You can always tell how out of control my life feels by the number of organizing projects I complete in a week. For instance, there is something intensely satisfying after I clean my desk drawer, delete useless computer files or organize a closet. It is only Saturday night (yes, I chose to stay home and clean!) and I’ve run out of things to organize while chaotic worries jump around in my brain. Tomorrow I am going to move to my “creative projects” like the amazingly funky dresser I bought for $15. Once I clean it up and paint it, I’ll move it into my home office – then I can re-organize for another full day!
I joke with my therapist saying how good my silverware drawer looks after an emotional week. Organizing my silverware drawer is a technique I use when my emotions are spiraling out of control. I line up the forks, spoons and knives in pretty fashion and ten minutes later they lie there like little compliant soldiers. Whatever was bothering me seems long gone. You may call this crazy but I don’t care — it’s simple and it works.
I can’t control the people and situations in my life but I can control the heck out of my flatware!
I’ll never forget the time a doctor suggested I take advantage of a cognitive behavior therapy program for depression and anxiety at a local medical school. Yes, a class on depression – for depressed people. At first I resisted because I could think of nothing more, uh depressing, than sitting around with other depressed people. After all, I can just organize something to feel better!
Sarcasm aside, this class turned out to be a pivotal learning experience and I am ever so grateful to have participated. Out of respect to the others in the group, I will not share any details from our discussions. I will however tell you that I have the highest respect and regard for my classmates and the courage they displayed over the six week period.
Getting by with a little help from my friends, the “FRIENDS” being a few techniques I learned in my class and continue to incorporate into my life. I have limited my list to 5 because frankly, I have a hard time remembering more than 5 things at a time!
1. Pleasure Principle (I bet that got your attention!) Think of a teeter totter with the end on the ground holding your negative thoughts, your problems, and anything that is difficult. On the side up in the air, start to fill the seat with “pleasure providing” activities which begin to balance out the heavy side.
For instance, if I need to have a discussion about our divorce with the X, I make sure I have several fun things planned around that discussion to help minimize the pain (and his toxicity). If it is time for those lovely monthly/quarterly reports, I write from my favorite place (the library) and I reward myself with something when I am done like fries and a coke or a delicious nap. The teeter totter visual reminds me that life is in motion—not always a downer.
2. Lend a Hand. There is a joy and satisfaction that comes from helping others—so find a way to give back. I have to admit that I was skeptical being that it was difficult enough to manage my current responsibilities. An hour a week was all I could afford to give! I know that once I made a commitment that I would have trouble cancelling. The trouble was finding a match—talk about depressing!
It took a little over a year before I scored an interview for the volunteer position with early stage Alzheimer’s group. Simply said, it was worth the wait! I am enlightened and energized by these people. We learn from each other. I am completely comfortable sharing who I am, my struggles and even my crazy sense of humor.
Editor’s note: There are several places to find volunteer positions; perhaps you would enjoy an hour here and there over a standing commitment.
3. Write, right? I really didn’t like this idea at all. I was afraid that if I committed my thoughts to paper that they would make me feel worse. What if someone saw what I wrote? In the spirit of true surrender, I started to jot down my thoughts. I wrote on grocery receipts, notebooks, a journal; anything that was handy. Committing words to paper helped remove a burden from my brain. I was released from the energy and responsibility of holding those thoughts and I became free to live in the present.
My Girlfriend Voice is the result of my commitment to write. If my friends had not encouraged me to blog, I may not be in touch with you. Thank you to my amazing support sisters!
4. Four Questions. The very best way to de-escalate my anxiety or even my anger is to ask myself these four questions.
1. What is on my mind—limit the response to one succinct sentence and no more.
2. How does this make me feel?— name it.
3. What is a replacement thought that I know is true? (again, one succint sentence)
4. How does this make me feel?—name it.
Thought #1: If I lose my job in this economy, I’ll be end up homeless because I don’t have another income to rely on anymore.
Feeling: Tired, desperate, afraid
Thought #2: You are still employed, you’ve updated your resume and you have a meeting with recruiter tomorrow so you are doing all the right things.
Feeling: In control, logical, relaxed
By pausing to focus only one the most important factors, the ISSUE and the TRUTH, I can take the power out of the anxiety and anger. Initially I would find myself pulling the car over to the side of the road and scribbling out the answers. Now I run the questions through my mind in a variety of situations. I find the “4 Questions” work really well when I problem solve in my professional life too—usually asking myself if it is worth making a comment or taking an action versus letting “it” go.
5. MOVE IT. Finally, number five is move your body. If it means taking a walk, dancing, gardening, whatever it may be—just move! Getting your blood pumping is good for the spirit and well as your body. I dove into dance, something that I always wanted to do as a kid. I had my first dance recital at 46! (enjoy the photos because the video has been destroyed!) I currently salsa dance at least once a week. Not only is it great exercise, I have to surrender control to my partner and relax enough to be led. So nice not to be in charge for once!
This is how I get by with a little help from my “FRIENDS”. Let me know if you have any effective strategies you would like to share.
From the heart,