Sink or swim
No one gets through life without experiencing a tough event of some kind. Whether that’s betrayal, loss, humiliation, rejection or failure on some level, we all face situations where we either sink or swim.
Anxiety and stress comes from our belief that we will not cope and where we see the threat in front of us as insurmountable. There have been many times in my life when I have felt that I will not cope with the situation and have found managing my emotions incredibly difficult. The more you confront your fears the easier life gets and the more your confidence grows. Whether you sink or swim depends on the story you tell yourself about what has happened. If you focus on all the negatives and can’t see any other way to look at the situation, it is obvious that you will be more likely to sink. If however, you put some effort into looking at the situation in a more creative way (the more difficult the situation the more creative you need to be), you will be more likely to swim and cope. What I mean by the ‘story’ you tell yourself is the way you choose to interpret the events. Psychological flexibility is key to happiness and minimising anxiety.
Example: You could say to yourself, “This is awful and I will never be happy again. I am such a loser etc” or you could choose to say to yourself, “This is a horrid situation but I have coped with hard times before, and I can do so again”. The first story will make you feel worse, the second one might make you feel slightly better. Do what works.
I monitor my thinking constantly and remind myself that my thoughts are not facts, they do not always represent reality accurately. I imagine my thoughts as leaves floating by on a stream. I notice all the thoughts but I only focus on the ones that are positive and serve me well. Well – it’s a work in progress but that’s the theory. Negative and positive thoughts will constantly be entering your mind so it is a good idea to practise dismissing some of the ‘nonsense’ thoughts’.
Watch your interpretations of life around you. There is one reality but many different interpretations of that reality. Optimists have learned to focus more on thoughts that are helpful rather than unhelpful. This is the key difference and will determine whether you sink or swim.