The Imperfect Storm

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Everyone deals with challenges to their mental health. 

At this moment you may not feel lost in a cloud of depression or ready to jump out of your skin with anxiety, but you may be in the middle of a really hard day, or a series of hard days.

Sometimes we are blindsided by a crisis. At other times, the little things just add up. 

Imagine your alarm didn’t go off, you woke up late for work and your kids were crying through the night so you only slept a few hours. On your drive to work, you suddenly notice a large pothole ahead of you. Someone is tailgating you so you can’t slow down, and someone is next to you in the adjacent lane, so you can’t move over.

You make it to work with a flat tire, but at least you’re there, and thankfully nothing stressful can happen at work. 

Within a very short time, your typical daily stress-load has been amplified, and you feel that it’s beyond what you can handle. 

So what is going on here and how do you deal with it?

I believe a significant part of the answer lies in understanding how you reached your limit. How has this morning affected you?

Relationally: Possibly un-fun conversations with kids and spouse on the way out the door.

Physically: No sleep. 

Emotionally: Fear, anger, worry, frustration.

Mentally: Strategizing plans for missed work and anticipating tire repair in the snow.

Spiritually: Confused and disconnected - unanswered questions.

These are the elements of an imperfect storm - an experience in which there is not one overwhelming event to point to, but a series of difficulties that combine to push us beyond our limits. In the moment, there is very little we can do about these storms, they just happen. 

The good news is that there are many healthy ways that we can prepare for them and respond to them.

One way to do this is by creating your own weather system. Depending on the time you have available, you could create a five minute, or a full-day system. What does that mean, and what does it look like?

A good way to think about this is by understanding yourself from a holistic stance.  So much is included in who you are. Among other things, you are relational, creative, emotional, thoughtful and logical. All of these aspects of your self can be negatively affected by circumstances, but they can also be consistently strengthened, encouraged and engaged. 

These are good things to keep in mind when you are creating your own weather system. 

There are endless ways to go about this. Here’s one example:

I have a five minute break. There’s a lot going on and I feel uneasy, but I’m not entirely sure why. I decide to:

Physically: Step outside, take a one minute walk, stretch and drink some water.

Mentally: Think about one thing I really enjoy and am looking forward to.

Emotionally: Consciously dwell on an incident in which I felt safe, loved, alive. 

Spiritual: Say a quick prayer, verse, or recall a time when I tangibly experienced a positive spiritual reality.

On days when you have more time available, you could plan for longer periods of healthy activity.

Here’s some ways to make this work:

- Focus on activities/thoughts that remind you of who you really are apart from the influences and expectations of others.

- Focus on activities/thoughts that fill your mind with positive experiences from the past and hope for the future.

- As illustrated above, take a holistic approach, engage the various parts of your being in the exercise.

- Do what works for you. One person might prefer a 2 hour phone conversation with a trusted friend whereas another person might enjoy a 2 hour bike ride alone.

- Over-plan. You can create many different types of “weather systems,” and the patterns can always be adjusted. However, it is helpful to create at least one series of healthy behaviors that become your default pattern.  Experiment with this, find what works best for you and then practice it. Then when you have 5 minutes, or a full day, you can move into a healthy pattern without too much effort.

Difficult circumstances happen, but you have a lot of control over your habits and the thoughts you choose to dwell on. Enjoy the process, and you may create some weather systems that will serve you for the rest of your life.

Adam Mollhagen, Intern