Crisis. The very word makes people nervous. Yet that's what lots of us feel these days, a sense of imminent threat. Add in the effects of the economic crisis cutting the heart out of the American middle class, and people feel crisis as an everyday thing.
So what do you do if your kid is sick and has to get to the doctor, you'll be late to work in a job you fear you might lose, there's a huge highway traffic tie-up and you just recognized your uncle's funeral is next week, 200 miles away, and you have to work that day?
The answer: get your brain under control and put in the groove. You do that using the power of active rest, using your brain the way it's designed to be used:
1. First, cut down your anxiety so that your brain can do its job. Many active rest techniques can help. Start with deep breathing. Stand up straight and breathe in to the count of four, out to the count of eight. Repeat for five breaths.
Next, try paradoxical relaxation: concentrate on small muscles in your face and head. Note one that is slightly more tense than the one next to it. Now, pay complete attention to this muscle, feeling and sensing it alone; this will then get the rest of the body to relax. With practice, both deep breathing and paradoxical relaxation can be done very successfully in 30 to 60 seconds. (Other quick attention-active rest techniques, like ear popping and rapid self-hypnosis, are also quickly learned.)
2. Determine if your crisis is life- or career-threatening. When overwhelmed, people often believe their crisis is truly critical until they begin to slow down and think.
3. Use quick social connects for advice. Contact a few friends and family you really trust and admire, and ask if you can call them for advice, anytime, anywhere. Most family and friends will say yes, but it is best to ask well in advance. Use quick social connects to quickly calm anxiety and improve social rest, a major factor in health and survival, even in non-crisis times.
Social support is also crucial to emotional release. Keep with you a list of friends, family, smart acquaintances and work colleagues you can call or contact when you feel stressed -- and call them when you're not in crisis.
4. Make a quick priority list. Take the seconds you need to write down all the things you "have to" do and quickly prioritize them one by one. Quickly move to priority one (it may be getting your kid to the doctor) and feel good if you accomplish that one thing.
5. If unable to act effectively, repeat techniques like deep breathing and paradoxical relaxation, or try different ones like ear popping. Remember, these techniques can be done in under a minute.
6. After dealing with your major everyday crises, try to find five minutes to get outside and walk. Nature can calm people within five minutes, and it will give you a chance to think through your priorities and what you can do next. Walk with colleagues at lunchtime so other brains can help you out.
7. Train your brain to think of solutions instead of problems. Start by taking three to four minutes that day to write down what's really bugging you and how you plan to tackle it. When writing down solutions, consider a) what you can do to prevent similar problems; b) who can help you deal with them; and c) evaluating how well you coped that day.
8. Learn quick spiritual rest techniques like appreciating "suchness" or moving through time and space as ways to rapidly relax and provide perspective for daily challenges. With practice these techniques also become instant stress reducers.
You always need to control your brain. Though we have not dealt here with major crises like life-threatening illnesses or losing a job, try these things to cope: give yourself enough active rest time that you can think straight, because without proper rest, you die; use social support for advice and emotional survival; obtain perspective on a daily basis; and train the brain to think in terms of solutions, not problems.
Problems will always be with us. Having processes that make creative solutions an ordinary part of life builds confidence. Then it eventually becomes fun. Once you know how to really rest, you know how to revitalize yourself -- and avoid the crises of the future.
Follow Matthew Edlund, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therestdoctor