How to do Hard things.

My best friend’s mom just died. That was a hard thing.

I had the privilege of being up close and personal with the process from the moment of diagnosis until after her last breath. It may seem strange to call it a privilege, but Beverly had a beautiful death, surrounded by people she loved, prayers, singing, and even laughter. Her daughter Nancy stayed by her side from the moment she entered hospice until long after she took her last breath. Nancy covered her in flowers, and sat in silence, until we all returned to sing her body in procession to the car that would take her to a forest on Salt Spring Island.

While it was exquisitely beautiful it was also really, really hard. Not just the final goodbye, which Nancy wasn’t ready for, but the whole rapid decline from seemingly healthy at the end of February, to gone at the beginning of June.  I learned a lot by living with my friend during that time and watching how she handled such a hard thing. And I want to share with you…

5 things I learned to get through a hard time.

1. Accept that most things are out of your control. Not just when things are hard, but always. Care people show up at the wrong time, or don’t show up at all, disease progresses faster than expected, flights are cancelled, baggage is lost, dogs poop on the rug, your kid gets dumped by his girlfriend.  What’s within your control is how you respond.* So…

2. Be kind. When you’re going through a hard time, you might become driven by your sadness, fear, anger, or even determination to get through. When things are hard for you it’s easy to become self-obsessed. You forget that others are going through hard times too. So that person who bangs into in the grocery store without apologizing may not be a jerk. She may have been up all night changing a loved one’s diapers, calming night terrors, or trying to get medications right. And don’t just be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Take naps, eat well, grab some time alone or with friends. And definitely…

3. Ask for help and accept help when it’s offered. My friend’s not one to ask for help. She’s usually on the giving side of the give/take equation. But during this time, she asked for and accepted help. She wisely asked people to do things they were good at and wanted to do. She didn’t expect it to be perfect. She just let them do what they could do in the way they wanted to do it. Any bit of help took some pressure off of her so she could focus on her mom. Whether people rush in to help or not…

4. Be appreciative. Not only did Nancy express her appreciation for friends who stepped in and offered support. She thanked each doctor, nurse, pharmacist, caretaker, janitor, and delivery person for doing their job. Many jobs are stressful, even more are thankless. People were touched by her appreciation and even that she noticed. She wrote cards, gave flowers and chocolates, but mostly just acknowledged what people were doing and said thank you.  To do this all, she had to…

5. Slow Down. When you’re facing something hard you’ll probably notice one of two impulses – Rush through it or Resist it. But unless you’re ripping off a bandage, the better way is to slow down. When you slow down you get a chance to feel your feelings and release them so they don’t build up and erupt in surprising ways when you least expect it. When you slow down you can pay attention to what’s needed, notice and appreciate others, and be present to whatever and whoever you are with. When you slow down you feel your own feelings, which might be scary but suppressed feelings don’t go away – they just get in the way. Slowing down, even briefly, can show you what you need. Hard times are great teachers if you’ll slow down to get the lesson. They are often riddled with beautiful moments if you’ll go slow enough to witness. Nancy’s days were full and challenging but almost every morning we took time on the couch to connect and do some somatic work to support her nervous system to do the hard things ahead. Find simple ways to slow down your experience so you can really be present to it.

*A note from #1 about being able to control yourself. When you’re scared or stressed your nervous system takes over. Once you’re in fight or flight or even freeze, you’re no longer your rational, compassionate, caring self. You are in survival mode. Have you ever looked back and wondered why you yelled or stood stunned? Have you ever been ashamed of your behavior and wished you’d been different? It’s easy to say you can control yourself but to be at your best in hard times, you have work to regulate your nervous system at all times. Find support and exercises to become more resilient. Practice those exercises when times are easy, so you’ve got them in your system when times are hard.

Please share this with someone who might be going through a hard time. And I’d love to hear what you do to get through something hard.

Eight ways to Override Overwhelm at Times like This

It’s easy to get overwhelmed right now.

It seems everywhere you turn it’s fires,  floods or your friends and family in crisis.

But there’s a way to override overwhelm, be of service, and live in peace.

Keep turning in the direction of beauty.

Because no matter what else is going on, beauty’s right there. She sits on the shoulder of death, she flows in the tears of heartache, and she dances in the chaos of destruction.

Now it may seem irresponsible and even heartless to turn towards beauty when there’s so much suffering going on, but here’s why I recommend you try it.

With news and social media, we have more information about tragedies all around the world as they happen. We can be up close witnesses to earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, and angry white supremacists, even if it’s all happening thousands of miles away. We see it on the news and our friends post it online where we can watch it again and again.

And while a friend of mine said, “Now is a time we have to be vigilant”, we’re at risk of becoming hyper-vigilant;  fueled by anxiety we watch for potential threat everywhere, increasing our stress levels in a vicious cycle.

Though technology has evolved rapidly, our biology has not.

When you watch a disaster on a screen your nervous system responds as if it’s real. It prepares to fight or flee for your survival while you sit unmoving, glued to the image. That can leave you traumatized. A study shows that people who had repeated media exposure to the Boston Marathon Bombing showed higher levels of acute stress than those who were actually present at the bombing.

By staying informed and vigilant are you helping, or are you doing more harm? You’ll know by the way you feel. Letting yourself go down the rabbit-hole of exposure can put you in survival mode and you may not even know it. It can lead to anxiety, depression, problems sleeping, digestive issues and a host of problems that can make it hard for you to be part of the solution.

So what are you going to do?

Turn yourself in the direction of beauty. 

  • Look at things that make you feel good. Whether it’s your kids, some flowers or a work of art. There is still beauty around you.
  • Laugh. Get with friends to laugh, play games, tell jokes, make music together. Sh*t’s still funny, even now.
  • Shut off technology. Give your nervous system long breaks without any electronic input. When I recommend social media breaks to my clients 100% of them feel more creative, optimistic and better about themselves when they do. I know I do too.
  • Let yourself feel. Weep, mourn, feel your fear. It’s not a time to override what is real. Let the feelings move through you so you don’t get stuck.
  • Move your body. A great way to shake the images and thoughts from your mind is to shake your body. Dance. Walk. Run. Jump on a trampoline. It doesn’t matter what. Just move!
  • Give where you can. Whether it’s donating to a cause, volunteering your time, calling a friend who needs cheering up or saying a prayer, give and you’ll feel less helpless.
  • Be silent. There is so much energy coming at you all the time, and an endless list of things to do. Take a few minutes every day to be silent and listen to yourself. Rumi said, “There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” There is such loving wisdom inside you. It will guide you in exactly the right thing to do if you will listen. Sometimes withdrawing from the world is the most powerful way to be engaged.
  • Rest. Get more sleep. Take naps. Give yourself a break from pushing too hard. Times of great stress require great recovery. If you’re feeling stressed by it all, rest more. Ideally after you’ve moved your body 🙂

Some would call the way I live “sticking my head in the sand” because I can’t feel good when I  expose myself to too much of what’s going on. I don’t watch really violent or scary movies. I haven’t watched the news in over a decade and I don’t log much time on social media, but what I need to know still reaches me.

I’ve been able to give to organizations helping victims of floods and fires, without watching any footage. I check on friends in area of danger, without monitoring the threat. This Sunday I’ll show my support at the local Racial Justice meeting that’s being disrupted by White Supremacists, because a neighbour told me people were needed.

The above are just 8 ways to turn towards beauty. These simple practices can calm your nervous system, strengthen your capacity to handle stress, and make you better able to help when needed. If they work for a weakling like me, imagine what they might do for you.

How do you turn towards beauty, even at a time like this? I’d love your ideas in the comments below.

Love Debra

Tweet these ideas and help others override overwhelm.