Posted in Depression, faith, Health, mental health

Staying in my Happy Place

This morning I awoke in my Happy Place. It felt like the world was right. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. I wasn’t overwhelmed by any anxiety. I didn’t have a sense of doom. I wasn’t worried.

When we want to have good mental health it is important to have a measuring point. It is important to identify how we feel when things are going well. My Happy Place, for me, is my measuring mark. It is the place I try to be most consistently in my life. I try not to fall too far below this mark and when I do, I make an effort to get back there.

In order to repeatedly experience my Happy Place I find I have to know what good things happened to make me feel this way? What did I do differently?

Some of the things that contribute to my Happy Place are a good diet, time spent outdoors, and being in the presence of family and friends.

Things that rob me of my sense of well-being are injustice in the world, family conflicts and the threat of losing what is precious to me.

In the same way that I identify what happened to make me feel peaceful and joyful, I also need to figure out what happens that makes me lose my sense of well-being.

I find it helpful to write down whatever I can think of that impacted my emotions in a negative way. Then I put a box around it.

When I write things down, I can see clearly what I have to watch out for. I have a limited amount of time and energy and I cannot allow these things to absorb a disproportional share. In other words, I need to be careful about how much time and energy I spend interacting with them. I am the one who has the most control over how these particular disturbances impact me.

On this list of stressors are some things I can do something about, and other things over which I have little or no influence. Because I am a praying woman, I commit to God the things I cannot change. And then I pray for wisdom and guidance regarding the things I can change.

Maintaining a peaceful life feels good, but it is also necessary for our health. Anxiety and worry and distress cause all sorts of difficulties in our bodies such as high blood pressure, stomach ulcers and even reduced immunity. Stress can also cause people to resort to unhealthy and addictive behaviors and this is another reason why it is good to identify our stressors and learn to manage them.

When I write down the troubling things in my life, I am giving them a name and creating a bit of distance between me and them, enough to take an objective look at them.

This is one of the ways I organize my life. When our lives feel stressed it is often because we feel out of control. Our lives become chaotic. Chaos makes us uneasy. We naturally want to be in control of our lives.

When we see our stressors in front of us in this way, life becomes more predictable. A more predictable life gives us a greater sense of control. A greater sense of control leads to greater peace of mind.

Blocking, or burying things, by refusing to think about them, means that they can pop up unexpectedly and throw our lives into disorder or chaos. That is the reason why I like to be aware of what is going on inside me, particularly the things disturbing me. I like to identify and corral the enemy in this box.

At the other end of the page that contains the box with the things in it that are stressors, I draw another box that represents the good feelings I have when I am happy with my life. It includes the things that contribute to these good feelings. In this way I can keep track of what gives me a sense of well-being.

You may need to wait and watch for your Happy Place to happen–that place where you have a general feeling of well-being. Once you recognize the exact feelings you have, you can begin to try and prolong this good feeling. Make it last an hour, a day. Try and make it happen more frequently.

I draw third box between the box of stressors on the left, and my happiness box on the right, and in it I write action steps I will take. These are the things I believe I can do to make my life better and to stay on track. Sometimes I can’t do much, but I can do a little. Doing a little, now and then, starts to add up over time.

One of the keys for me to be in my Happy Place has been to find out exactly what the “little things” are that I can do well. Not what others expect me to do. Not even my expectations of myself, because I will often put far too much on myself. But just those small things that I feel a gentle nudge to do, things that are a good fit for me in terms of my character and ability.

Years ago I read a book about the difference between faith and presumption. I realized that I had presumed a lot of things were my responsibility when they were not. Faith gives us only as much responsibility as we are meant to carry. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” When we find the yoke that is tailor-made made for us then our burden becomes much lighter and easier. The truth is that as long as we are in this life we will have burdens to bear, but they don’t have to crush us.

Peace is probably the word that best describes what I feel when I am in my Happy Place. I have found that I need to pursue peace. Things will always happen to disrupt my peace and then I have to begin my journey back by recognizing the place I want to be, acknowledging the things that are hindering me, and committing to doing what I can do to make a difference.

Posted in mental health

Emotion Regulation – Coping Skills

What do you do when current world events overwhelm you?

Turn off and tune out?

Post a rant?

Get drunk?

Cancel your internet?

Become a recluse?

Build a bomb shelter?

Move to Whitehorse?

This year I have experienced a kind of rage and sorrow I have rarely ever felt before in response to what is happening in the world. I get particularly emotionally distraught when bad news involves children. I want to cover my ears and shut my eyes. I want to run away somewhere and escape. Other days I feel more militant and I won’t go into that.

But do you know that it is actually a good thing to have these feelings?

I had to tell myself that.

We want to numb ourselves, and we need to distract ourselves for a time, even protect ourselves, but what would be much worse than these feelings of outrage and distress would be to feel nothing. There’s actually a name for that and it is a mental disorder. It is called psychopathy and means lacking conscience and empathy. Much of the evil we see is perpetrated by people who suffer from this disorder.

When we were little we were taught, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This has been called The Golden Rule and it is from the Bible. The Golden Rule teaches us empathy. It teaches us how to live in this world. Since we don’t normally want to be hurt, we shouldn’t hurt others either.

We feel outrage, and hurt, and sorrow when we hear about people who violate the way we believe we are to behave in this world. These feelings show that we are caring humans, so we need to keep on having them.

However, we need to learn to manage our feelings so that we can still continue on with life.

What we need to learn is “emotion regulation” – how to manage our feelings so that we do not remain in a constant state of emotional arousal.

Much of what we hear in the news causes us to be angry on behalf of others, or fearful of how it might affect us. We begin to experience fear when it gets a little closer to home and to those we love. If there is a real threat of harm we may actually need to take protective measures. I’m not going to talk about that here. I am just going to talk about how to deal with those unpleasant feelings.

Here are some things I suggest, which I have started to do. Some will not be new to you.

GET CONTROL OF YOUR MIND

  1. Take a step back. Whatever that looks like. Take some time away from the situation that is causing agitation. Create a bit of distance. We can always come back to it later, when we feel more calm, to take another look.
  2. Admit that bad things will happen. This is not a just world. Sometimes people are evil. I found this hard to do. I did not want to say that people are evil. I wanted to continue to live in a sort of utopia, thinking the best of others. But once I faced it, I actually felt some tension dissipate.
  3. Acknowledge that some things might not turn out well (or as we had wished), even in the long run. But don’t give up hope.
  4. Realize that people will get hurt. Some people will die. Someone close to you is likely going to get hurt at some point, or die. Think about this for a moment and prepare in advance for it, so you are not taken totally by surprise. As my mom says, if we are alive we are also a “candidate for death.” Lol! (She worked in palliative home care so she treats death a bit more lightly than most of us.)
  5. It might look like the bad guys are winning, but it’s only for awhile. My husband reminds me that God will have the final say on that last day. I didn’t find this very comforting, but at least there is that.
  6. It’s OK to be upset and it’s good to be honest about just how badly upset I am. At the same time, I am the only one who can calm myself down. I have to learn to do this, because my health, my welfare, and my sanity all depend on my being able to it. For my own good, I have to learn how to regulate my emotions.

FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU

There are other things we can do like meditation, exercise, engaging in uplifting activities. It’s up to us to search and find what we need. But much of the work happens in our heads–the place where we decide how to respond. Rather than a runaway train, we can be at the controls, deciding where we go and at what speed.

CONSIDER BEING AN AGENT OF CHANGE

After we take a break, create some distance for awhile, and collect ourselves, we might want to think about exactly why a certain issue is so strongly affecting our emotions. Is it possible that this may be a sign of an area where we can make some difference, great or small?

If we want to get involved there are things we can do. Sometimes I write letters, sign petitions, or talk to people. We can also join marches or demonstrations, volunteer with organizations, raise funds, donate, and vote. We owe it to ourselves and the world to regulate our emotions in order to be strong in battle.

PRAY

I want to emphasize the importance of prayer. Prayer can bring comfort to your own heart. I also find certain scriptures to be reassuring, particularly the Psalms. I have witnessed remarkable answers to prayer and I believe that prayer can move mountains.

KEEP ON LIVING

Although we may not engage directly in righting wrongs, there is always the necessity for people to affect change by setting an honorable example. Many amazing people are simply going to work every day, caring for their families, and being good citizens. They ought to make the news now and then.

Learning how to regulate our emotions will mean that we are able to function optimally and have a sense of being in control of our lives.

We want to be of “sound mind,” able to think clearly and evaluate objectively.

We want to run the control panel of our lives.

I, for one, have realized that this can take some work. But after working at this for awhile, I no longer find myself with runaway emotions. I have realized I can put the brakes on.