When beset upon by troubles from all angles, it can feel as though we are doomed. It is easy to let depression, despair, hopelessness, and anger set in. It is easy to give up, bemoan our situation, cry out injustice. What is harder in dire situations is to remind ourselves of our blessings, our accomplishments, and to remember times in the past where we felt similarly and how those situations were resolved.
Many times in my life, I have found myself in situations in which I thought the worst: that I would be homeless, lose my home, lose my children, have to declare bankruptcy, have to move back in with my parents. During each of these periods, I have despaired over how I ended up in the current predicament. I blamed myself for various wrong turns, poor decisions, bad karma. I railed against the universe begging to understand what I had done wrong to deserve such punishment, had I been a despot in my former incarnation?
This was how I handled disappointments and setbacks in my life until I was in my late thirties and found myself in the middle of a divorce that I did not see coming, with two young children, and a paycheck that would barely cover the bills. When the reality of this situation hit me, I fell into my old fears and allowed the panic and despair to set in. Up until this point in my life, my various setbacks had felt minor in comparison. This setback encompassed my whole life and everything that I cared about…and it was all in jeopardy. I spent countless hours awake in the dark, crying and trying to figure out why this was happening to me and what I had done to deserve it. Eventually, though, I had to stop because this line of thinking was serving no one and doing no good.
Once we are miles past a period of trauma, we are usually able to look back on it and see the good things that remain in its wake. I do not believe in the platitude that everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that we can see opportunities for growth, introspection and self-learning in all situations. In that respect, my divorce was the greatest educator because I took painstaking steps to process all of it, to allow myself to examine myself under a microscope, and confront the parts that I saw that did not flatter me. It was through this process that I learned how to refocus in times of disappointment, setbacks, or trauma.
We have all experienced times in our lives where it seems that everything is falling apart at the same time. The refrigerator breaks down right after you get laid off from your job. Then your child needs new glasses and your car gets a flat. All of these things flood in at once and overwhelm you and make you feel as though you are drowning. I know that feeling. That’s how I felt during my divorce. What I learned from that whole experience can be summed up in a simple thought: The ground is always beneath my feet. I just need to remember that I am not drowning as long as I put my feet down and ground myself.
This, of course, is metaphorical. The idea is to figuratively ground yourself by changing your focus. When you feel like you are drowning, stop for a moment, take a breath, and concentrate on the last time you felt this way. Remember it, conjure up the details of it. Then think of how you managed to get out of that situation. This does not mean that you will utilize the same methods to get out of your current situation. The purpose of this is to remind yourself that you have experienced this sensation before and you overcame it. Reminding yourself how you overcame it is just a method of refocusing on a positive from the last time you felt like you were drowning or overwhelmed. Take a moment and allow yourself to recall those bad situations. This may sound counter-intuitive when dealing with situations that may cause depression or despair, but trust me here. You are not going to wallow on these negatives. Instead, you are going to allow yourself to see how much your have overcome, what you have survived, how you have succeeded.
I may not be where I would honestly choose to be right now in my life, but I am able to reflect on where I’ve been and see how much I have accomplished. I can look back on tough situations and times in my life and recognize that I survived them. That gives me the perspective to understand a current trouble that I may be experiencing and to know that I can survive it as well.
It is not easy to focus on these things in times of great stress, but, in the end, this method helps to clear the mind of some of the negativity and allow some hope, strength, and confidence in.
Next time you feel overwhelmed, don’t drown.
Put your feet on the ground.
Originally published at medium.com