Record snow and cold, Jihadi John beheadings, deadly hospital viruses, oh my!
Mall shootings, terrorist attack plots, measles and ebola, enough to make me cry!
Just turn on the news and you too can go crazy with anxiety after being bombarded with the bad news of at the day – especially on your 54” HD TV. So, how can you stay informed and keep sane these days?
Well, one way that works for me is to refocus my experience. Instead of thinking about me, an American woman, in the U.S., in the year 2015, I think about all the women who have ever lived, all over the world, for the last 10,000 years, and viola! — just like the Sound of Music song My Favorite Things, “then I don’t feel so bad” when I am stuck in gridlocked traffic.
I love reading historical biographies and often think of my grandmother, married at 18 to my 30 year old grandfather. Bearing 12 children at home (4 of whom died in infancy), feeding them, sewing clothes from grain seed sacks, fighting the dust storms and depression of the 1920s on a sugar beet farm in eastern Colorado… well, it puts my puny irritations in perspective.
How we internalize events, not the events themselves, determines how we respond to and feel about the external world. When we are calmer we can respond with more appropriateness. NeuroLinguistic Programming teaches many ways to manage our feelings by restructuring our internal representations of events. Here is a little exercise you can try:
- Think of something that worries you right now, over which you have little control— for example the recent police shootings of unarmed young men.
- Notice how you experience it: what are you saying to yourself about it; what are you imagining (visualizing) about it; what sensations do you notice in your body?
My guess is that you are seeing and hearing it up close, in color as if it were happening now.
- Next imagine stepping back, putting a frame around that experience, and then sliding it far away to one side. Allow it to become a very small, black and white, still photo, like the ones taken 100 years ago. Notice your experience of it now.
- Now, think of something you know is happening right now in the world that is a sign of human compassion or innovation; for example when policemen recently spent a day pulling over unsuspecting drivers and handed them $100 bills.
- Make sure those images are close, in color, vibrant, and the voices close so you can hear the delighted responses of the recipients. How does that feel?
Imagine doing that automatically every day with the input you receive!
While we don’t want to eliminate awareness of the negative like a Pollyanna, we also don’t need to be the unhappy curmudgeon who is only in touch with the evil in humans either. Having awareness of and control over how we manage our experiences is what we can do with and what we teach in NLP.
I highly recommend the book Rapt by Winifred Gallagher which explores the concept of attention and how it influences our lives. Gallagher quotes poet W.H. Auden:
“Choice of attention is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences.”
So take charge and focus in a way that allows you to take appropriate action and reduce anxieties. My friend Sally put it well: In all of time, in all of places on the earth, no one ever had it as good as me.
Side note: Journalist George Will’s interesting article also puts one aspect of our situation into perspective.