I’m not sure what it is about this past month, but every possible disaster (and slight inconvenience, to boot) decided to sound off sequentially. Work problems? Here! Relationship issues? Present! Looming uncertainty about my future? Reporting for duty! And just when I’ve identified the latest crisis and processed what it means to me; another one hits. On a good day, I’m maybe, almost, somewhat competent in handling my own issues (not to brag or anything, but I’ve only cried like eight times the past twenty four hours.) However, getting hit with one thing after the other has given me a ton of practice, so I guess you can say I’m a real expert in affliction now. Trained in pain. A Sting Queen. An Agony yogi. Okay, I’ll stop. Life is hard enough without putting up with my pun games. So what do you do when your eyes are burning from the smoke that has become your dumpster-fire existence? Well, it’s your lucky day because I’ve decided to bless all of you with some #lifehacks formed from the broken shards of my suffering. Enjoy!
Cry About it
I wasn’t supposed to say that, was I? I’m sure you were expecting something like, “keep your chin up” or “stay positive” and sure, maybe that works great when you get a C on a test or you get in a little tiff with your bestie about where to eat brunch. But when everything is falling apart around you, like literally crumbling in your hands, butterfly kisses and sunshine beams have basically no effect on your mood other than royally ticking you off further.
My advice: grab a box of tissues and sob like you’re working out your tear ducts to be a candidate on the Bachelor.
If you’re comforted by loved ones surrounding you when you cry, then seek them out. They want to be there for you. But if you need to be alone to really let go, that’s okay too. Change into something comfy if you can. Have a bottle of water handy because leaking fluids out of your face will dehydrate you. Then let loose and sob. You need to process your emotions regardless of how inconvenient they may feel during the worst moments of your life.
Likely, your body will thank you too. When life gets awful, we often “buck it up” and internalize our emotions. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if you recognize it’s a quick fix, but if you keep shoving it down without ever finding an outlet for release, the pressure will eventually build up until you’re crying in a grocery store because they’re out of your favorite cereal. That’s definitely not on the short list of ways to fix your life. You don’t have to keep it together all the time. In fact, you shouldn’t. Internalized stress manifest in your body through trouble sleeping, heart burn, stomach aches, hair loss, break outs, weight gain/weight loss, and increased levels of chronic pain. Keep it up and you’re significantly more likely to develop heart problems and shave years off your life. If you need a good cry, get it out and notice how much you feel better emotionally and physically.
Hop on the Feels Train
Let’s say you had your good crying session, but there’s still more in there you can’t identify. Or maybe you don’t need to cry at all. You can be furious. You can feel ashamed. You can be afraid and jealous and cynical. You might not even know what you feel and that’s fine, too. Sit with it. If you don’t know where to start; start with two minutes. Everyone can spare two minutes no matter how busy they are. Set a timer if you need, stare at drywall, or a plant, or a dead plant because you’ve forgotten to water your plants in the middle of this tornado you call your life, and just let yourself feel. It doesn’t have to be pretty, or kind, or even right.
Negative emotions are a response to bad things. Like burning your hand on a stove, we associate the pain of negative emotions with the pain of our situations. While it makes sense, we have inadvertently stigmatized negative emotions enough that we are afraid of them and avoid them altogether. Negative emotions themselves aren’t bad. They’re just our mind’s way of letting us know it’s responding to the stimuli it’s receiving. And yes, they make us feel slimy inside, and yes, sometimes it would be nice to package up our emotions, send them off, and enjoy a few minutes of silence. But the bad stuff will still happen. Without our emotions reacting, we don’t have enough common sense to process our lives and react to our surroundings appropriately. We’d put our hands on the stove and forget to take them off before our nerves are seared through. Our emotions are nothing to be afraid of once we understand their purpose.
Imagine your feelings as entities, Inside Out style. Let them each step up to the microphone and have it out. You can disagree with them- you don’t even have to understand where they’re come from- but you still need to acknowledge they exist. Ignoring emotions doesn’t will them away. Instead, they get bitter, deeper and bigger until they step over every boundary you’ve tried to draw in the sand. Eventually, each time you’re hit with sadness, you’ll be hit with the collective sadnesses you have yet to process. You’ll overreact and you’ll let your emotions bleed on everyone around you. Gross. Better to hear them out than marginalize them until they unionize and force themselves to be heard.
If possible, write about your emotions in a journal. The act of writing by hand keeps your mind engaged more than typing on a computer. The monotony of hitting keys allows your mind to wander, but shaping each letter requires focus, so your brain is more likely to stay on track. And, as I’ve learned with my own experiences journaling, the state of my handwriting reflects the state of my well-being. It’s satisfying to see the words spin out on page in all their haste and scrawling when I myself feel like such a mess.
Accept Your Failure
You’re going to drop the ball. Things won’t go as expected. You will forget important stuff, like appointments and birthdays and days of the week, as well as dumb, ordinary things like how to make coffee and what you went into the kitchen for. You will get short with strangers and take your frustration out at loved ones who didn’t deserve it. Even if you keep it all together, you’re probably falling apart inside without any clue how you can keep this act up. You’re failing yourself.
You don’t have to perform at peak when every odd is stacked against you.
Take account of what really needs to happen and direct your energy towards that. The other stuff? Not a priority. If putting away your clean laundry is too tiring after folding it; then don’t. If dishes piling up is exacerbating your anxiety, start buying paper plates just until you can get through this. Tell people “no” if you don’t have energy for coffee and if you already made plans you regret, cancel them. When life cuts into you, cut back on your responsibilities.
Regardless of how horrible you think you’re doing, be gracious with yourself. You might not be performing at the level you hoped, but you’re doing your best. Give yourself participation points. You’re fighting. You’re trying. You’re waking up each day and eating food and working hard and staying up late wondering what it’s all for. And while your entire future could be on the line, and life as you know it may be rewriting itself minutes by minutes, know that this is one moment. Hopefully, you’re lucky enough to have people in your corner, but even if you feel alone in this, you can get through it. You’ve survived every bad day you’ve had to date and you will survive this one, too.
Image Credit: “This is Fine” entry from knowyourmeme.com. The original image is from the webcomic series, Gunshow by KC Green.