I've been asked versions of this many times: "why is this so hard?" "Why does it seem like this is so much easier for people around me?" "Why does this have to suck so much?"
Unless you're experiencing true, deep trauma, the short answer is the obvious one: our lives are actually not hard at all. For those of us who are college-educated professionals, we have jobs that pay well above the median, health insurance, comfortable and safe places to live, bank accounts, and 401(K) savings. Compared to most of humanity, we're doing fantastically. Try telling that to our brains, however! It's completely normal and human to feel this kind of stress from our day-to-day lives.
Parts of your brain would have you believe that you should just curl up into a ball and hide from the world, because online dating is a waste of time and finding love is hopeless, or you're tired from applying to fifty jobs and only getting one interview, or nothing you do seems to make your boss happy. Those are the parts of your brain that desperately want to keep you safe. We're wired to be risk-averse; it's what kept our ancestors alive in a world filled with real and imminent threats.
In our lives today, what do we really need to be kept safe from? Most of us probably have never experienced not having food to eat or a roof over our heads. Those parts of our brain want to keep us safe regardless of whether we're in a war zone or we're in San Francisco with a job and a network of people who would take us in if we needed (which we in all likelihood will never need).
Our brains would have us think we're living in a world of terrible danger. Here are just a few of the many ways we can help outsmart our own brains.
Let Emotions Happen and Build Your EQ
We are emotional; it's part of being human. Yet we're taught that to be professional means not showing emotion.
As Daniel Goleman, the guru of emotional intelligence has taught us, suppressing our emotions does not help us to manage them. Managing our emotions starts with experiencing them fully, getting to know them so that we can recognize what they are telling us.
One of the most powerful things I have ever heard from a boss was, "This is really triggering me, can we talk about it?" She experienced a negative emotional response, and by telling me about it, she aroused my empathy and my curiosity. We were able to explore what was happening together.
Try being the person who acknowledges their emotion and works with it, and see what happens.
Remind Yourself That Challenge Builds Resilience
I was reminded recently of Biosphere 2, by the fantastic divorce and co-parenting coach, Kate Anthony. Remember Biosphere 2? Scientists wanting to understand more about ecosystems and out ability to live in balance with them built a dome and brought in plants and animals, and then sealed it from the outside world.
And the trees they brought in grew. They grew tall and fast, far faster than expected. And then... they fell down.
This sealed off ecosystem had everything the outside world had: water, and sunshine, and temperature change. But it didn't have wind. Wind is stress for trees. It challenges them, it pushes them, and it literally strengthens them.
We need challenge and resistance to grow strong, just like those trees. So, embrace the wind. You need it.
Build a Bigger Perspective
You are the current end-point of a long and unbroken line of human reproductive success. While most of the humans who lives in the past did not live long or well enough to pass on their genes to every generation after, your ancestors did. And the qualities that helped them to survive in a world rife with real and present danger are not necessarily going to help you in a world where the biggest risk to you is that your boss hates your executive presentation.
So, do a risk assessment. Where do you fit into this world? What are the real risks to you, your life, your safety, and your well-being?
What do you really have to be afraid of? And how lucky are you, compared to every human being on the planet? (The answer is probably pretty darn lucky.)
If you went through and did your risk assessment, you probably realize that you don't have nearly as much to fear as your mind would have you think: none of us do.
What are the risks you really want to be taking? What would you do if you felt you had nothing to be afraid of.
How about doing just one of those things, starting today?
Do the things you fear, one at a time. Trick your brain into realizing that you can do it.
You've got this.
Val Sanders is an Empowerment Coach in Lamorinda in the San Francisco Bay Area, helping busy professional parents to find joy and balance in their careers and lives.