Many, if not most, of us live our lives by endlessly dealing with challenges and then enjoying ourselves when we can. We often don’t have the time or energy to make decisions and choices to experience what we envisioned when we graduated from high school. What happened to those dreams?
We spend a lot of time reacting to our circumstances instead of creating the life that we want. The problem is that any time you are anxious or frustrated, you are reacting to some unpleasant event from the past that was kicked up by the present. That is how every living creature survives.
We learn what is safe versus threatening and attempt to live our lives in a range that is neutral or safe. It is also well known that avoiding danger is a stronger driving force for behaviors than seeking safety. In addition to avoiding physical danger, humans strive to avoid mental threats, which have the same impact on our nervous system and body. Research has shown that the physiological responses are the same.1 But since we cannot escape from our thoughts, all of us have some level of a constantly activated nervous system that wears us down. There nare many ways to de-energize this process, required for healing.
The other facet of healing is moving into the part of your brain that experiences pleasure and is safe. It is a process and an acquired skill. As with becoming a virtuoso violinist, it requires repetition to make it a habit. It is the only way to affect the subconscious operations of your brain.
ReaCtive to Creative
If you move the letter “C” from the middle of the word “reactive” to the beginning, you have the word “creative.” If you can create some space between your stress and reactivity, you can substitute a more rational response, and, with repetition,, your brain physically changes (neuroplasticity). A foundational step is expressive writing, which creates space between you and your reactivity.
Creating structure to organize your life lowers stresses. You see them more clearly and make better proactive decisions. It also creates some “space” and perspective. If you can’t see all the aspects of a problem, it is harder to solve. But if you do, then you can create small behavioral changes that become habitual.
While an important aspect of this journey out of pain is to learn and adopt an organizational system, at the same time it seems overwhelming. So, the first step is to do something—anything. You may not have the energy to figure out what you really want at this point. But just get started.
Start small—very small. I presented a template of a personal “business plan” earlier in this leg of the journey. You may have felt that you don’t have the bandwidth to do this or that you just can’t do it. Don’t worry about it. Just do something (anything) to start the process. Here are some suggestions, and whatever works for you is the key:
· Take piece of paper every morning and write down one optional goal of something you want to accomplish. Just one. It may be as simple as staying out of bed for 15 minutes longer than usual.
· Then write down five things you might do to create more order in your life.
· It might resemble your usual to-do list, but it is a more thoughtful set of actions.
· One of the to-do items could be creating some time for your self-care.
· What routine might you create to center yourself and connect with the day – with or without your pain?