Challenge as Opportunity

There's a deep dissatisfaction about where you are in life and a longing for things to be better. You see things are "greener on the other side" and you jealously see "that person's life looks so amazing." You ask yourself, “Why can’t I be like that? Why can’t I do that?”

Don't let those questions be rhetorical. If you search for answers, this arduous time is an opportunity for self-growth and reflection.

I suffer from a few chronic illnesses and honestly I am frustrated when they interfere with my personal and professional goals. Working through that frustration was a process I struggled with internally; it challenged my sense of self-reliance and accomplishment. "I can do it all! I can reject this part of me!" 

Not quite. Those illnesses had other plans.

Lost Signage

Chronic conditions are part of who I am as a person and acceptance is part of the growth and healing process. In my journey of frustration, I reflected on a few topics and questions that might be helpful to you all. 

1. What is important in life?

What do you value and what matters to you in this life? What drives you and gets you motivated about your day, week, and beyond? Powerful motivators include financial security seen in a positive light, knowledge, family, truth, connections with others, and spiritual well-being. 

That itchy, unsettling feeling inside? That’s incongruence when you don’t live according to your values. You wouldn’t be getting upset over something that didn’t matter. 

The more aligned you are to your values and beliefs, the greater authenticity is in your life. If you can focus on what's important to you and work to align your actions and values, the richness and meaning outweighs, I’ve found, the hardships that occur.

2. What can and can’t I control?

I often explore this concept with clients and it’s amazing what our minds want to believe. You want to believe that you have a sense of control. It's normal to grasp at a sense of security. But the world isn’t safe and you don’t have control over tomorrow's events. Even with a good plan, you never know what will really happen. 

Is that just accepting defeat? Absolutely not. 

Defeat comes when you give up on things you do have control over. I’m reminded of a quote by Melody Beattie.

“The only person you can now or ever change is yourself. The only person that it is your business to control is yourself.” 

― Melody Beattie, from Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

You’re in control of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. You're responsible and have agency over yourself and only yourself. Once you understand this, you can see what areas you can release and focus on what’s within your command.

Bulb Thoughts

3. Lastly, what grounds me?

The term “being grounded” refers to being in the present moment. This process of self-soothing can occur through a connection with a constancy. Is there something in your life that anchors you in a safe way? Something that keeps you from drifting off into feelings of frustration, of historical trauma, or of overwhelming pressures? 

These grounding connections come in all forms. Maybe it’s an affirmation about your identity and what brings you back to reality: "I am a wonderful, work in progress." Maybe it’s a relationship you can depend on with a friend or sibling. It could be drawing on the constancy of God. 

"Faith begins when self-sufficiency ends. It starts when I realize that my best is not 'good enough'. And that’s okay. I’m not perfect. It formulates when I understand that I cannot always do what I plan to do. I do not have the capacity, skills, knowledge, or power to save others from their own hells. I cannot generate miracles and make good things happen by myself. I cry out to my Abba Father, my Heavenly Father, my Savior. I release whatever that is weighing on me and I know that I cannot give up. I will not give up. I am powerless and flawed. And that is fine, because my faith is now starting to begin."

So at the end of the difficult day, whatever you may be experiencing, consider these questions: 

1. How can I zoom out and see the direction I want to take in life?

2. How can I zoom in on myself and reality test what my control capacity is like?

3. What or who can I attach to that is unchanging and gives hope I can draw on during a challenging chapter in my life?

The act of asking and sincerely seeking answers to these questions changes a complaint into a powerful exercise in reflection and self-efficacy. 

Breaking Free from Fear and Regaining Power in Your Life

Have you ever felt paralyzed by fear?  I’m talking about the kind of feeling where your thoughts race, you don’t know what to do next, and you are concerned about the future.

If you feel that fear has become unmanageable, know that you are not alone.  Every human being experiences times of panic, stress, uncertainty, and unhelpful thoughts from time to time.  In fact, why wouldn’t we? 

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From a very young age, we learn that life can be scary.  We might start by being afraid of the monsters under the bed, the dark, or the pain that comes when we fall down and scrape a knee or touch a hot stove. 

The question is: “How can we discern good fear from unhealthy fear?”

If we consider the fear of touching a hot stove, this is actually “good” fear.  It comes from the knowledge that we need to be careful around things which might hurt us.  When we’re young and scrape a knee during a game of tag, we learn valuable lessons such as not going faster than our feet, our level of balance, or being cautious when playing on a slippery surface.  Fear of getting physically hurt makes sense; we learn from our environment ways to stay safe. 

If we consider childhood fears as metaphors for the fears we experience in adult life -- where we allow worry imaginary monsters of life (Insert the following possibilities: work, connection, acceptance, and achievement) take up space in an otherwise safe environment -- we have crossed into unhealthy territory. 

THERAPISTS ARE HUMAN TOO

Not too long ago, I was faced with a situation in my life that rattled my nerves.  I had been working closely with a colleague and was in communication with her nearly every day.  One day, I reached out and did not get a response back.  One day passed.  Before I knew it, it had been a week since I last heard from her.  My irrational thoughts started to take over started creeping in.  My mind had me all but convinced that my colleague must be seriously injured or even dead.

So, even though I am a therapist, I am not immune to the issues that come from simply being human.  I’d like to add that I am a Christian, and this can add another layer to things.  If you are a Christian believer like me, when you feel fear, you might be concerned that that it means you aren’t pleasing God or trusting in Him enough.  However, that in itself is just more fear. 

I became aware of the irrational worries and considered other possibilities.  Maybe she was just busy or lost her phone and didn’t even know I called.  It turned out that she was alive and well, but for a short period of time, fear had me lost in my thoughts. 

So, if you find yourself with overactive fears, the following might be helpful.

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Just like a night light can make a scary bedroom seem safer to a young child, the following strategies can help to shine some light on tools you can use to help calm yourself when fear feels overwhelming or paralyzing.

Try Asking Yourself:

1)      What do I know to be true?  If I had asked myself this question, I would have been able to rationally say that my colleague is young, in good health, and that I would have heard from someone else if an accident had occurred.  This might have helped me realize that there was likely another reason that I hadn’t heard back yet.  By doing this, I was testing the reality of my thoughts and seeing if they were true or baseless.

2)      What do I have control over right now?  In my personal example, I did not have control over my friend’s health or safety.  I did have the ability to call her a second time or even drive to her office to check up on her.  I did have the choice on what to do with my actions and how to respond to the situation.  Worrying was not going to prevent anything bad from happening or undo something bad if it had already happened.  When my mind was imagining catastrophe, I could have rerouted that energy into working on the project, going for a walk, and ultimately using strategies to "let go".  I could still feel more in control of the uncontrollable wait by choosing a rational response over the imaginary fears. 

3)      What is the worst that could happen? What could I do if it happened?  It's unlikely that our worst fears come to fruition.  However, one way to trick your thinking into a more rational and helpful thought process is to imagine the worst outcome and the steps you would take if your worst fear were to materialize.  This may sound counter-intuitive, and it is.  However, as a thought exercise, it can help you realize that you would still be able to find a way to function even when things don’t go well.  This understanding that you possess strengths, resiliency, and support can aid you in managing the fears.

4)      What Does God Say About Fear?  As a Christian, I can turn to scriptures to learn how to respond when things are overwhelming.  A great verse of comfort is found in Deuteronomy 31:8 which says of God that “He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  This is a promise that God is on our side and that there is nothing that He will not be able to see us through.

Fear serves us well when we use it to keep us from unwise actions and situations.  When it is in overdrive, it renders us incapable of rational thought.  By considering the facts of the situation, what we have control over, and identifying our tools in possible disaster, we can transform our self from helpless to thriving.  We can take back the power from irrational and unhealthy fear.

How are you letting your fear hold you back from experiencing your best life?