How to stay balanced when life throws you a few curve balls.
(Here’s a little hint. It’s called accessing your Wise Mind.)
by, Lisa Herman, PsyD, LP
If you are human, and I assume you are if you’re reading this, then you have probably experienced a curve ball or two in your lifetime. There are situations and circumstances in life that can really make us sad, discouraged, fearful, mad, or just plain old pissed off. This is especially true when something that happens that is completely and utterly out of your control. You didn’t ask for it. You didn’t want it. And you sure as “you-know-what” can’t change it.
For many people, these curve balls or rough experiences can be very traumatic; traumatic situations can be a one time event or it can be continuous and persistent. Examples of such traumas include (but are not limited to) abuse/neglect, growing up with a sick parent, postpartum depression, death of someone close, loss of a home/job, infertility/miscarriage, discord in a relationship, etc. All of these traumas – or life’s curve balls, whichever you prefer to call them – can cause our logical mind and emotional mind to feel out of wack. Some people report that their emotions change so quickly that they aren’t even aware of what’s happening until they are over the [figurative] edge.
The brain is beyond complicated that we still don’t know how it all works! To simplify things, we can look at two dominant parts of our “mind” that include the Logical mind and the Emotional mind. These can be viewed as polar opposite in function. The referee, or middle ground is called Wise mind…that’s where we strive to be.
Enter the ever so logical mind. All of the cliches work here: we wouldn’t know happiness if we didn’t feel sadness; anything worth it is hard; everything happens for a reason. Sometimes these sentiments can be said over and over and we “know” they are true, but it’s really hard to allow them to help us feel better when the emotion of a life event(s) is overpowering.
Enter the pull of our emotional mind. Why did this happen to me? Nothing good ever happens. If something good happens then for sure something bad is to follow. We cry. Yell. Bargain. Withdraw. Our emotions are beyond consuming. Sometimes they’ll lighten up and other times they come knocking at full force. The difficulty in managing the ups and downs from difficult life events is where people start to suffer.
This is typically when people enter therapy. My job is to help them learn how to find balance, and learn how to access their Wise Mind – that very tiny metaphorical space that intersects the mighty logical + sensitive emotional spheres of oneself. Along with helping people understand how the mind and body hold on to traumas, it’s important to learn how to accept our circumstances, empower ourselves with mindfulness, and engage in relaxation techniques to help achieve a more balanced state.
Getting oneself to Wise mind is harder than you might think. You see, the emotion center of our brain (otherwise known as the Amygdala) picks up on everything going on in, out and all around us. Our strong emotions about traumatic/negative/sad situations or experiences that happen to us wound so deeply that they can change the way our brain operates. The brain works hard to filter out the “noise” during our day so that we can focus on what is important for functioning or for survival. We are survival creatures. If it doesn’t matter to our safety then we don’t really need to focus on it.
When traumatic events happen, our mind can hold on to the emotion of the trauma like a steel trap. Our brain isn’t doing this to piss us off, it’s doing this to keep that traumatic thing from occurring over and over again. Let me introduce you to our fight-flight system (otherwise known as the sympathetic nervous system). This automatic system becomes activated in order to help keep us safe and alive. This system kicks in not only when we experience real dangers (like being physically hurt) but also when we perceive situations to be dangerous or unsafe (like giving a presentation or taking an exam). When people experience a trauma (or continuous trauma) they tend to remain on high alert, preparing to fight off or run away from the next thing that triggers this system.
Life’s curve balls can certainly do a number on us, especially if we choose not to pay attention to what’s happening. Right about now is the point where you might even start to feel exhausted from reading all of this. Imagine what one feels living this day in and day out. Many people don’t even realize they are running on high alert due to past (or current) traumas. Most people have physical symptoms. The body holds on to what the mind doesn’t yet want to see. Stress headaches, stomach aches, high blood pressure, chronic illnesses, etc.
Finding our Wise mind can help us stay balanced.
My job is to help them learn how to find balance. Learn how to use their Wise Mind – that very tiny space that intersects the mighty logical and emotional spheres of oneself.
So, now that we know what types of things make us feel like we are on a roller coaster ride of emotions that won’t stop, what can we do about it? How can we find balance in the midst of internal chaos from traumas we’ve experienced?
- RECOGNIZE. Simply put, begin to know your logical and emotional minds. Recognize when you are feeling one way or the other. Write it down. Make two columns and jot down the times you notice feeling either way (or a mix!). Being aware is the first part to any progress.
- ACCEPT. If we are constantly trying to pretend that whatever happened in your life (or is happening) didn’t happen or doesn’t exist then we cannot begin to accept and find balance. Stop trying to fight it and join it.
- BELIEVE. It’s important to know that you have what it takes to be your best self. Bad things happen in life. We don’t ask for them, but they still happen. Just because you experienced traumatic situations doesn’t mean you have to live your life in constant fear. Trust that you know what’s best for you and believe that you have what it takes to work through the pain.
- ENGAGE. This is the time that you set aside each day to engage with yourself. Notice how you feel. Where you feel it in your body. What you think. Become best friends with yourself. Engage with you. Sometimes this will be uncomfortable and other times it’ll be exactly what you needed in order to take a mini break from your day.
- FIND THE WISE. Begin to find that wise center of yourself where your thoughts and feelings intersect and offer a wise solution for that moment. Maybe it’s to take a break, take a bath, or go for a run. Work with your logical and emotional minds equally. Respect both parts equally.
- SEEK HELP. Sometimes life’s curve balls can be pretty brutal and all the “talking and doing” doesn’t seem to help. If you feel like your symptoms are severe and unmanageable, please get help from a professional. PTSD, Depression, Bipolar and other disorders are treatable. You are not alone.