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Thought of the week

August 27, 2016

Sometimes when things are falling apart they may actually be falling into place.


It is human nature to be scared by change.  How we deal with change is what defines us. The fight or flight response that you have been programmed with will dictate whether you run or you see it as a challenge to overcome.  


Neil F. Neimark, M.D. has written an interesting article on how to deal with this.  To protect ourselves in a world of psychological—rather than physical—danger, we must consciously pay attention to unique signals telling us whether we are actually in fight or flight. Some of us may experience these signals as physical symptoms like tension in our muscles, headache, upset stomach, racing heartbeat, deep sighing or shallow breathing. Others may experience them as emotional or psychological symptoms such as anxiety, poor concentration, depression, hopelessness, frustration, anger, sadness or fear.


By recognizing the symptoms and signs of being in fight or flight, we can begin to take steps to handle the stress overload. There are benefits to being in fight or flight—even when the threat is only psychological rather than physical. For example, in times of emotional jeopardy, the fight or flight response can sharpen our mental acuity, thereby helping us deal decisively with issues, moving us to action. By learning to recognize the signals of fight or flight activation, we can avoid reacting excessively to events and fears that are not life threatening. In so doing, we can play "emotional judo" with our fight or flight response, "using" its energy to help us rather than harm us. We can borrow the beneficial effects (heightened awareness, mental acuity and the ability to tolerate excess pain) in order to change our emotional environment and deal productively with our fears, thoughts and potential dangers.


The fight or flight response not only warns us of real external danger but also of the mere perception of danger. This understanding gives us two powerful tools for reducing our stress. They are: 


1) Changing our external environment (our "reality"). This includes any action we take that helps make the environment we live in safer. Physical safety means getting out of toxic, noisy or hostile environments. Emotional safety means surrounding ourselves with friends and people who genuinely care for us, learning better communication skills, time management skills, getting out of toxic jobs and hurtful relationships. Spiritual safety means creating a life surrounded with a sense of purpose, a relationship with a higher power and a resolve to release deeply held feelings of shame, worthlessness and excessive guilt.


2) Changing our perceptions of reality. This includes any technique whereby we seek to change our mental perspectives, our attitudes, our beliefs and our emotional reactions to the events that happen to us.  Changing our perceptions of reality is best illustrated by the proverbial saying, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Without actually changing our reality, we can altered our perception of reality—viewing the difficulties of life as events that make us stronger and more loving. 


When it comes to changes in your own life, running away is rarely the best option.  When things are falling apart, it helps me to imagine the worst possible thing that could happen.  Recently, a situation arose where the worst possible outcome was that I lost my job.  I mentally prepared myself for that to happen, I didn't want it to happen but I knew that by thinking the worst, it could only be what I expected or better.  Mentally preparing myself for that was hard, for me, it meant talking it through over and over again with friends and family.  Each of the people in my life that I knew would give a different opinion and insight.  This tooks weeks, it wasn't a quick process but for me it was invaluable.


Never underestimate how much it helps to talk through things with people close to you.    


By expecting this outcome, I made myself work through what it is I would do if I didn't have my job and this process has meant that I now have a much clearer idea of what I want from life.  Don't get me wrong, that process was unbelievably hard.  I lost count of the amount of times I said, "but I don't know what I want" it was repetitive and frustrating.  At so many points did I think (and probably James too), this is never going to work, I'll never find a goal or a plan to achieve that goal.  It felt like I'd be lost in this world, going round in circles, never knowing what I want and at some point not having the comfort of a job to support me whilst trying to work this out.  


The way that seemed to work best for me was to imagine that if i had all the time and money in the world, what would I do.  I decided that if that was the case, I'd love to qualify as a personal trainer (although I'd need to get fit first!), I'd love to learn the skills of a makeup artist, I'd love to train as a counselor, I'd want to learn how to do massages and loads more things - it would appear I would never be bored if I had all the time and money in the world!  For me, none of these felt like potential career options individually but what it has meant is that I identified that I wanted to do things that made other people feel better about themselves, I wanted to help people increase their confidence.  Just identifying that as one of my key drivers in life, has meant that I can now look at opportunities in a different way.  


Had I not been through that process, I would never have stood still long enough to think about it, meaning I would still have no direction.


So whilst it was a scary process to go through, and I was lucky that the worst didn't happen, by things feeling like they were falling apart, it inspired me to make things fall into place.  I still have a long way to go in terms of working out what this all might mean for me in the future and how I get there, but that one piece of clarity has given me the confidence that it will all be ok.         




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