When problems appear to surround you, how do you react, what do you do to try to take back control of circumstances that are not as you would like them to be?
When we become overwhelmed, and all of us do from time to time, life can feel like its spiralling out of our control, we lean into our coping mechanisms. All too often, instead of confronting the problem, we distract ourselves by doing something that temporarily allows us to hide, to avoid having to face or deal with the problem. I’m talking about life situations like losing your job, financial worries, health issues, or family conflicts.
In my case, for many years I used cleaning as my distraction, it didn’t matter if the target was already clean. It was a way for me to feel in control, get busy tidying up, wishing I could do the same with my thoughts - put them away somewhere in the back of my mind for another day when I feel I can handle them better. Imagine a snow globe, when you move it quickly, scattering the glitter/snow everywhere in the globe, you cannot see anything in the globe. Similarly, this is what happens in your own mind, your worrying thoughts, like the glitter, fill your head and cloud your ability to think clearly.
Maybe you distract yourself with shopping therapy – you feel that going shopping for another pair of shoes will ease the worrying, the stress that you feel in your mind and body. It feels good to buy a new pair of shoes, a temporary high but by the next day, the bright shiny purchase (shoes) doesn’t sparkle quite so bright anymore and your financial problems, or whatever your problems are, are still there.
Perhaps you distract yourself with emotional eating, eating something sweet adds a little sweetness into your life in the short term. When we are faced with major stressors, we sometimes feel we need to have something to look forward to, a treat. For you it might be chocolate or a tub of ice-cream in front of the T.V. at night. It provides comfort, a distraction, we feel we need to soothe our worrying selves with food.
This survival instinct is deep in all our DNA’s, our brains have been hardwired this way since our days of having to run from Sabretooth Tigers. In order to survive, we learned to avoid things that threaten us and are painful. We move toward things that provides sanctuary, things that give us pleasure and a sense of security. Unfortunately, these distractions, mechanisms to provide temporary pleasure and avoid pain can cause us to live with problems far longer than we ever need to, often never dealing with the problem at all. The very things you use to distract you from your problems, can and often do, become their own problems.
So next time, you find yourself excessively doing any of the above,
1. What am I trying to avoid?
2. Are any of these behaviours helping or are they delaying me acting on the big issues?
3. What resources do I have to manage the problem causing this behaviour? – family, networks, skills.
4. What has worked in the past?
5. What is the hidden lesson behind this hardship?
Exercise: Make space
• Hold a book one inch from your nose – you have limited vision, right? You can only see the book.
• Now move the book to arm’s length – what more do you see? You see more than just the book, right?
The book (representing the problem) hasn’t changed, just the distance, the way you’re holding it – your viewpoint. What areas of your life are working, going well? How will this problem look to you in 6 months from now? 1 year from now? Change your perspective.
When you can create some space between you and the problem, your mind settles and feels clearer, just like the snow in the globe. When the globe is still, the snow settles, and it becomes clear again.
Meditating is another form of quieting and settling your mind down. Brene Brown in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” reminds us, we were made to think from a young age that if we were to stay calm and still it was because we were in trouble and it was a punishment – telling us to “calm down” or “sit still”, “stop fidgeting” were common instructions growing up. Is it any wonder we find meditation so difficult to practice? The payoffs though are worth it.
“You have been assigned this mountain so that you can show others it can be moved.” ― Mel Robbins
If you struggle with the above and need help to stop avoidance and escapism behaviour, please feel free to contact me: Rachel Whyte - ki4Life Coaching