When I was 19, I had a lot of bad things happen to me all at once.
In the span of a few weeks, my friend committed suicide. I was laid off my job as a Target photo girl. I got a large speeding ticket while attempting to race back for an exam. I missed the exam, so I dropped out of school. Oh, and I was marginally raped a few months before that.
I didn’t have the fortitude, the buoyancy to deal with all those events and the resulting emotions.
So, naturally, I did what we all default to: I meditated, I practiced yoga, I went on long, reflective walks. I took care of myself, I honored where I was in that moment, I felt compassion for what I was going through. I ate balanced meals at regular intervals to balance my blood sugar and make sure I was getting enough nutrients to successfully manage the stressors in my life while vision boarding and developing my 5 year plan.
Therein lies the problem: healthy coping strategies, similar to hope, are LEARNED. I’ll be sharing a few strategies below.
What life actually looked like: I ate my emotions away one juicy grape at a time. I stayed up late and overslept. I wallowed in my misery. I felt like a ship without a sail, without guidance. I stopping running. I stopped practicing yoga. I didn’t meditate. I cut myself. I tried to get drunk, but I didn’t know the right people and I was only 20 (thank goodness for small things). I was depressed, anxious and had the highest low-self esteem possible.
WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?
My life at this time is a perfect example of the term (coined by Daniel Goleman) “amygdala hijack,” where the lower, more reactive limbic system over-responds to a perceived threat and causes us to act in ways decidedly unproductive. When this happens, our higher and more creative brain is flooded with adrenaline and other chemicals, making it unresponsive. Useful, if we need to run from a predator, not very useful after the death of a loved one.
When I “woke up” from my depression, I realized I had gained 20+ pounds in 2 months. At a get-together, my Dad’s aunt pinched my cheeks and asked me why I let myself get chubby. Life was at an all-time low.
Resiliency is a LEARNED behavior. It’s not a pill that we can pop when we need a little extra buoyancy. There isn’t an equivalent caffeine fix for feeling down like there is for low energy.
What that means is that it is most crucial to adopt daily self-care practices for the suffering you’ll definitely experience in 1 month or 12 months. Suffering is a part of life, but how we react and bounce back is completely up to us.
MEDITATE 30 MINUTES, 5X/WEEK
There is research showing that meditating 30 minutes per day for eight weeks can increase the density of gray matter in brain regions associated with memory, stress, and empathy.
YOGA 20 MINUTES, 5X/WEEK
A study from Harvard Medical School showed that people who do yoga as opposed to other forms of physical practice were less prone to angry outbursts and more capable of dealing with challenges.
Realize you’re not alone in your struggles. When we’re struggling, we tend to feel incredibly isolated and we think we’re the only ones who make mistakes, experience loss or feel rejected. It’s these very struggles that are a part of our shared experiences as humans.
There is something admirable about asking for support. We don’t have to do this life alone, thank goodness! Find a doctor, a psychiatric, a coach who you A) can trust and feel like equals and B) can help connect you to your higher, more creative and productive brain.
One of the most helpful integrations in the brain is the connection to the amgydala and the limbic system to the prefrontal cortex. The stronger the connection, the quicker the recovery and the less likely we are to react in destructive ways. Seeking the support from someone professionally trained can help you make the connection more quickly and reduce recovery time.