Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sometimes life sucks - and 4 ways to help it suck less

I recently had the following exchange with a friend on line, and I think it taps into issues many of us face from time to time.

"There is so much wrong in the world that I sometimes cannot handle thinking about it and react with pessimistic thinking and I give up trying."

How do we get out of those periods of extreme negativity when we’re overwhelmed with all that’s wrong? I know I’ve been sucked into some very murky, gloomy places where the world just seemed to pile misery onto negativity onto gloom and then mixed it up into a wholly unappetising festering sludge. Everywhere I looked there was unhappiness, bullying, cruelty, monumental greed, corporate and Government corruption, lying, mysogynistic abuse, environmental degradation and tipping points that could lead to all sorts of truly frightening outcomes. And that’s without adding that some people are conscious of these things and also dealing with physical pain, family issues and financial woes.
You can feel out of control, like being sucked down a chute.
Sometimes it feels relentless and can be unbelievably unsettling. I remember once thinking it was as if every morning I'd wake up to an overwhelming sense of doom as if I was looking into a vile bottomless precipice and I was teetering on the edge about to overbalance. And I was too scared to look and see what I was afraid of. (more on that another time.)

I’ll be up-front and acknowledge that it’s not easy, but it IS possible to carry on with a more wholesome outlook yet not ignore societal wrongs. What I’ll share are some of the skills I’ve learned over many years. It’s not a comprehensive list, but is a start.

1. Core values
A clear knowledge of your core values is a great place to begin. It’s the bedrock for my decisions whether small or large. In an ideal world I’d base all decisions on my values, as it is it's getting more automatic the longer I do it. (Here's a glimpse into some of my core values and how I incorporate them into blogging.)

The question goes “Is this decision, or action, leading me in the direction of my core values, or away from them?”

This deceptively simple question can lead to an equally, amazingly simple answer. Yes or no. My experience is that there’s not a lot of indecision - there doesn’t seem to be a “maybe” category.

However knowing the answer doesn’t mean the following action is easy. Making choices according to your values can be excruciatingly hard, but it leaves little wriggle room. You’re making a conscious choice to accept or ignore your value/s.

Another way of thinking about this could be: “Is being miserable about the state of the world, to the extent that I am unable to act, leading me toward or away from my values?”

I'm not going down
that way!
2. Self talk
Being aware of undermining words and negative self talk is valuable. What are the phrases you use on yourself that derail your goals and values? Could it be: “Why bother, it won’t make any difference anyway”? When I become aware of the variations on that theme playing in my head, I stop, pause and breathe, three times slowly and deeply. This allows me time to regroup, and refocus on the value I choose to pursue. (More on the power of thoughtful breathing here) It’s a few moments of mindfulness that I know I can achieve.

If the negative words are particularly invasive I can remind myself  “Oh that’s just my mind getting stroppy. This is boring! I don’t want to go down that track, it’s not helpful.” It’s like putting mental blinkers on as a conscious, very deliberate choice.

3. Your backpack
Some people find it helpful to visualise putting the negative thoughts, words and pictures into a backback, visualise leaving it by the back door ready to put on when they choose. Others find it more helpful to write about or draw the issue on a piece of paper and physically put it into a real backpack, walk around with the back pack on, then take it off with a deeply exhaled breath. Then stretch as if you’ve taken off a very heavy load, breathe deeply and pursue the one action you want to address in this moment. You choose when to put the laden backpack on again.

4. Sharing with your mates
I've often talked about the importance of sharing when you're feeling overwhelmed with negativity. The negativity could be a chasm of despair, depression, fear or ... (insert your personalised word here). Some of the broad environmental, social, corporate and political issues we're facing, no matter where we are in the world, can be deeply distressing.

When we reach out to others and say something along the lines of: "I'm scared, how are you managing?" it can be uncomfortable. (Yep, that's for sure!) But by learning to be vulnerable we acknowledge our shared humanity. We allow others to reach out and both give and receive support. It's not everything. The pain and fear doesn't magically disappear, but it's a great start.

It can be hard to live according to your core values, but strangely it can help you confront your demons and strengthen resolve when the going is rocky.

  • On the importance of small steps, this one to do with movement Happiness tip - Move! here
  • A brief slide show with practical tips for supporting happiness choices here
  • Training our minds for happiness takes discipline as described by Matthieu Riccard here

What supportive actions would you like to add to this list?

If you suspect you could be depressed please contact your health care professional, Life Line, or other support service.


Anonymous said...

All good ones and worth a little extra effort in their direction...until I got to the last one....I have yet to find anyone willing to discuss the real issues.

sue said...

Delores, it's possible the hardest, but worth continuing trying to make the connection with others.

David Macaulay said...

Good advice Sue - so most importantly how do I sign up to the A-Z blogging challenge?

sue said...

Hi David, good to see you! Go to the badge on the sidebar at the right, click and it'll take you to the A-Z site. On the green banner at the top is the signup tab. Taadaa, there you have it! I'll bet you've got something really interesting planned ;)