These nine healthy emotional processing tips will help us grow and reconnect with the peace and possibility that resides within the moment. Zen awaits!
Everyone is vulnerable to certain breaking points in life. No matter how strong your capacity for resilience, life can still present you with hard situations (or a combination of situations) that can bring you to your knees. When you feel like you’ve hit your limit, you can try to block the world out or you can practice healthy processing and growth to reconnect with the peace and possibility that resides within the moment.
The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the capacity to “bounce back” from difficult moments, experiences, and stressful encounters. Resilience is demonstrated in how you handle the daily difficulties in life (i.e., discovering there is an ant infestation in your kitchen), as well as how you adapt in the face of trauma and catastrophe (i.e., caring for a terminally ill family member). The good news is that it is possible to increase your resilience day by day, and to find your Zen, even when your life seems to be crumbling around you.
Whether the evening news sends you over the edge (with another mass shooting or the negativity of the political landscape), or your day just feels like it’s one annoying task after another, there are certain steps you can take to achieve a sense of mindfulness and make your way back to your peaceful center. Here are nine ways you can learn how to find your Zen.
1. Admit How You Feel
Denial never helps. Pretending things are okay when they aren’t will only exacerbate your inner strife.
The first thing you can do to feel better is to be honest about how you are feeling. Write in your journal, talk to a trusted friend or your spouse, or even talk out loud to yourself about what’s on your mind. Uncover what it is you are feeling, and acknowledge it with compassion and non-judgment.
For example, you might find yourself chronically irritated with the traffic on your way to work, when you are actually extremely worried about not closing the deal and paying your mortgage. You might be so anxious at the thought of the climate crisis that you are losing sleep at night. Or perhaps you are terrified about an upcoming surgery you have planned and have been putting on a brave face for your family. Admitting how you really feel is a crucial first step to untangling the knot in your stomach and the aching in your heart.
2. Take a Deep Breath
It seems so simple, but it is unbelievable how powerful just one single deep breath can be on resetting your course. Breathing deeply brings good energy in, and it also discharges stress and negativity.
Try the exercise right now and see if you don’t feel a palpable shift. Breath deep down into the bottom of your lungs, and concentrate on sending light into all the dark corners when fear and pain have taken up residence. Breathe in fully, and breathe out completely. Take a few rounds, and imagine your tension softening like melting ice.
3. Ask for Help
Whether it’s asking your neighbor to pick up your mail while you are away, or asking the angels for support on your journey, asking for help is a crucial part of finding calm amidst the chaos of your schedule. Remember, you aren’t in this alone. Whatever it is, there is someone (or some energy) you can call upon to help make your life a little easier. You will win no medals for pushing through and doing everything yourself, so this is a good time to practice humility and request the support you need.
All too often, people think their situation is hopeless, and then they talk to a friend and learn they are able to come up with a completely unexpected solution. Perhaps you need help in the form of talking through a situation with someone on the phone. Maybe you actually need physical help with childcare, transportation, or moving houses. Just asking for help with any task sets into motion a new trajectory for the course of your experience.
4. Unplug from Your Gadgets and Avoid Numbing Out
When you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, what is the first thing you reach for? Nowadays, phones are in your hands before you even realize you have picked them up. The problem is, the easy accessibility of devices and smartphones is training the world to numb their feelings rather than address them. This compulsion leads to addiction to technology. As much as you want to just flop down on the couch and numb out on your social media and television programs, it only serves to suppress the stress you are experiencing, rather than dissipating it.
How many times have you said, “Oh I have had such a rough day, I deserve this time to zone out?” There is nothing wrong with unwinding at the end of your day, but get real with yourself when you are using technology, food, alcohol, and drugs to numb yourself so as not to face your uncomfortable emotions.
5. Do Something that Nourishes You
Instead of engaging in behavior that put a Band-Aid on your life’s challenges, make the effort to take part in an activity that nourishes you on a deeper level. Set aside an hour to take a yoga class, get a massage, or even just take a bath. The aim is to calm your nervous system through some form of meditation and help you to see things more clearly. When your body is in a more relaxed state (not the same as zoning out from watching TV), your perspective shifts to reveal clarity that was not there before.
6. Embrace a Slight Shift Toward Positivity
While it would be nice to say that simply taking a bath could clean up all life’s problems, you know that is not the case. What a good bath can do, however, is create just enough inner space to see hope on the horizon. Finding your Zen doesn’t have to mean that everything is suddenly peachy-keen. It means embracing the slightest turn toward optimism as a positive step toward improved life circumstances.
7. Ask Yourself What Bravery and Positive Action Would Look Like in This Situation
When you feel open enough to take action, rather than asking yourself, “What should I do?” try asking, “What would bravery look like in this situation?” Asking this more general question opens up the avenues of possibility beyond what you might have come up with on your own. Choose something on that list, and go for it.
8. Utilize Your Character Strengths to Reduce Your Stress
No doubt that taking any sort of action that requires bravery is somewhere on the spectrum of uncomfortable to downright terrifying. This is when you rely upon your character strengths to carry you through to the other side. A sense of humor, creativity, curiosity, and love of learning are all strengths that can help you on your journey.
Here is an example: You are at your absolute breaking point after seeing the news about another mass shooting. You take to your bed in despair. You pick up your phone to distract you but realize that it probably won’t help. So you take a deep breath, turn off your phone, and decide to run a bath. A few bubbles, some essential oils, and a candle or two later, you are feeling calmer and clearer. Sitting in the tub drops you into the moment, and you realize you are fed up with what’s going on in the world. You have to do something, but what?
Your number one strength is creativity, so you call upon that part of yourself as you ask what bravery would look like in this situation. You let your creative mind concentrate, which leads you to ideas such as making phone calls, contacting your representatives, and researching what group or Meetup you could join to connect with other people who are as outraged and motivated as you are. There is strength in numbers, you tell yourself, and so you mark your calendar for tomorrow morning to make your first call. You are nervous to do this, but you are calling upon your bravery in an effort to make a positive change. You can start to feel a bit of relief now because you have a plan and can focus your energy into positive action.
9. Create Healthy Boundaries for Yourself Going Forward
Once you pull yourself out of the thick of it, it’s a good idea to question yourself and ask how you can protect your energy going forward.
- What triggers you and sends you into a downward spiral?
- Is there anything you can do to prevent those hard things from happening?
- Are there certain situations, places, or people you can avoid?
If not (there is only so much in our control), start to prepare for how you will proceed when the goings get tough. What serves you when you’re at your breaking point, and what doesn’t? Contemplating in this way fortifies wisdom, and each time you face a similar feeling and know how to handle it, your resilience strengthens and you get even stronger and more graceful.
Finding your Zen when you are at your breaking point does not mean putting on your blinders and earplugs and hiding under your covers. It means taking the steps toward feeling an inner peace expand at your heart space. Are you willing to live a more fulfilling, healthy, and productive life that can serve the world rather than be paralyzed by it? Remember one step at a time is all it takes to let the breaking point strengthen your resilience and launch you into enlightenment.