The inspiration for this post was found in a movie that I recently watched, Romantics Anonymous, which I mentioned briefly in my last post. The female lead is a member of a counselling-meets-self-help group for people who are, essentially, slaves to their emotions. A little bell went off in my head in the hours following the movie and I wanted to share some of that with you, dear reader.
As a fellow human, we share many of the same experiences. We move through life, attempting to improve on the space we occupy. We find reasons to celebrate. We attempt to be content with what we have. We are in awe at the beauty around us. And also, we come to crashing halts. We find it impossible to move forward. We find it difficult to be content. We meet disappointment. These things, fellow humans, are inevitable experiences in a lifetime. We will all sometimes crumble, and it is our ability to get ourselves back on our feet that allows us to move out of the muck.
So, if you’re struggling with finding happiness, here is my 6 Step Guide to Keeping it Together:
1 – Let the moment pass. The emotions you are feeling must come to pass. Don’t live in them. I know that this may go against a lifetime of learning how to embrace one’s emotions, but learning to acknowledge your emotions and then to allow them to fade away is true mastery.
2- Don’t dwell. You may find that your mind re-plays your frustrations again and again. Instead of living through your frustration just once, you now have to “Let the moment pass” over and over each time that your mind wanders. Recognize the thought pattern, and then break it. That takes us to Step 3…
3 – Throw yourself into something you love and value. This is a great way to find your self again, and to muster the self-confidence and happiness you need to get over a hurdle. What does your perfect day look like? For me, it usually involves slinging my camera over my shoulder, tucking my tripod under my arm and playing “I’m a Photographer” around the city. It’s throwing myself into a challenging yoga class, or going for a long run while listening to an audio book. It is holing up in my favourite coffee shop and writing. Throwing yourself into something you love and value is rarely the easiest thing you can think of; we don’t always want to do something that actually really feels good, because it takes work. But if you know what makes you feel good, now’s your chance to dig deep into your self-discipline and simply do it. It doesn’t have to be for long and you don’t have to give 100%, but you have to try.
4 – Put one foot in front of the other. Hot diggity! You’re almost there! Give yourself a pat on the back. Now that you’ve staved off the feeling of imminently falling apart, the only thing to do is to continue to move forward. Make a list of things you’d like to accomplish this week. Add some easy things (i.e. tidy the kitchen, donate old clothes, volunteer, take a long bath) to ensure the list is achievable.
5 – Drop the story line. This advice was given to me by a dear friend at the tender age of twenty-one. We tend to see our lives as a story, and when we fall apart, we cast ourselves in a losing role. “I will always be sad” or “I can’t get it right” or “I need someone else to save me” reinforces a perception of ourselves that will make it very difficult to continue to not fall apart. Your new story line is that you are a person who puts one foot in front of the other; a person that doesn’t stay down when life gets difficult. You are now the hero of your story line. Congrats!
6 – Gratitude. This is the Holy Grail of keeping it together after you’ve managed to not fall apart. I can not emphasize enough how effective this is as a tool for keeping it together. Take a deep breath and look around you, and appreciate the small things that you’ve overlooked that are tremendously important to you. It may help to look at your life as through your best friend’s eyes. However you’re able to tap into gratitude, this is my sure-fire way of breaking a negative thought pattern, and re-routing my energy to keeping myself together. Try it, and see your world change in front of your eyes.
If you’ve made progress on any one of these steps, than that counts as a legitimate success. Mental health, like our physical health, takes care and maintenance. If you’re facing difficulties in managing your mental health, than reach out to a loved one, build a support network, find a therapist in your area. Set yourself up for success. Everything you want in this life is worth the time and effort it will take. Like the old adage, “It’s always in the last place you’ll look,” life is a “work in progress” for everyone, and it never ends (until it ends). We’re all trying to keep it together. Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s hard.