revise your vision, your hopes, and your expectations. Your problems won’t disappear, but your stress level is virtually guaranteed to go down.
If you need more help mastering your stress, please reach out to me for a psychotherapy consultation at AskDrGretchen@gmail.com.
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