Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to Keep Your Head When All Others Around You Are Losing Theirs

Let’s face it. We live in difficult times. Unspeakable violence, financial insecurity, climate change, deep political division, relationship challenges…it’s enough to make the sanest adult want to run for the safety and comfort of “Mama” and their favorite security blanket. But since this isn’t a reasonable option for anyone over the age of 12, there has to be a viable way to deal with the intense physical pain and discomfort that threatens to overtake our sensibilities and send us into a full-blown panic.

If you’re anything like me, you know how awful it is to have this happen at four o’clock in the morning, yanking you out of a peaceful sleep. My emotional boogeyman is especially powerful at this hour, pushing me as close to the cliff of doom as I ever want to come.

I personally experience a near-consuming, radiating ache that settles right at the base of my breastbone, causing my throat to tighten, my eyelids to narrow and my thoughts to run down every dark, menacing alley in my mind. The overwhelming discomfort triggers an intense desire to run away, but I don’t have any idea where I’m supposed to go. I only know I want to escape from the horrible way I’m feeling.

In the past I’ve had two default responses to my discomfort, depending on the time and place it decides to rear its ugly head – one involving liquor and the other employing a desperate attempt at convincing myself how silly and irrational I’m being by coming up with a list of all the blessings in my life.

The first response, while effective, is also temporary. And as anyone who has subscribed to this remedy can testify, it has the potential for making you feel much worse, depending on the amount of Pinot Noir imbibed.

The second response is usually an exercise in futility since I can never seem to build enough positive momentum with my blessings list to extinguish the full head of steam already built up by my tormentor.

It was during one of these late night/early morning waking nightmares, out of blessings and trying to snatch at fleeting wisps of relief from overused positive affirmations, I remembered the saying, “to get through it you have to go through it.” Luckily, this triggered a memory of a long-forgotten, but extremely effective method for “keeping your head...”

Before I share it with you I should point out the technique takes a little practice and a large dollop of courage. But I promise it works like a charm every time.

You should also know the source of the fear is not addressed – only the resulting pain and discomfort.

Ok. Here’s how it works.

Let’s say your particular issue is fear…paralyzing, gut-wrenching, clammy-hands fear, interfering with your peace, happiness and ability to function. At the moment the feelings threaten to engulf you, respond by taking the following steps:

1.      If it is safe and convenient, stop whatever you are doing.
2.      Close your eyes.
3.      Pinpoint the exact location in your body where the discomfort is strongest.
4.      Keeping your eyes closed, sit with the discomfort, and without any type of thought or judgment, simply keep your attention on it.

I have a lot of trouble trying not to have any thoughts, so once I pinpoint where I’m feeling the most pain I find it helpful to think, “there it is,” or “I see it.” After a moment or two of quiet observation, the discomfort usually begins to dissipate.

Now this is the point when courage is called for. As soon as you begin to feel your pain easing up, immediately bring back the discomfort by calling to mind whatever is causing your fear in the first place.

Repeat steps 2 - 4

Once again, as you begin to feel relief, try to recreate your discomfort.

You will find each time you do this the level of pain is decreased substantially, until you get to the point where it’s almost impossible to bring up the discomfort. The simple act of quiet, non-judgmental observation defuses the strength of the negative emotion.

The great thing about this technique is you can use it with the slightest bit of tension or uneasiness threatening to intrude on your daily activities.

I have also found this technique, when completed, provides the added bonus of a shot of confidence. The first time this happened I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe it comes from my psyche feeling like it successfully vanquished an “enemy.”

I invite you to try this the next time you feel even the slightest distress. I’d be interested to know if it works as well for you as it does for me, so don’t be shy about leaving your comments.   

We can't control what happens in the world, but we can certainly do something positive about the way it affects us.