Life is unpredictable. We never know what the next thing it will throw at us is.
Many people would like to know their future so they could be ready for when it happens. That is not necessary. You can be prepared without knowing.
The crucial point you should know about being ready is that you cannot be prepared for every particular thing that will occur. But, you can work on gaining more mental strength and getting prepared for stress in general.
Your life will bring many pleasant and unpleasant events upon you. Back in 1967, psychologists Holmes and Rahe created a list of the most stressful life events. The order of the top ten stressful events look like this: (1)
- Death of a spouse
- Marital separation
- Death of a close family member
- Personal injury or illness
- Dismissal from work
- Marital reconciliation
You may or may not agree with this list, but you have to acknowledge many of these events have a high probability of happening to every one of us.
As you can see, not all of these events have a negative connotation. Marriage or retirement can be viewed as positive. Life occurrences as childbirth, vacation, Christmas and Thanksgiving also made their list but had a lower rank.
Many things in life which are supposed to bring happiness, relaxation, family bonding, and love are often perceived as stressful. Why is that so? Because they also require a lot of planning, organizing and they create new roles and responsibilities. (2)
If we know all that – it is no surprise that we desire to be prepared for anything. All of us would like to know how to protect our loved ones, lead successful careers, handle things with ease and quickly heal our emotional wounds.
Even though many situational factors are external, and outside of our circle of influence, we can still prepare internally, and that is what really matters. We can adapt to deal with what comes our way adequately by learning to accept things without clinging to the past.
Psychological Survival Kit
There are a few things you should learn about yourself in order to be more prepared for things you don’t expect.
Living in the present and being self-aware helps you notice your usual responses to stress and it may teach you about your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing yourself, how you react, which situations trigger which feelings are the base of proper adjustment to any life situation.
The following steps are meant to be gentle guidance towards your readiness:
1. Recognize your Weakness
When faced with hard times in their lives, people often feel negative emotions. Sadness, anger, hopelessness, fear, despair, anxiety, panic and so on. The exciting thing is, as humans, we tend to have our “default emotional response” to such circumstances. This means we often feel the same when the going gets tuff.
You undoubtedly know someone who tends to feel angry in situations that are meant to provoke sadness. Or someone who gets scared when he has all the right to get mad.
We cover up our true feelings with the ones we “are wired for”. Why do we do this?
Because we benefit from them.
It can be easier being angry than admitting you are hurt and feel the pain. It is easier being scared than being angry and confronting someone if you’ve been through your all life that you should be polite and avoid conflicts.
These “default emotions” have a protective function, but they are not very adaptive.
When the next bad thing happens, try noticing how do you feel and then imagine being an observer who looks at the situation from aside. Think rationally about how you should feel. If you see the discrepancy, think of the reason why are you not letting yourself feel what you should? Work on that gap.
Letting yourself feel the whole range of emotions will help you adequately process the stressful events and let them go when the time comes. This way you’ll be prepared for the next time something unexpected happens, and you’ll deal with it easier.
2. Watch for your body
How does your body react when something unpleasant happens?
You may start sweating and blushing, your heart rate might speed up, you may breathe shallow and quickly, or your jaw and fists may start clenching.
Notice all of these signs. Be mindful of your body. When you learn how your body reacts, you’ll know what’s about to happen in your mind. You’ll be able to predict what thoughts will storm trough and what feelings will appear.
This will help you gain control over your emotions and your behavior. You’ll be able to feel the emotion, make a mental note of them and choose an adequate reaction. You won’t burst or get overwhelmed.
That is a significant step forward in being ready for future events.
3. Choose your Response
After you mastered the previous steps it is time to learn how to choose your response.
Rational, adaptive response to stressful situation won’t come from the place of suppressed emotions or being overwhelmed. Being able to respond skilfully means being able to pause, look, decide and take action.
When something bad happens, and it triggers the negative emotion within you what is your default reaction? Do you yell or punch a child that just broke his arm by climbing on a tree? Do you burst into tears in front of everyone after receiving negative feedback on your job interview?
It’s ok to be angry, scared or disappointed, but losing control and letting these emotions drive your behavior can often lead to more harm than good.
How to say in control?
After you’ve experienced the “automatic reaction” take a deep breath and for a moment think about the options you have it the given situations. Focus on ones that have the potential to enable you to react rationally, calmly while paying respect to how you are feeling. Act in the direction of solving the problem, preventing it from happening again and controlling the damage that has been done.
4. Accept and Let Go
Stuff happens. Some life events are hurtful, they may seem like they last forever and you may feel like you will never recover. Nice things happen too. They are pleasant, you enjoy them, you want to hold on to them and you feel like it’s only going to be “uphill” from there.
Remember this. Both “good” and “bad” thing happens all the time, and neither of them last forever. Accept the events and the feelings that accompany them. It is a reality, you cannot escape it. Embrace those feelings no matter what they are. If you need to be sad at the moment, let the sadness come, if you are cheerful, then be so and own it.
You’ll need to experience feelings and situations as they come and acknowledge their existence.
Give yourself time to process
On your path to an ultimate state of readiness make sure that you don’t cling to denial. Accept everything as it comes and when you are ready, let it all go. This can happen subconsciously too so you may not notice when it happens. Strive for taking conscious control over this process and you will see that the level of mastery over your own self is rising day by day.
Your period of happiness will increase and times of struggle will lessen. Don’t feel guilty about disrupting your “regular mood” cycle. Accepting and letting go are signs of good mental health, self-actualization and mental fitness.
5. Stay in the present
The realization that everything in life comes and passes will help you accept future events easier.
At first, it may seem like ruminating and overthinking helps you prepare for every possible outcome, but that’s not how it works. Both rumination and overthinking don’t bring new, constructive solutions. You cannot predict all the possible complications and become fully ready for them. Every “what if“ type of thought consumes your energy and keeps you attached to the past or presumable future.
What to do instead of worrying?
You can deal with the problem in the present moment, when it happens, where it happens. This is why you should practice staying in the present, so you can know how to stay calm and have well-timed reactions.
Practice by focusing on your breathing. Count your breaths. Think solemnly about the thing you are working on at the time. Notice the objects you are working with. Notice the movement of your body and how does it feel. If you realize your mind is wandering off, return your focus back to your breath. (3)
Don’t forget how many possibilities life offers. You will never be ready for every one of them because you are not even able to imagine them all. However, these steps will help you be generally calmer and willing to accept the things that come your way.
Look forward to your future, every experience is an opportunity for growth.
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