Have you ever had a long day or maybe gone through a tough time for a week or more? One where you feel exhausted and want to escape into anything other than what you are experiencing? What do you turn to? Escaping through Netflix, food, sex, video games, or sleep may be choices but the results are only fleeting. You ask yourself how are you going to get through another day at home, work or school without feeling overwhelmed and inwardly you are screaming HELP!
I've seen this when meeting with thousands of people I have had the honor of working with as a therapist. I've also experienced it myself since being overwhelmed and stressed is a human condition that does not pick favorites but instead is an equal opportunity employer. I want to share what I have found to be one of the most effective methods to change this into a long term growth experience instead of using coping skills with a short term escape driven focus as mentioned earlier. It is simple, but not easy, as it does not have the powerful instant gratification that allows us to believe that we are making progress only to feel a crash back down to reality when the short term coping skill runs out of fuel. You have to become a victor instead of an escape artist, and here is how to do it.
Simply put, the way to find what to change is to identify how your mindset interprets your situation. A problem is that too often in situations of stress you look at the world as one that you have to be REACTIVE to and you behave as such. This mindset is a good way to have depressive thoughts that loudly tell you that you have no control over your circumstances. In clinical terms you are hearing in those thoughts that you do not have self efficacy. Self efficacy is the belief that you will be able to do what you set out to do. When looking at the world through a lens that tells you that you do not have an impact on any outcome you will feel out of control and have difficulty accomplishing tasks due to the underlying belief that nothing you do will matter. This will continue to permeate your life and will keep you stuck. Ugh, just writing this I can feel how powerful that type of energy can be!
In contrast I want to share a way to work through those times when you feel like nothing will change. With this new software added to your mindset you will be able to increase your emotional strength so that you can be resilient and experience more in your life due to not feeling like you are going to be crushed by the weight of difficult times. The key is to look at the situation you are in as a way to get stronger by identifying how you can have an impact on the situation by looking for ACTIONABLE behavior. A way to do this is to ask yourself "what do I have direct control over"? When you perceive your situation through the lens that you can change what is happening you create self efficacy.
Strength and Resiliency
An example of how I do this in my life is to think of a difficult situation as an opportunity to mentally lift weights so that I can become stronger and more resilient. I take that mental imagery when I am feeling overwhelmed and remind myself that if I choose to look for actions that can get me towards a goal I want while in this difficult time I can increase my mental strength and resiliency. When looking for how to take action make sure you look at the situation as it is without adding a lot of context that does not need to be there but instead focusing on facts alone. This filter allows me to find what is true about the situation and increase my ability to identify what can be done in the situation and succeed with a positive outcome.
What makes sense to you? How can you to develop a mindset that fits your life so that in moments when the short term pleasure of escaping has been your coping skill you can replace it with a choice that will give you growth towards the goals that you have? First you need to find out where to develop this mindset so write down a short or long term goal that you feel stuck in. Now identify the obstacles that you have thought to be in your way. Follow that by looking for only facts about the situation rather than what you have felt about it so you can work with what is tangible. Then think of ways that you can take action! A fun mental imagery of this mindset shift is to change those once thought to be obstacles into a mental obstacle course that allows you to train your brain to be stronger, more resilient and able to adapt to the stressors that you face!