“I dropped my cereal. I stepped in a puddle. My socks are wet. I don’t like these I didn’t have time to do my hair properly. And I can’t find a headband!” My daughter began to sob in my car as she began her Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day type of tirade. I felt like I was looking at the me from certain parts of my life in the past. I knew where this could be headed. So I had to do something about it.
Not many people know this but I’m a pretty big Tony Robbins fan. And in the recent documentary I Am Not Your Guru, he reiterates one of his techniques which is to “break the pattern.”
My daughter was creating a pattern in her head. She was looking for all of the bad things that happened to her that morning. And I was afraid that she would continue to look for the bad things that happened to her during the day and just be miserable.
So I thought I have to break the pattern but how?
Tony Robbins uses humor a lot and sometimes adult language among other methods (but for some reason that’s what popped into my head in the moment) neither of which would work in this situation. Mostly because, while I think I’m hilarious, my kids don’t always feel the same way.
So I said “Man that seems like a lot of bad stuff that happened already this morning. Now tell me something that happened good this morning.”
She got quiet. She had to change her thinking. I did it. I broke her pattern.
“Anything, even the littlest thing. The weather. Do you like the change in weather?”
“Okay tell me something else then.”
“Well I wasn’t mad when I woke up.”
“You woke up on the right side of the bed. I’m happy for that!”
“No I didn’t. . . I woke up on the left side.” Humor! She had now broken her own pattern and was creating a new one. “I have three tests today.” I asked her if she knew what was going to be on the test and she said yes. “So you’re prepared!” I exclaimed. She agreed and continued to tell me about the tests and the classes. By the time we got to school, she hopped out of the car with a smile on her face and walked into school standing pretty darn tall.
Have you ever seen yourself or someone you love start that negativity spiral? Break it! Try to pull them out of that funk before it becomes a pattern that hangs over them like a dark cloud.
Making someone laugh can begin to break through that negativity and open a door for further conversation.
The element of surprise can change a person’s thinking by figuratively knocking them off balance. It has the power to stop people in their tracks. Then there’s the opportunity to change their focus.
Movement, changing your body’s position in space can change your perspective both literally and figuratively. Go for a run. Do mountain climbers. Drop and give me 50. Or whatever. Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine – feel good chemicals. Plus when I finish exercising, I always feel slightly more accomplished. Like I can check something off of my to-do list or like I’m worth taking some time to take care of myself. This is also a great long term strategy. (See more below.)
There are also long term strategies to help you naturally improve your abilities to deal with stress.
Regular physical activity can improve sleep, mood, concentration, and memory. It can help to handle stress and increase daytime energy. Over time, some studies even show that regular exercise could help symptoms of depressive and anxiety disorders. Just make sure to check with your doctor before you start an exercise program.
Mindfulness involves staying in the present, allowing things to happen without judgment. There is mindfulness meditation (see below), but you can also use mindfulness in your everyday tasks. Stay in the moment. If something bad happens. It’s okay to experience, to feel upset, but then let it go. Because right now is the only time you can experience right now. So why waste it worrying about the past or the future. (Of course that’s not to say you can’t mourn or grieve, that is important. Or do tasks that will improve your future – everything you do right now should be for a better future, but enjoy doing it, not fretting about it.)
You can meditate. Trust me you can. So many people say that they can’t, but I don’t know anybody whose mind can be in so many different places at once as me. Seriously for months, I would sit down to meditate and write stories in my brain, my head would go as far as to make up my own songs or greeting cards. I would think about work, school, the kids, something funny. And of course the never ending to-do list was running like a loop in the background the whole time. It’s okay if it feels like you are just always thinking. (Kind of how I’ve always said I do my best writing in the shower. It’s a time when things slow down and my mind just feels free to roam.)When your mind has a mind of it’s own, it’s okay to observe that thought. But then let it go. Don’t judge it. Just release it. Bring your focus back to your breath or intention. It takes time. Start with something small like 5 or 10 minutes a day. It didn’t take long before I began to see a change in my ability to handle stress and to have internal happiness, not dependent on external forces. I learned to slow down and process where I was in the moment. I’m not perfect, but progress is progress.
Practice Self Care.
It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. In fact it’s just the opposite. If you don’t take care of yourself and are already hanging on by a thread, one more stressor could make it snap. Take care of yourself. Build yourself up so no single event can knock you all the way down.