One day I was talking with a client who was calmly sharing what had happened in her life since I’d seen her two weeks ago and she impressed with her calmness. With a history of anxiety, depression and having overcome serious drug and alcohol addictions, I wondered how she managed to handle the string of events she was relating to me: college classwork to become a therapist, frustration at bureaucracy dragging its feet when she had to have court papers signed by a specific date or she’d lose her scholarship, single-parenting her young son, dealing with the aftermath of her mother and step-father having been scammed out of a sizable amount of money, and being without a car for two weeks while it underwent necessary repairs.
We talked about how we all suffer from discomfort when we lack control over outside circumstances and how growing up as an adult child of an alcoholic made this task even more difficult. Then we moved onto what she’d learned about staying cool in hot times and she came up with a list of 10 recommendations which are to:
- Step back: Move back—way back—from whatever is going on and focus on the big picture.
- Detach from emotions: Think and talk yourself down from intense, flooding emotions.
- Find objectivity: Along with tamping down affect, seek objectivity via facts.
- Acknowledge that we can’t control life: Remind yourself that it’s normal to not have control over your life because no one does and don’t panic at feeling powerless.
- Recognize your limitations: Acknowledge how your childhood affected your coping abilities.
- Identify missing life skills: Learn the successful life skills you lack to manage life.
- Distinguish what you can do in a situation from what you can’t: Avoid all-nothing thinking and be clear about where you can have impact and where you can’t.
- Let go: Rather than try to do the impossible, let go of what you can’t impact or change.
- Do what you can: Don’t give up completely. Rather, identify what you can do to make things better—then take action to the best of your ability.
- Maintain self-care: No matter what is happening, stay conscious of how you’re taking care of yourself and keep in mind that self-care will help you get through most situations.
Practice these strategies when life throws you a curve ball. And keep practicing until those curve balls don’t seem so scary any more.