Recently, I was feeling despondent about a particular ongoing issue that I have had with my back for many years. I will find a treatment that helps for a while and then I am back to having regular problems again. Sometimes it gets me down and I can become a little frantic. Becoming frantic then becomes part of the problem.
An overly active sympathetic nervous system response (fight-or-flight) is hardly ever helpful when we are experiencing difficulties—whether that is with your body or whether it is in relationship to other things in your life. When we go on “fight or flight” mode, the body is only really prepared to fight or flee. Neither fighting nor fleeing was going to help my back and I doubt if it will be helpful for many of your problems—unless you’re being chased by a bear or attacked in a dark alley.
For instance, I am teaching an Eat for Life (mindful eating) program that is in its second week. People are beginning to relax some of the dieting rules, but they have not yet cultivated the mindful awareness they need to eat in a way that will feel balanced and natural. This is when the freak out can begin, and they are tempted to go back to dieting. Of course, dieting didn’t work which is why they are in my class. When you get overwhelmed, you often resort to strategies that are less than helpful.
When things seem overwhelming and you don’t know what to do, this is the perfect time for the following strategies:
1. Do nothing and breathe. Sometimes the best strategy is to do nothing for a little while. Let yourself calm down by taking a few deep breaths. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When that happens, you activate the parts of the brain associated with problem-solving and decision-making. You need these parts of the brain to come online so that you can come up with better solutions. Of course, also take time to give yourself some self-compassion. Difficult times are painful and acknowledging and holding the feelings you are having with kindness can help you to relax.
2. Set your intention. I find intentions to be one of the most powerful mental strategies I can use. I set the intention to find some alternative solutions for my back. Within a week, I had found and made an appointment within a week with a new doctor that often takes months to see. I found a wonderful free yoga series online that works on the issue I have and seems to be helping. I also was told about a four-hour workshop by an excellent teacher on the area of the body I am focusing on. And, I will be seeing a new massage therapist that specializes in calming the nervous system.
3. Reach out for help. Call people that you know who might give you some good advice. Perhaps you know someone who has been in a similar situation as you and has navigated it successfully. Find out what resources were used. Even asking for recommendations on Facebook can give you information regarding some topics. By reaching out for help, I got most of the resources I utilized.
4. Take action. After setting my intention and reaching out for help, I did make the necessary efforts to contact people and look for services. There is an African proverb that says: “When you pray, move your feet.” This idea makes a lot of sense to me. We can’t just sit around praying (or complaining) and think that things are going to get better. We have to take action—either mentally or physically or both.
5. Cultivate trust and patience: This is where trust and patience come in. After you have taken the above steps (or even while you are), practicing trust and patience will keep you aligned with your positive intentions and actions. If you tighten up and get impatient, you might miss the miracle. Opening to the universe so that it can give you what you need is an essential ingredient to living more comfortably during difficult times.
You can live during difficult times with doubt and impatience, but you will add to your suffering. When you take a leap of faith (backed by action), you will be shown which direction to head and what to do. Your ability to relax will help you navigate the choppy waters with more grace and ease. Patience with life and with yourself will help you accept that things don’t always happen in our time frame. But during the journey, you might learn things you never knew would benefit you.
Take a deep breath. Set your intention. Ask for help. Take action. Cultivate trust and patience.