Have we lost the ability to cope?
Have you found yourself lately reacting immediately to things in your environment? Do you yell at other drivers on the road from the safe and soundproof comfort of your own car? Maybe you turn around and snap at someone for trying to repeatedly get your attention? Do you send back an angry or aggressive tweet, snapchat or email without really reading or thinking about the content of the whole thing?
We are constantly on
The problem as I see it is that the world is wired now to immediately react to every little thing. Texting, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger all arriving immediately to your phone will bells, buzzing, lights or a signal, and we all respond like Pavlov’s dog. It’s set up that way. It may be partly fear of missing out (FOMO). It also becomes a habit, keeping you from really concentrating on anything else.
Do you watch reality television? It’s not reality. It’s our most basic emotions scripted for the entertainment of the masses. Some people feel better about themselves when they compare their lives to someone losing their shit on tv. Screaming in someone else’s face or throwing glasses or slamming doors may have raised our tolerance for bad behavior.
A much less dramatic example I deal with continually as a college professor, coach, and counselor is an entire generation of 20 somethings who react to everything like a ten on a ten scale. It’s like a wave of adolescent fury. These are smart, reasonable human beings who have no ability not to overreact and dramatize everything that happens to them that isn’t completely positive. In my coaching with my clients, we prepare for scenarios, unpack our past, and remain aware of our present.
Most of the time I let it wash over me like a wave. I try to use humor and patience and get them to think about what they are saying and doing.
We don’t live in a very civilized world right now
Many times the first reactions of people who should be examples to our society react quite publically in a way that resembles a temper tantrum. A tantrum you wouldn’t expect from a five-year-old.
When did we lose the ability to have polite, respectful discourse? When did a difference of opinion require harsh words and slamming the other person into submitting to our way of thinking?
Have we completely lost our ability to cope?
And to understand when something is important enough to react strongly?
In my inbox this week, I received a worksheet about coping from Therapistaid.com. One of the things I found particularly interesting was their section on triggers. And how important it is to recognize our own triggers.
We have all used the phrase “he really pushes my buttons.” But usually we reserve this for people who know us well. Are we as people getting our buttons so to speak pushed all the time?
Do you get red in the face? Clench your fists? Do you yell? Is your blood pressure spiking? Pay attention… Your body is telling you something. Your ability to calm yourself is good for your health.
I thought a lot about that this week. Triggers that seem to light us up and become emotional and somewhat irrational beings.
So what do we do?
We learn to recognize these buttons or triggers for ourselves.
Here are 5 strategies to help us keep our cool. And react to the actual situation or information stream without reverting to our fight or flight caveman past.
I had an aunt who was very wise. She used to say “don’t fret about it if it isn’t going to make any difference in five years”. As a young person, I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say to me. Over time I have realized that she was right. So many of the ditzy little details of our lives wind us up. It’s time to unwind them.
1. The only thing that we can control is how we react.
To anything and everything.
Are you stuck in an endless cycle of drama and trauma? Is someone in your life who constantly bring you down? Are combative or hostile? Deal with their own lives like a constant state of upheaval?
If you find this kind of interaction exhausting, you are not alone. Some people invite or perpetuate drama in their lives and go from very high to very low and want all the people around them to join in their own personal reality show.
2. What level of importance is the message?
Is it life or death? Career ending? Relationship ending? Is the sky falling?
Will it matter in 5 years? 5 months? Or 5 minutes? This is the point to prioritize your interactions and communications. Take a breath or take a walk. Turn your phone off or at least on silent. If it’s important enough, people know how to get ahold of you.
Research has shown that dividing your attention makes you less productive. It also makes you less able to concentrate on even the simplest task.
Don’t you owe to yourself to do the best you can at work and at home and in school? Minimize the distractions.
3. Check in with yourself.
Is this a behavior pattern or just today? Are you having a challenging day? Is everything going to irritate you no matter what?
If so, when responding or reacting to things and people in your environment today, take it easy. Conserve your own energy when you might be feeling low.
Try the teflon approach and let everything slide off. Wrap yourself in a non-stick coating of calm and understand that not feeling great, or not getting enough sleep, or being hungry, or having a disagreement with a loved one is a temporary situation. It will pass. Try not to internalize anything until it does pass.
4. Time outs are not just for children anymore.
If a situation is getting heated take a moment. Diffuse the situation and walk away. Just as strong emotions can boil up, we can get some distance and take some time to decide how we want to respond or react.
My friend and mentor, Sam Bennett, suggests you make five-minute art about what you are feeling. It doesn’t matter if you draw stick people or sing jingles or write in a journal. It takes you out of that tense moment and gives you time to assess what you really want to say or do.
This is the time to put down the phone. Close the email or Facebook or whatever provoked you and take a time out. When you are calm or calmer you can revisit the situation or communication. After you think a little bit how you would really like to handle it.
5. Get some help to clarify your feeling.
Overreacting isn’t a healthy lifestyle choice. Keep that adrenaline for the important stuff.
Call a friend and get their perspective. Get some counseling.
Check in with a colleague and use them as a sounding board for whatever has gotten your back up. Their view may help you bring clarity to your situation.
We have all been in situations where we need to react quickly and efficiently. Where raising your heart rate and blood pressure is a good thing. But not all the time. And not every day.
If you are not coping and everything is a huge deal or you are angry all the time you might need to tune up your coping skills.
Be kind to yourself.
Now over to you: When was the last time you got angry? How did you cope?
Originally published at www.tamaramendelson.com on January 21, 2019.