We are going through challenging times. Over 200,000 Americans are predicted to die by the end of the year, and current employment is higher than the Great Depression. So the question I propose is how we can stay sane, not only for ourselves but for those around us?
When the work-week blends into the weekend, it's firstly important to keep a routine. There is a saying that routine will set you free because it eliminates the willpower required to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The most challenging part about these times is answering the question, How can we be there for ourselves and others? Have you ever found yourself advising somebody else when you felt you were the one who needed it the most?
The times are challenging, and nobody can predict what's going to happen in the future. There is a lot of conversation centered around trying to find out what's next. Can the schools open up? What's the latest modeling that will predict case numbers? We're trying to grab onto anything we can control with the desire for it to come true.
To remain fully present with ourselves is an act of courage because too many of us are numbing or ignoring the anxiety building up within ourselves. If you cannot support yourself, then how can you be expected to support your friends and family? Asking these questions is not bad, but it's far too easy to find yourself ruminating on those thoughts without ever being aware that it's affecting your mental health.
Whether you're somebody who is in a difficult situation or having to listen to somebody else whois encountering a difficult situation, I ask how often you've had a conversation with somebody about your problems and felt better when they gave you advice?
One of the most important things we can do right now is to understand the difference between Listening to Fix, Listening to Win, and Listening to Learn.
Listening to Fix
On calls with friends who are sad, afraid, and in pain, I can feel the pain and desperation in my body instantly; my mind tries to find ways to help and suggest what they should do. Have you tried this meditation practice? Maybe you should take some 5-HTP, L-Theanine, or GABA to calm your nerves. How's your diet? I've heard the Carnivore diet has done wonders for a few people I know. Yet despite these thoughts and this desire to help, I noticed myself wanting to make something go away, and my suggestions won't make that pain go away for myself or for this person who is dealing with these negative emotions.
Coming up with solutions to somebody else's problem is listening to fix. You're focused on seeing the problem and using your expertise to make the pain go away. You're acting as a consultant when they want to feel like they're being heard.
Instead, I chose to say was, "Wow, that is really scary, and I'm really sad to hear you're in pain right now." I listen, and I let them know that they're being heard. Yet, after the calls, I feel like I didn't help them at all, that I didn't do everything I could do for them. But then later, I'll receive a text saying thanks - thanks for listening to me, it was really helpful.
To be able to hear others and not provide a solution is a hard habit to form. Intellectually we see our advice as simply helping them solve a problem they're encountering, yet underneath we're trying to find a way to make ourselves feel better about their pain.
Listening to Win
In most cases, when we're listening to somebody, our purpose is to win and convince them of something. That they don't need to be sad or anxious, or that it's not that bad. Remember, many people don't have a job and don't have parents to live with! Hey, there's a lot of small businesses out there that have gone bankrupt, so at least you're not there yet!
If somebody who's lost their job is trying to find one, you might ask them whether they've looked at Indeed. You might ask them how much time they've spent this week looking for jobs. You might say their resume needs to be fluffed up a bit. These are all attempts to find something to suggest that they haven't done and Win over the problem. It's equivalent to sweeping the problem under the rug.
Listening to Learn
What can be the most important for those around us is simply to listen. What if you had a conversation that was solely based around listening to learn with no resolution at the end?
Maybe they've lost their job, and they don't know what to do. Instead of telling them what you would do, ask them what they're most worried about. Ask them what they plan to do? What do they think their priorities should be?
Often the problem that other people present to us is only a symptom of the real issue, which is the inner-feeling that is causing them this tension. By staying in a curious mode of learning, we can nudge them to uncover the real source of their problem, and with any luck, allow them to feel the emotion fully.
Dealing with Our Own Emotions
Many of the problems we experience in life are because we suppress our emotions and choose not to feel them. In doing so, we start to lose our ability to connect with others' feelings and the awareness needed to provide them with space, comfort, and security to feel their own emotions without jeopardizing that.
If we don't explore our emotions, then it's tough to explore them with others.
This practice of merely listening and sitting with the feeling is a practice we need for ourselves to an even greater extent. If the anxiety comes up, you can look at it as an observer. "Hmm, I do have a reason to feel anxious. It's not unreasonable to have this anxiety right now". What does this anxiety feel like in my body? Okay, for the next 2 minutes, I will feel this anxiety 100% and give it all my attention! More often than not, a simple awareness exercise like this will provide you with more peace long-term than any drug could offer.
We all know life is like a roller coaster, so we need to stop saying, "Don't worry, it'll be over in 30 seconds!" Or "Try closing your eyes and count backward!" - We need to put our hand out and let them know we're here with them.
What's the roller coaster-like? What does it feel like to be at the top or bottom of the hill? What's that space in between?
If you're afraid, find a way to sit with that fear. What does it feel like in your body? Does it make you think of anything in the past or future? What is the voice in your head saying? We need to get curious. What's the meaning of this emotion? What are the possibilities with this? What's most unexpected? Now is the time to be planting the seeds for our future happiness.
Now is the time to sit with our emotions because the future waives no right to more pain, but a philosopher might argue that life is pain, and it's about time we accept that.
Understanding our emotions and interpreting them better would make our lives better, improve those around us, and help us be productive while appreciating the one life we have to live.
What can be the most important for those around us and ourselves is simply to listen. To listen to others' pain and allow ourselves to experience our own emotions without judgment. Whatever feelings other people or we have are 100% valid and should be met with 100% acceptance.
I challenge everyone to listen and learn the next time a conversation comes up with a friend, lover, or stranger.
The next time self-judgment pops up with that critical voice, The next time you have a conversation with a friend, a lover, a stranger, challenge yourself to listen to learn and aim not to provide a resolution.
The next time you experience a self-judgment, that voice in your head trying to put you down, take a moment to open yourself up to it. Embrace that feeling with open arms and let its energy flow through your body.
These challenges will be hard at first, but the long-term emotional wellbeing will be worth the effort.
"So if we love someone, we should train in being able to listen. By listening with calm and understanding, we can ease the suffering of another person." ― Thích Nht Hnh