Recently I’ve been on edge a little more than usual. Distracted. Unexpected or unpleasant events threaten to throw me off my game and deliver me to some ugly behavior which in turn creates more unpleasant situations. A self-defeating cycle. Many problems loom large, seeming insurmountable when I am in this state of reactivity. This kind of cycle is toxic for the body and for relationships.
So many of us feel pushed well beyond our tolerance in the overly busy lives we lead.
At the same time we hold ourselves and those around us to unreachable standards. Though we want perfection,
We all, every single one of us, make mistakes.
The deal is, once I get locked in the death spiral with my emotions, it is very hard to pull out. Crash and burn feels nearly inevitable. What often pulls me out of that zone of mental/emotional unrest is to get some perspective. To take a few steps back, creating space between what’s really happening and the perception of what is happening. They are often not the same.
When we create space between our busy mind and our situation things can settle down. Responding this way is called a relaxation response, and as this Harvard study shows, accessing this response can bring health and healing.
We are able to connect with what matters, instead of reacting out of fear or anger.
Shifting our perspective and breaking the cycle of reactivity can get us through the times when things feel too big to handle. With a little time and space what might have seemed like a crisis, somehow becomes more manageable.
Here are 3 quick ways I know that work to give me a little bit of space, and some hints at larger ways to develop an ongoing sense of control and connectedness in life.
All of them may not work all the time, and the moments when you feel you don’t have time to practice these are usually exactly the times you need to. With this combo in your toolbox, you should be on your way to relief, perspective, and realized connection.
Change your point of view, literally.
Take a moment and suspend the perceived crisis of spilled coffee, argument with boss, child who is acting out. In that triggering moment, shift what your eyes are looking at. Literally change your point of view. Choose something in your immediate surroundings that you find beautiful or interesting. Gaze out a window, look at a plant, something that is your favorite color, or even better take a quick walk in nature. After you have changed your POV take a minimum of three long, deep breaths. Find and describe (silently or out loud) to yourself the beauty you see in the subject. Engage.
Changing what you are looking at, in real time, can shift gears into a place that is more open and receptive. Try it now! What’s the risk? It will take you less than 2 minutes. It isn’t magic, but sometimes it can feel that way.
Take a break.
This may seem trite, but I guarantee, the simplicity is in equal proportion to the power. The “break” can be a long deep breath (see above), a short walk outside (these are immensely helpful when you can swing them), a weekend stay-cation, and/or a deep and refreshing spiritual pilgrimage. A 5-minute walk can shift your focus, and 40 minutes can open you to new vistas, and a 500 mile pilgrimage can rock your world. While you walk notice things that peak your curiosity, or are beautiful to you. Allow your mind to dwell on the beauty you can see. If the mind starts to wind up with things that are wrong, gently nudge it back to beauty for the duration of your “break”. Actively release judgment in this exercise. When you return to your situation, you’ll have tapped into your own resources of connection.
Laugh at mistakes.
We’ve touched on this powerful framework in Thank you for your smile. It can be helpful to see life as a series of experiments instead of a series of “do or die” moments. No one is perfect. Find a way to see some outlandish or even dark (if that’s your thing) humor in your predicament. Your child likely didn’t wake up this morning designing diabolical ways to irritate you, though that might become the outcome if you both feel stressed. You haven’t spent weeks contemplating the best way to anger your boss, but you might wonder why she acts as though she thinks you do. So much of what sends us over the edge is miscommunication and simple mistakes. Get curious, crack a smile, and see what happens.
Expecting perfection from yourself or others isn’t going to get you to connection.
Gaining some perspective, and breaking the cycle of reactivity, gives us the time and space to make better choices when we cannot see the forest for the trees.
Let me know how it goes when you try one or all of these tools. Wishing us all a little perspective.
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I’d love to hear how this is hitting you. What makes sense? What has you scratching your head? Drop me a line in the comments box below and let’s connect!