By Vivian Blevins
Mass shootings continue with a trajectory upward; five police officers are charged with second-degree murder, grocery bills continue to climb; more classified documents are discovered; war in Afghanistan continues. And the list goes on, attempting to drive us to the breaking point. And deaths and illness exacerbate the feelings of hopelessness.
Options surface to deal with the stress: drugs, alcohol, overeating, gambling, engaging in violent verbal or physical behavior. etc. And deaths, illnesses, divorce often exacerbate the feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness.
Knowing that we are not alone, that others are experiencing these issues, seems to have little impact on us. Additionally, some feel that they are having more than their fair share of problems. And they are right.
Know that I have no intention of boring you with any details of mine. I do, however, want to share with you some coping mechanisms I’ve used and taught to telecommunication employees for two decades before the president of the company for which I worked died with orders that the company be closed upon her death.
First step. I believe in beginning with an assessment, a list of what has challenged you, depressed you, angered you. You might say that you will not do this, that you don’t want to, that you don’t know what’s bothering you, that you don’t have time. If this is the way you feel, you can stop reading now. For those of you who are continuing to read, you need to know that the next step for you is to put the list in priority order from most important to least.
The third step is to refer to parts of the Serenity Prayer, knowing you need not be an alcoholic or an addict to find it useful: “Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, Wisdom to know the difference.” Let’s agree at this point that have the requisite wisdom and know that you can change certain things on your list. Note those items with an asterisk. Then, make notations about how you are going to go about changing what needs to be changed.
This next component could be an addendum, but I need to indicate here that in your list of things that are causing your less-than- satisfactory mental status, you can locate opportunities that abound if you will seek them for using your intellect, your skills, your time, your passion to address a plethora of problems in the community in which you live. The list is long and warrants a follow-up column on this subject. Or email me if you want me to help you find a way to use your strengths, and I’ll help you position yourself to make a positive difference.
The rub comes, however, with the challenge to find serenity i.e., a sense of calm, when we recognize that there are things we are powerless to change. Know that it won’t hurt to try my suggestions. You need to approach them in a thoughtful way. What works for one person won’t work for another. And once you’ve discovered something that seems to work for you, use it until it becomes a part of you.
Controlled Breathing as Therapy: This can be done anytime, anywhere. Take a deep breath through your nose and very gradually release air through your mouth. Do this three times to gain an immediate sense of calm.
Writing as Therapy: Just type or write. Record your feelings. Don’t be concerned about spelling, grammar, punctuation. Keep a notebook handy in your car, at work, by your bed so that you can easily record those feelings. With each entry, indicate the day and time. I do this frequently, every two days or so.
Talk Therapy: Is there a person who is sensitive to your thoughts and feelings -who is available- with whom you can talk when you feel the need to express your feelings, a person with whom you can be candid. Two of my three best friends with whom I could do this have died recently, and the third has moved to Israel to live permanently. This created a gap in my life, and I am trying other approaches to meet this need.
Art as Therapy: Do you draw, paint, sculpt? You don’t need to be gifted or especially talented. You just need to have a desire to express yourself with pencils, crayons, paint. Start a portfolio. And date and sign your creations. I do this, and when I know I’ll be kept waiting for an appointment, I always carry paper and pen.
Imaging: With the power of your mind, take yourself to a place that you remember from your past life, a place and time when you felt a sense of peace. Make the journey to that time and place. In your mind, detail step by step how you arrived at that place. Perhaps you needed to climb a hill, wade through a branch, or navigate some manmade barrier. Once you get to that special place and time, pause, stay there, enjoy that feeling, luxuriate in it. Once you’ve spent time there, retrace your steps back to the present. You will return with a sense of peace. I use an image of my brother and me, ages 8 and 10. We are picking blackberries on a hill where the sun is shining, a gentle breeze is blowing and wild roses are blooming. I can feel the sun, the breeze. I can smell the pink roses, and I can taste the bitter sweetness of the blackberries.
Association with an Artifact: Select something that is positive for you, that gives you a feeling of peace, positive memories. I have a pink- and-white afghan my mother crocheted. Some nights, I put that over my quilt and feel enclosed in my mother’s warmth and love.
Prayer as Therapy: Did you learn prayers as a child? Do you remember them? Get in a relaxed position and say them to yourself or repeat them quietly aloud. Some have unpleasant memories of religion. If you are in this category, skip this or repeat poems, song lyrics, passages from written works that are important to you. I gave myself permission decades ago to omit the parts of my religious upbringing that no longer resonated with me while retaining the parts that I grew to love. And as a student of literature, I remember special lines and use them at times when they seem to correlate with an issue I’m facing. Back in the years when I was a college CEO and knew that I would be facing a particular troublesome day, I wore my mother’s high school class ring. And she symbolically was with me.
So you think this is hocus pocus? Check your pulse rate/blood pressure before and after these exercises. Know, as well, when it’s time to seek a therapist and work with that person to address your stress, anxiety, depression.