Weve all been there. Nothing in our sights but nasty threats, impatiently waiting challenges, bad smelling dooms, and impossibly ugly situations. I am referring to the feeling of helplessly sailing into a paralyzing cacophony of menacing boogie-men and purple meanies just ready to pounce. There is a colloquial phrase for this– colorfully expressed as being up a certain particularly smelly creek without a paddle. I think you know what I mean.
While the threats may be more imaginary than real, the paralysis can be very real. Unfortunately the state of being frozen by fear is not a particularly useful one from which to handle impending challenges. In the Darwinian world survival of the fittest, being unable to move is commonly considered an express ticket to extinction. Somewhere in between flight and fight, fetal positioned stock-still panic only works in the presence of grizzly bears.
So lets, shake off the gross paralysis long enough to fashion a paddle and give ourselves a chance to steer clear of the worst of what may or may not come. At very least, youll have something in your hands to fend away the closest claws.
First, take a deep slow breath. Even if you dont feel like you can (and that does sometimes happen) force yourself to breath deeply and slowly. If you are feeling the paralysis physically, make the breath high in your chest. If you are more caught in the panic of images and unpleasant anticipatory thoughts, try breathing lower in your belly. That should buy you a few seconds of rational thought: the first step in paddle construction.
Now, remember the last time you were in a similar situation. If you are blazing new ground in terror here, then recall the last most similar situation. Remind yourself, as you recall this situation, that you did survive it. Otherwise, you wouldnt be here to fear again. In fact, no matter how bad it gets, you have no evidence that you wont survivenothing prior to now has been able to do you in. You have always survived before. Congratulate yourself for your skill in creating such situations, not everyone is so talented in adrenalin production. Then, congratulate yourself on your skill of surviving all previous such situations. You are now a little closer to having a full fledge paddle in your hand.
Now, as you have recalled surviving challenges before (remember learning to ride a bike? That certainly started out as an overwhelming task,) you must realize that there is possibly a future after this particular one that you are currently enjoying. Use that same imagination that is so good at imagining the worst, to briefly imagine looking back from a future vantage having somehow successfully navigated these current threatening and smelly rapids. You dont have to imagine how you got through, just that you did. You might even imagine smiling as you look back, having survived once again, and, in the process, having collected some great stories. For example, when I am experiencing very troubling times, I always try to gain enough mental flex room to remind myself how interesting this is all going to seem to me while Im watching next seasons NBA playoffs. That thought, for me, always works to gain a little perspective.
You should by now, feel a bit of the panic and paralysis lifting at least slightly. In all but the most unusual situations, most of our threats are not the gun to the head variety, but rather, the imagining the worst variety. Once you allow yourself a few moments of imagining something a little less dramatic than the worst, that cycle of cataclysmic thinking is weakened. You have, in effect, fashioned your paddle. The less panic we experience, the more blood flows to our brain’s thinking centers, and the better able we are to handle whatever, if anything, is really threatening us. Now paddle to the shore, wipe your feet, and figure out what you want to do next. Whether its flight, fight, or laugh out loud, youll be better equipped.
This is another helpful mind management tip from Richard Lefever and the brain weavers at Quit! Check out our website at www.quitsmokingoregon.com.