I will tell you what…those of us whose work involves the practice of stress management in some shape or form have had our work cut out for us lately. Life usually throws us enough curveballs in this day and age to keep us all bobbing and weaving through the stress gauntlet, but lately, there have been some extra layers to manage, and even the most reliable distractions aren’t enough to offer an escape. Are you feeling it, too? It’s hard not to…
One of the more subtle challenges of uncharted terrain (aka, “unprecedented times,” which whether they are or are not may be debatable, but if they are for you, then they are…) is that some of the people, structures, and frameworks you may be used to relying on as unquestionably stable have moved. Your anchors aren’t there. Your coping mechanisms are either insufficient or totally useless. So, you end up asking yourself, where do I go? What do I lean on now? Where’s the stuff I am used to seeing as real and immutable? You may not have even realized the extent to which you relied on what you thought comprised the ground you thought you were standing on, or that it was even there underneath you to begin with. Scary stuff to start to question, to say the least.
Tectonic shifts do happen from time to time – in our individual lives, in our communities, and in the world – and holeeeee…moly, are they uncomfortable. It’s like if you ever had a massive growth spurt in a short timeframe when you were a teenager, and all of a sudden, you had to figure out how to use your legs again? Big changes, seemingly overnight, that leave you unable to rely on what you thought would always be a given. If that doesn’t give you anxiety, you need to bottle that mindset you’ve cultivated and sell it for personal wealth, because for the rest of us mere humans, there’s little that is scarier than confronting the unavoidable truth that nothing in the world is immune from change.
The upside? That includes you.
Change requires discomfort, though, and making the most of the opportunities for growth you encounter means that you need to develop the ability to deal with that discomfort. This means not pretending it isn’t there, or looking for any and all external distractions to minimize or numb the sensations of it (thereby also stunting your potential progress, btw). It means learning to be exactly where you are right now, fully connected to the reality of this moment, and not your preferences for how things should be, or expectations for what comes next. Being present for right now means that when the future becomes now, you will be able to respond to it with the same presence, clarity and intentionality that you are mustering up in this moment. I’d say that’s some decent ROI, for those of you inclined to think in such terms.
Now, these changes we’re talking about here are some Olympic level stuff. Whether you’re feeling impacted by the larger shifts underway in the world, or you’re more focused on your own personal path (“Oh no…turns out after all of this work and recruiting, I don’t want to be a brand manager, I think I really like finance…”), this isn’t your average, everyday discomfort. This is what it feels like when the world as you know it breaks down. We will all be there at some point in our lives, as uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge. When we are, the practice we have committed to of taking even just a few intentional, focused breaths a day – when we don’t have time, when we don’t want to be still, when we want to allow our thoughts to wander to the past and the future instead of the present moment – will help guide us through it.
For the record, it will also help you cultivate the strength to not just breathe through it, but to take intentional action and engage in meaningful ways that impact the direction of the shifts underway. Being mindful and being a doormat are two very different things. Whether in the course of your own life or the future of the communities you are a part of, your ability to be a change agent relies first and foremost on your ability to tolerate change.
Take a breath, feel the discomfort, and notice that somehow you not only survive that encounter, but eventually, it only serves to make you stronger.
Need more resources for navigating challenging times? Check out these previous posts on tough conversations, difficult people, and unfavorable outcomes, as well as the related “No-Fail Friday” mindfulness challenges that appeared two days after each original post.
Photo credit: Mike Wilson