Relationships

Accentuate the positive in times of crisis and struggle

We have to live on, in spite of whatever curveballs life throws us

Special to The TribuneOctober 22, 2013 

DETROIT FREE PRESS ILLUSTRATION

We all have problems that cause us great angst. An adult child may be battling substance abuse. A beloved spouse has received a horrific diagnosis. The boss says next week will be your last.

Each of these knocks the wind out of our psychic sails. We’re thrown into a tailspin. They consume our thoughts and energy. It’s difficult to sleep. We worry life is over. We’ll never be happy again.

At the same time, we know quitting isn’t an option. Somehow, we have to pull through.

That process has to start now. We can’t wait until all the headaches are over. That’s never going to happen. As soon as one difficulty’s settled, another crops up to take its place.

Troubles are also relative. What seemed earth-shattering in our 20s feels silly compared with crises later on.

Instead, we have to live in spite of the curveballs. We must eke out joy wherever it can be found.

It might arrive at unexpected moments. When my mother was being treated for cancer, I attended radiation treatments with her. A fellow patient shared funny stories about his illness that had us howling with delight.

Joy may already be under your nose. Your lifelong passion for working in your garden is the perfect antidote for your shattered nerves.

It’s also important to contain the emotional damage. No matter how traumatic the current stressor, some facets of your life remain the same. After a tree branch falls on your car, you’re grateful that no one was injured and that insurance will help pay for the damage.

Identifying intact areas minimizes the chances that you’ll feel overwhelmed. You’ll see quickly that all is not lost. Lots of your life is OK.

You may even wish to quantify what percentage of your life is in upheaval and what’s still firm as bedrock.

Avoid the temptation to be dramatic and think “Everything’s a total mess.”

If you’re honest, you might acknowledge that, say, 20 percent of your well-being is affected. Everything else is good to go.

That sameness is like an old friend; when you engage in those familiar activities, you feel safe. You’re personally in charge.

No doubt, there’s still chaos. You’ll carry on.

LIVING THROUGH CRISIS

Don’t overreact. Life is full of drama. How we handle each episode determines our amount of mental anguish. Staying low key in the line of fire helps us keep calm and prevents collateral damage. Of course, certain events are serious. Even so, going berserk never improves things.

Listen to your verbiage. Notice how you talk. Avoid words and phrases that make things worse than they are. Instead, be optimistic. Your words reflect your thoughts. Your emotional bandwidth doesn’t need to be contaminated with negativity.

Identify areas that are untouched by the problem. Sure, you’re in the midst of a crisis. But much of your life is safe and sound. It’s good to know that not everything is falling apart.

Limit the amount of time you spend thinking about your problem. You can’t fret 24/7. That’s not productive. And you’ll quickly get burned out. Set aside a specific time to make calls, search the Web, answer related emails or talk to insurance companies. Then put it all away and take a break.

Take good care of yourself. Stressful times are emotionally draining. We’re more likely to get sick, feel tired, snap at loved ones and have an accident. Treat yourself with kid gloves. Go to bed early. Eat healthy, low-fat, vitamin-packed meals. Be vigilant about how much alcohol you drink. Excessive liquor never helped.

Find joy. No matter how difficult your situation, there’s still joy hidden in your life. Notice butterflies in your garden. Talk to a grandchild on the phone. Take the dog on your favorite hiking trail. Immerse yourself in all the goodness life has to offer. You need it right about now.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com.

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