What I learned from a smelly, underwater, pothead.

In one week, I had four clients tell me that their work environments are going through rapid changes:  finance, government, health care, and pharmaceutical sales. If there is an industry that isn’t experiencing these kind of changes, I don’t know what it is.  Real estate, education, retail, computer engineering:  between outsourcing, budget cuts, and automation, it’s easy to assume the jobs you or your spouse hold today will not be around, or be dramatically different, by the time your kids are in the job market. When the world seems to be changing fast there are a few ways we tend to cope with these changes.

A common reaction is to panic.  When we see changes happening around us, we look for familiar structures to cling to:  “If I have an 8 month emergency savings, then I’ll be safe”.  “If I just work harder, I’ll be safe”.  We look for rules and systems to believe will make us feel secure.  This leads to generalized anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, and health problems.  Worrying about an uncertain future and placing your security in rules that are constantly changing, can turn “making a living” into “making a dying”.

Another common reaction to change is denial.  (Imagine high pitched voice here) “Everything is great and peachy, nothing will affect me, I’ll just keep drinking, spending, overeating, blaming and whatever else it takes NOT to notice that I feel scared.”  This helps people by giving them something else to focus on “I need to lose weight, spend less, get my kids grades’ up”. This method distracts from, but doesn’t resolve the core issue.  Believing scary thoughts like, “I have no choice but to stay in this job I hate” causes you to feel fear.  Ignoring this fear by focusing on other problems, just leads to a lifetime of feeling crappy.

When panic and denial fail to solve the problem, there is one method left.  I learned this personally from a smelly, pot-smoking, scuba diving instructor who was the last person I expected to gain such wisdom.  (The stench of his body odor was so profound that they are embedded together in my memory). In order to get certified, I had to remove my face mask and snorkel, 30 ft. underwater, and put them back on.  To say I was scared was an understatement.  I reassured myself that I new “the rules”, I had memorized the procedure and was prepared.  But as soon as it was off, I started to PANIC.  I frantically swam toward the surface as fast as I could, crazy, flailing around in a terrible state.  My dive instructor firmly grabbed arm, held me down, and tapped the side of my head.  Somehow, that tap on the side of my head, ignited another part of brain:  my instincts.  I calmed down immediately, cleared my face mask and snorkel, and was fine without ever thinking about it.  It was weird, like “how did I just do that?” All it took was someone else to grab my arm and tap my head.  We are all built with these innate instincts to help us through times of fear, the problem is we don’t have access to them when we are in panic or denial.

My work as a life coach is similar.  I hold my clients down by making them relax and stay calm on the phone. Then, I tap into their instincts by asking them to question the thoughts they have been thinking. “Is it true that security comes from your job?” “How do you know the changes that are happening are bad ones?”

Once we let go of the old ideas that are no longer working for us….

”Government work is stable”      “No one quits in this economy”      “It’s ok to suffer if you are close to retirement”,

then, we can allow in some quiet wisdom we didn’t even know was there.

“I’m more capable than I thought.”    “Now’s the time for change, everyone else is scared.”   “I only have to please myself.”   “The possibilities for my future are endless.”

Think about times in your life when you have been genuinely scared.  (Being robbed at gunpoint, seeing a bear in the woods, crashing a car).  How did your instincts step up to help you?  Maybe in our cushy lives, we don’t encounter enough real fear and we forget that we have this built in, instinctual system to help us out.  Look at the difference between fake fear (stress, anxiety) and real fear, and tell me about times when you felt your instincts kick in.

-Instincts are quiet and easy to ignore.  Anxiety is loud and takes over your ability to think about anything else.

-Instincts offer a clear, actionable step to take.  Anxiety suggests pacing, eating, general yuck…oh, I just hate anxiety!

-Instincts can be a thought that pops into your head but usually just one (not 1,000) and it’s often funny and always clear and calming.

-Instincts can be a physical sensation in the body (hairs go up on back of neck, goose bumps, nausea, etc.) but again, easy to ignore.  Anxiety is a runaway train that you can’t get off until your brain thinks it is safe.

If I can find wisdom from a smelly, underwater, pot head, I am confident you can find your quiet wisdom, too.

Welcome to the Land of Crazy

Do you have friends telling you to take a break, relax, get a massage, hire a babysitter?  Do you have a doctor telling you your ailments are related to stress?  Or maybe you relax too much and your friends keep encouraging you to get out more, exercise, do something exciting.  It’s easier to notice other people living in the land of crazy than it is ourselves.  Yvonne just had her first baby and is completely in love and so grateful to be a Mom.  She also is a wreck and feels completely out of sorts.  She can hardly think straight.  She feels stressed and anxious all the time. She is quick to complain or get mad at those around her.  Friends keep telling her she needs to sleep when the baby sleeps, but it’s too hard.  Her husband sends her for a massage but she can’t relax.  She tries to take deep breaths and she just can’t do it.  Something is lost.  Is it her sanity?  Is it her sense of herself?  Sleep?  A feeling of accomplishment?  Social circle?  Support?  Confidence? YES, YES and YES.  She is missing all these things and more.  Even though she wanted to be a Mom SO desperately, she is in a stage I have learned to call, SQUARE ONE.

Square one sucks, even when you it’s a change you really wanted.  It feels like everything you once knew has changed and you are hanging on to sanity by a thin thread. If we were to record Yvonne’s thoughts it would probably look something like this.  “Holy &%*#!”  “What the #%&@ am I doing?”  “Why did I do this?”  “How am I going to do this ?”  It’s what I call “the land of crazy” and my teacher, Dr. Martha Beck calls it, “nobody nowhere with no one and nothing.” If you haven’t been through this stage yourself, I’m sure you’ve witnessed others going through it.  It is a qualitative change in who you are in this world and it’s really normal.  Most people go through about 5 or 6 of these transitions in their lifetime.   Becoming a parent for the first time is a major change in identity and involves grieving the loss of your old, pre-parent self.  If you’ve ever seen anyone who can’t get past an old relationship or keeps recreating the same bad situation over and over, you know what being stuck in square one looks like.  Moving through square one requires patience, kindness and acceptance.

Perhaps you survived new parent crazy land, but you are finding yourself in square one due to economic changes, the housing market, divorce, family illness or death. The best way to get through the crappiness of square one, is to allow yourself to be completely in it.  To grieve the loss of your old self and feel the feelings of sadness, fear, anger, frustration, resentment, or whatever else comes up.  Pour it out in a journal, find a compassionate listener, and stop “shoulding” all over yourself.

“I should be happy”,  “Something’s wrong with me”, “This should be easier”,  “It shouldn’t be this way”, “My husband should be more helpful”, “My Mom should be ____” ,“My kid shouldn’t be so ________.”  “My boss should be ______.”

When you argue with reality, you never win.  If it’s hard, let it be hard.  If you are sad, let yourself be sad.  If you miss that job you couldn’t wait to leave, so be it.  If you are mad, be mad.  Be where you are and feel what you feel.  A forced smile and pile of denial will only keep you stuck in square one longer. Instead, start reclaiming some of your power.  The feeling of helplessness is one of the worst things for the human psyche and we do it ourselves all the time.

Write down a list all the things you feel you “have” to do.  Here is mine:

I have to do the dishes

I have to pick the kids up at school

I have to make dinner

I have to write my newsletter

I have to pay bills

Now change “I have to” to “I intend to”, “I choose to”, or “I will” and see how much better you feel.  In reality, there are very few things we have to do, but when we think that way, we feel trapped & awful.  Realizing you have choices helps to move you into a feeling of personal power.

Here is my revised list:

I will do the dishes because the thought of them piled up for days creates a feeling in me that is worse than doing this repetitive task.

I choose to make dinner because I believe in healthy eating, table manners, and family dinner conversation.

I intend to pay my bills because I don’t like late fees & extra charges and ignoring them will not make them go away.

I will up pick my kids up at school because it is aligned with my values of the kind of Mom I want to be.

I will write my newsletter, oh look at that, it’s done.  Now it’s your turn.

 

Want to give life coaching a try? Schedule a free discovery call at www.LifeCoachingforParents.com/work-with-me

Summer Camp Paranoia

I just put my son on the bus for a week of sleep away camp and I have had lots of emotions rising for me today:  sadness, sentimentality, and excitement.  Last year he asked to go, and I told him, “Mommy’s not ready yet.” I knew I had work to do on my fears around sending him.  I had all these thoughts swimming around my head like, “I’m the only one that can care for him” and “I will miss him too much” and “There’s too many things that can go wrong”.  I also anticipated many horrific situations like him drowning, being attacked by a bear, feeling like an outcast by other kids, you name it.  Before I could even think about letting him go, I had to deal with all these scary thoughts and limiting beliefs.
When we picture horrible things happening, our bodies react as though bad things are actually happening.  Our hearts beat faster, our blood pressure rises, our stomachs turn, we sweat, we enter the physiological state of “fight or flight”, JUST FROM OUR THOUGHTS.  Then our feelings become so uncomfortable that we shut them off by distracting ourselves with something else.  The problem for many parents, is that we imagine horrible things happening ALL THE TIME!  Constantly thinking, then avoiding these thoughts, puts us in a perpetual state of ‘fight or flight’, even in the absence of a legitimate threat.  The longer we stay in this sympathetic nervous system without having time to ‘rest and digest’, the harder it is on our bodies, our health, our weight, our ability to sleep, relax, and play.  This habit of worrying, then avoiding, is so well ingrained that we don’t even know we are doing it.
In order to work through my fears about summer camp, I had to calm myself down first.  Breathing (seems basic but you wouldn’t believe how foreign it is to worriers) is the most important thing you can do to move your body into ‘rest and digest.’ Other parents calm down with yoga, journaling, running, relaxing music, hot baths, even petting a dog can help.  Once you can notice your breathing is deep and regular, THEN can you access your logical brain and ask yourself the following questions.
1.  What is the worst thing that can happen?  (In my case that summer camp = imminent death.)
2.  What is the probability of this horrible thing happening? (the scared part of my brain says 1 in 1,000 although it’s probably rarer)
3.  Can you think of specific evidence or examples of times when nothing bad has happened?(although I’m sure bad things have happened at summer camp, I don’t know anyone that had a bad experience and most, including myself, loved it).
4.  Isn’t it just as likely that something good will happen?  (For this one I try to lighten the mood by making it a little absurd).  I decided it is just as likely that my son will be discovered by a talent scout (he HATES singing and dancing), as it is he will face death by summer camp.
Once you can laugh at your extreme thinking, you know you’ve got your power back.  Worry only gives us the illusion of power.  Real power (and you know we Mamas like to feel in control!) comes from being able to control your THINKING.  So take a deep breath, relax for a minute or two, and ask, isn’t just as likely good things will happen?

 

Want to give life coaching a try? Schedule a free discovery call at www.LifeCoachingforParents.com/work-with-me

Overcoming anxiety

My husband has been declined for health insurance three times in the last three months.  A year ago, this would have sent me into a cloud of anxiety as dark as the Iceland volcano.  When I am worried, I try to control things I have no control over like whether my husband talks on the phone while driving, wears his seatbelt, eats fruits and vegetables, gets enough sleep, etc.  Trying to control things that I cannot control gives me the illusion of power.  What it gives me in reality, is the feeling like something bad could happen at any moment and it’s up to me to prevent it.  Living in a state of almost constant stress has many negative side effects, including being called a micro-managing worry-wart by one’s beloved.

In the last year, I have learned how to have a thought without attaching to it.  I can picture my husband getting into a skiing accident or crashing on the bay bridge (oh, yeah, my worrying lizard brain loves drama).  Now, I notice what I’m picturing or thinking, without reacting to it as though it is truly going to happen.  I just finished reading, My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, where she talks about a 90 second window between thinking a thought, and having your body react to it as though it is true.  It is in that 90 second window, you can choose to believe your own thinking, or not.  When I see these dreadful scenarios play out in my mind or think that something bad will soon happen to me, I just smile, take a deep breath, and thank my little worrying lizard brain for trying to keep me safe.  If I question my thinking from a calm place, it’s easier to see logic and reason.  Is it true that something bad is about to happen?  Is it true I am the only one who can prevent it?  Is it true that if something bad happened I wouldn’t be able to cope?  When I stay calm, evidence to the contrary is easy to find.  My husband has gone three months without insurance and nothing bad happened.  He’s been driving for 24 years and has never been in a car accident. If something horrible happened, I would rise to the occasion and deal with it.  I don’t have to start dealing with it now, in anticipation of it happening.

If you can catch a worry, notice it, breathe deeply, thank your brain for trying to keep your safe, look around you and question it, is it true?

 

Want to give life coaching a try? Schedule a free discovery call at www.LifeCoachingforParents.com/work-with-me