Bad things happen more often than we want, right? Rather than reaching for the bottle, Emily offers six tips to help you deal with the disruptions in life. Life is not a constant of happiness; it’s not meant to be. But your state of mind can be constant through turmoil or unexpected and unplanned disruptions to your life with these six tips.
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Episode 19: When Bad Things Happen: 6 Tips
Hello and welcome to episode 19. I want to talk about what you can do, instead of drinking, when bad things happen, when you’re worrying about something or getting frustrated because life threw a wrench in your plans. Life is always going to do that, right? Life is not a constant of happiness; it’s not meant to be. But your state of mind can be constant through turmoil or unexpected and unplanned disruptions to your life.
I’m going to offer 6 tips you might consider trying and keep in mind, these are skills that grow with practice and repetition. That’s how your brain works, the more often you do something, the more your brain is familiar with it and the more natural and automatic it feels. The brain is a tool of routine and conditioning. So listen to these tips and think about how you can recall them quickly when bad things happen.
Now you may not know all the reasons you drink but there are reasons you’re overdrinking. And if you haven’t checked in with yourself and taken a personal inventory of why you drink and overdrink just know that’s it’s a pretty necessary step in order to get to the other side of it all. But the more you can build awareness around why you’re drinking, the more you can start to interrupt the process and implement an alternative like the tips I’m going to share.
If you haven’t realized it yet, alcohol is a coping tool. It’s medicinal and sedative. It numbs your feelings, censors your overthinking, and it helps you feel comfortable when bad things happen. It allows you to postpone dealing with your emotions or dealing with the circumstance at hand…but notice I said postpone. It does not erase it permanently.
You may also use alcohol to deal with anxiety but interestingly enough, alcohol causes MORE anxiety. So when bad things happen, what do we do? We worry, anxiety sets in, anger sets in. But your body keeps score, it keeps track of the unprocessed emotion. So when you drink, you superficially seem to wash the emotions away but they’re there waiting for you. The repressed and unexplored emotion will express itself physically in your body through aches and pains and other more serious consequences if left ignored indefinitely.
So, once an experience happens, it’s a part of you and changes you because it affects your consciousness. And you can determine if you want to let it change you in a good way or a bad way. You can decide to take the lesson from each and every thing that occurs in your circle or your bubble and make that lesson count for something or you can wear it like a handicap. Everything in life is energy and events and situations create a flow of energy but you can transform it, you can let it pass through you or convert the negative energy to useful energy…you don’t have to take on the world’s weight and personalize every story.
What if you could think, this is happening for me? I don’t know the whole story here but what if I believed it was for a better outcome, even if I can’t see it now, can I try and believe it? Is there a chance that I have to go through whatever this is now because something better for me is coming from this? Or is there a chance that this unplanned disruption is a gift? The Alchemist is a great book to read more about how the universe could be conspiring for you.
So along those lines, let’s start with the first tip.
1) Keep perspective – we have a saying we like to use in my household and it’s not our statement but it’s one we like to use as a reminder to keep things in perspective. We just say it’s small potatoes.
Something may initially feel like the world is falling apart at your feet but in reality, in the big scheme of trauma, and danger, and life-threatening circumstances, it could also be no big deal. Part of understanding this is realizing that your brain is going to dramatize nearly every circumstance. It’s on the lookout for danger and this can include very small, immaterial situations.
So as your brain is overreacting (and this isn’t to say every bad thing is small potatoes) but as your brain is freaking out, you can check in with yourself and say am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Is this really no big deal or is this a very manageable situation? What is this wasn’t a big deal, or back to what I said previously, what if this is actually a good thing?
Perception is reality so if you can put your over-reactive brain in check and find a new perspective, you’ve won nearly the entire battle.
2) Let it go – so after you do an exercise in perspective shift, you can say fuck it. Let it go. Or shake it off as Taylor Swift would say. Great song by the way.
Even if it’s a big deal, you can choose to let it go and let the cards fall where they may. You can let the universe take care of everything and let your control or your attempt to control it go. Often times, after something bad happens, we perpetuate the negative state by trying to control what comes next. You start chasing solutions and telling yourself a story of what needs to happen next or what should happen next on order to right the wrong. But life doesn’t work that way.
So learning and knowing that you cannot control anything but yourself and your actions and letting the cards fall where they may is liberating…it’s freeing. We try and intercept and control the universe and all the things happening but more often than not, life requires little action from us humans. The world is going to turn and people are going to be people. If something doesn’t work the way we want it or in the order we think it should…it’s okay. Really. It’s okay.
Now don’t confuse this with being complacent. There are actions we need to take as humans and a society to move in the right direction…like climate change, and black lives matter, and me too. However, more often than not, when you make plans or have a set trajectory, something is going to disrupt it and rather than fighting with the new circumstance at hand, do what you can, assess if it’s small potatoes, and let it go.
3) Breathe – so you tried to put the circumstance in perspective, it still feels like a big deal then you tried to shake it off but you’re just still reveling in anxiety, so the next step is to breathe. And maybe this is the first, second, and third step.
Use your breath to let your body know you’re not in harm or in danger. When we get into a panic or into an episode of increased stress or anxiety we trigger our Sympathetic Nervous System and what’s known as an Amygdala Hijack.
An Amygdala Hijack, hijacks or bypasses your cognitive thinking. The Sympathetic Nervous systems prepares your body for fight or flight which does not require use of your cognitive brain. The amygdala, which is the part of your brain where reasoning occurs, gets ignored in order to allow you to use all of your energy to survive the perceived attack or life-threatening situation. Your pupils will dilate, your heart rate increases, you can lose bladder control or feel the need to eliminate all of a sudden, you actually experience hearing loss, your immune system gets suppressed, and a whole host of other systems in your body will shut down so you can escape or fight.
It is not useful for you to use your cognitive brain at this time because cognition actually slows your body’s response. Your body knows what to do in stress without you telling it what to do so in order to increase your odds for survival, it actually shuts down your ability to think, your ability to process, decide, analyze. Your brain thinks it’s helping you with the Amygdala Hijack by automating your survival response.
If you’re frequently in a state of anxiety or stress or in a prolonged period of worry and stress, your body is operating with this improper balance all the time. And one easy way to counteract this is by deep breathing. Deep breathing tells your brain and body that you’re not in danger. Deep breathing starts your Parasympathetic Nervous System which restores a peaceful balance in your body.
Think about it, you can’t run from a tiger and do deep breathing exercises at the same time. When you’re running or fighting, your breathing is very fast and shallow. So when you consciously start taking deep slow breaths, you are actively signaling to your brain and body that you are okay. You’re intentionally breathing to counteract the Sympathetic Nervous System response with the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
There are many different breathing exercises you can Google but a simple one is 4, 5, 6 breathing where you breathe in for 4, hold for 5, and breathe out for 6. Try to insert a few periods during your day where you’re deep breathing and definitely when bad things happen.
4) After you breathe and start to restore your cognitive mind, you’re going to hate my next tip…feel your feelings.
Look many of you, as did I, drink to regulate your emotions. Whether it’s heightened excitement or emotions of turmoil and despair, alcohol brings your emotions into a range of a 4 - 6 on a scale of 1 – 10. You might feel energized at first and very sleepy or tired later but while you’re overdrinking, your emotions really settle in the middle, between a 4 and a 6. Your cognition and reasoning becomes impaired and you’re like a blob of jello.
So what if you felt the emotions rather than regulating them with a drug like alcohol? What if you learned to feel them, question them, and then self-regulate them? It’s something you’re likely not comfortable with now but something you can learn to become comfortable with. Just like anything else, it takes practice. What it won’t do is kill you.
You won’t die from feeling extreme sadness or total jubilation. If you think about what an emotion is, it’s just a feeling in the body. And that feeling is, again, just energy, it’s just a vibration in the body as many coaches say. Part of what makes an emotion or feeling so intense is our resistance to it. We push against it and try to avoid it or bury it. And if you think about energy and force, when you push against something it pushes back just as hard. You’ve heard how energy produces an equal and opposite reaction to a force?
So, I like to suggest thinking of emotions as waves, like the tide. Let it wash over you and pass through you and allow yourself to see what it feels like. What does anger feel like? What does jealousy feel like? And building awareness around how you’re feeling so that you can see that it’s not a big deal. You can breathe through it or let yourself be sad. Or let yourself be happy. Be angry when you want to be angry. Sometimes when bad things happen, you need to just be pissed off for a bit…that’s okay. That’s more than okay.
What truly becomes disruptive, though, is when you linger in the emotion and contribute to the disruption. So feel your feelings, allow your feelings, and let them move on.
5) And the next tip is inquiry. Learn the root of why you’re having such an emotional reaction to this bad thing. Why are you feeling this? What’s the worst that can happen? Why do you think you can’t handle this? Why do you think you’re not capable of coming out of this better, more resilient, stronger? You are. What scary story are you conjuring up in in your mind?
If you’re an overdrinker, I’m positive you’ve survived quite a few traumatic, painful experiences. And let me spoil the ending for you, more will come. You survived many tough things. You lived through hard situations.
So, if you’re having an emotional reaction to something, allow it to happen because this is what makes you human; it’s why you have five senses and then question why you’re having it. What thoughts are going through your mind; what thoughts were going through your mind when you started to feel this way?
Your thoughts create a story for you; they create a worst-case scenario most of the time. We pick up on this worst-case scenario and identify with it. It becomes you and you feel it. You feel the effects through your emotions of all the horrible results and outcomes that lie ahead that aren’t even certain. They haven’t happened yet; they aren’t guaranteed; and there can be alternatives. Alternatives that aren’t as bad as the story in your mind.
And let me tell you a secret. The more you control your actions and use your cognition to live intentionally, the better ALL your outcomes will be. When you learn to control your behavior, your reactions, your actions that you set in motion in the universe, you have a helping hand in what happens next in the universe. By controlling YOU, you get to manifest some control over your universe, even if that’s not reacting. You get to manifest more of a life you love living, even the sorrow because you know you can handle any emotion.
Drinking does not make you feel better. Drinking does not make your life better…you know this or you wouldn’t be seeking ways to rid overdrinking from your life. But quitting drinking does not magically make your life better either. I regularly say drinking is a symptom, it’s not the real problem and quitting isn’t the real solution. Learning to manage your mind and your emotions and feeling comfortable with discomfort is the solution.
And I don’t want you to think I’m telling you NOT to have an emotional experience, I’m not saying manage emotions to skip your way through life and be happy all the time. I’m offering to you that you can evaluate your emotions and decide on purpose if it’s really how you feel; are they serving you; are they helping you; are they creating actions that are aligned with the outcomes you want; are they a reasonable response to the situation?
6) Seek support or guidance whether it’s professional or a great friend for this bad thing that happened… or for longer term changes you want to make like overdrinking.
We try to fix everything ourselves whether it’s not be a burden to others or not to let others know what we’re dealing with or because we feel shame or embarrassment …seeking support or guidance does not make you weak and it does not mean that you can’t handle whatever you’re dealing with…it’s just a means to an end. It will help you get through whatever you’re dealing with faster.
And often times you’re lacking the language or understanding of the full scope of how you can overcome something or how you can transition to the next phase of what you’re going through. When you use the fabulous communication abilities we have as humans in coordination with another human, you can work out the language and words to help your brain make the connections and map solutions.
By talking with others, you force your mind to find solutions. You can also discover what’s going on in your mind about a situation so that you can work through some of the previous 5 tips I’ve offered. You can bring light to a story in your mind and perhaps see that’s it’s a little dramatic or that it’s small potatoes. But when you stay stuck in your own mind by yourself, it can be a lonely place to work through some of life’s challenging moments. Think of it like collaborating on a problem and gathering alternative solutions. Listening to others and sharing your story with others will help you articulate a solution or lack of solution, a lack of action, to progress more rapidly.