Healthy, contented adults stay calm when facing difficult feelings.
Most people question life and their role in it from time to time. In adult development, difficult feelings sometimes described as “feeling out of sync with life” often indicate or initiate a time of personal growth.
Part 3 of this 3 part series on becoming a contented adult in 2020 presents Ideas 9 through 12 to handle difficult feelings.
Rather than facing difficult feelings with fear, take a breath and try these suggestions.
9. When you are wondering, “Is this is all there is,” go back to basics.
Life itself is complex, ever changing and often beyond comprehension. When you find yourself demoralized by that “mehhh” feeling, go outside (if at all possible) and notice the smallest bits of life around you.
James Taylor sang, “don’t give me no light from a TV screen.” With our very technological lives, jobs and schools, most of us spend a great deal of time on screens. When you notice the difficult feeling that your life lacks luster, go to the natural world.
Even the earth you stand upon holds life seen and unseen. See what you can and imagine the rest. There are microbes and seeds, pollen and all kinds of plants. There are insects and birds, small and large mammals, bodies of water, algae, invertebrates, fish. Breathe in the air, see the sky or find a moon, star or planet if possible. Push yourself to do this, even for five minutes.
If you are unable to go outside. Examine your own hand for a few minutes. Consider how it has changed throughout your life. Notice its many creases and grooves, how it functions (or not). And if you have no hand to consider, be with your breath. Trace its path as it enters and exits your body. Imagine how many cells are receiving the oxygen you inhale.
Ask as many questions of the world around and within as you possibly can. Then just notice what happens. Difficult feelings calm when you bring in perspective and connection to life.
10. Feeling “stuck” means it’s time to look at your own curiosity level.
Feeling stuck and feeling curious are not compatible feelings. I have a highly unscientific belief that curiosity lives in the Ventral Vagal portion of our nervous system and stuckness tends to reside in the Dorsal Vagal portion. (See more about Polyvagal theory in my book: Calm Your Worries.)
Try your own experiment at home. If you feel stuck, bring in any inquiry, curiosity, wondering or imagining. Allow yourself, since you are stuck anyway, to fully luxuriate in your interest. Maybe you wonder what part of you is stuck or how you arrived in this place or mood. Perhaps you can get curious about what this feeling reminds you of from other times in your life.
Don’t forget to be compassionate and patient with yourself, and just enjoy the experiment. As you practice, you will actually be toning your Ventral Vagus nerve, the nerve of social connection. So even though you might feel like you’re not accomplishing anything, the more you connect to the calm, creative thought in a safe way, you are helping your future adulthood and reducing your difficult feelings.
11. If you’re having lots of conflicted conversations with others, it’s time to reboot your mind to receive.
When you notice the difficult feeling that communication has grown conflicted, stalemated and angry, especially with loved ones, it’s important to realize that you are not really communicating at all. Take a brief break from the conversation to be alone and notice what parts of you are having the conversation for you.
As adults, we can have a conversation in which we speak and listen from an open heart or we can speak from any part of us with a defensive agenda and, frankly, not hear the other person at all. It is not easy to make changes to adult communication patterns, but it is one of the most satisfying choices I have experienced in my adult life.
By taking the time to at least feel curious and hopefully compassionate toward the other person, you can begin to unravel the complicated and dissatisfying interactions between you. A good couples therapist can help you as needed.
12. When you feel lost as an adult, begin by making an inventory.
The difficult feeling of “lost” can mean many things in adult life. It is important as you grow older to know yourself as intimately as possible. In this way, you are open to your whole beautiful life. When you have the sensation that you are lost or floundering, allow yourself every single feeling that comes up for you. This may be difficult or easy, depending upon what you’ve been taught about having feelings. However, you don’t need to act on any of your feelings, just allow yourself to feel them, writing them down as they appear.
If you notice that your feelings vary wildly, sometimes expressing very differing points of view, you have found the sources of your sense of “lostness”. Do not panic. This is actually good news.
Make and keep this inventory of your emotions and thoughts. Allow them to change and shift day to day. Remind yourself to step back from these difficult feelings enough to get some breathing room. Seek help from trusted sources for emotions that feel overwhelming. And remember that no part of you inside is trying to harm you.
Remember that you are not broken. All humans are just trying to figure it out.
Adults experience growth throughout adulthood. When difficult feelings arise in this new decade, take the time to breathe and embrace this experience. Out of these sensations, change, opportunity and new adventures appear.