Sometimes we experience things that can be stressful, such as a traffic jam, really upsetting, such as a problem at work, or devastating, such as receiving a cancer diagnosis. A perfect example is the pandemic that we have been living with for over a year and a half. These things can cause any number of emotional reactions that would be completely valid: anxiety, sadness, frustration and anger. And we would have every right to our feelings. The problem arises if we get stuck in those understandable feelings when they don’t in any way change the issue at hand. When facing something that is challenging or terrible, but that is out of our control to change, the healthiest response, the most helpful response, is often to accept the situation, no matter how much we might hate it and don’t want it to be true. While this is easy to say, it is often very hard to do. Sometimes having a motto for such situations, a mantra, like “It is what it is”, can really help. “It is what it is” means, I don’t have to like it, but I do have to accept it because it is happening whether I want it to or not, and railing against it will not change anything and is a waste of my time and energy. Using "It is what it is" as a mantra for difficult circumstances that are out of our control, helps us to look at what is in our control and use our energy in a way that could actually be helpful. If we received a scary health diagnosis it would be natural to feel fear, sadness, anger, and even guilt, if we felt choices we made had put us at risk for the diagnosis. Yet all those natural feelings won’t help us calm down and access our rational mind in order to look at what is in our control. In order to decide how we want to respond to any challenging situation, we have to first calm our emotions, access our wisdom, and decide how to respond to the situation in a way that feels helpful and allows us to feel some control. So how to calm oneself in order to access our wisdom? First, as you may have heard many times, take some slow deep breaths from your diaphragm, right at the top of your stomach. Think the mantra, It is what it is. Think that there is nothing to be gained by railing against it, but if I can accept It is what it is, then I can refocus my energy on how to focus on what is in my control, and how I might manage this to the best of my ability. Let’s look at the Covid 19 pandemic that has led to the sickness and death of countless people all over the world. It continues to be a roller coaster experience, an ongoing event that challenges us to constantly recalibrate our response. It has impacted how we interact or even if we interact, and increased the incidence of depression and anxiety. It has affected people in many different ways but it is definitely something that can trigger a lot of emotional reactions such as stress, exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed, and a feeling that it is out of our control. It can lead people to dig themselves into a hole of despair, anger, and frustration, making the situation even worse than it is. Working on accepting the reality of the pandemic, and focusing on what is still in our control and how we choose to respond to it, can make a huge difference in the quality of our lives. Take a moment of quiet and just ask yourself, “How do I want to respond to this?” Then listen inside, and see if you get an answer - if you hear options you might not have thought of before. If you can get the worry, sadness, and anger to lessen or step back, you might be able to focus on doing things that you can control and that could help you and your loved ones manage this kind of challenge. By refocusing on what could help you feel more in control, happier, calmer, and healthier, and catching yourself when you are feeling pulled into the despair or anger of the moment, you will be accepting the reality. In this space, you might even be able to feel gratitude for what is good, for what you still have even during such a stressful time. You can choose to focus on what you can do, on how you will handle it, reclaiming your power in doing so.
- Barbara Howard, LCPC Ext. 408