I write a travel blog, and for all intents and purposes, I show the pretty parts of our adventures because there are many. But what you don’t tend to see on my blog is the CRAZY SUFFOCATING CHAOTIC moments (and sometimes hours) where I am rendered a hot hot mess of anxiety. Let’s face it, between language barriers and currency and catching buses and planes, and traffic and just PEOPLE, it’s not all roses. It’s frustration, and sweat, and tears, confusion, and sometimes anger.
So in an effort to be completely real and transparent (and hopefully helpful) I thought I’d share with you 3 things I do in an overwhelming situation that help me cope with my anxiety.
To give you a real life example, let me share with you an instance that happened a few weeks ago in Haiti. My friend Katharine and I were headed to the beach town of Jacmel, and were told that the buses only leave when they are full, there is no time of departure. Once the bus fills up with people, it goes on it’s merry way.
Well, Katharine and I got to the bus around 8am, bright eyed and bushy tailed. We happily climbed aboard. Within seconds a million people were selling us different items (junk food, flashlights, clothes, etc), poking my arms through the window and giving us their best sales pitch in Creole. Outside my window ladies were cooking over open charcoal fire (which basically meant I was getting the black lung) and the other side of the bus was filling up with car exhaust from the outside traffic. Did I also mention it was like 100 degrees (with 100% humidity!)and my face was melting off? About an hour and a half in, I was SO overstimulated and wanted to cry because I honestly thought the bus was never leaving. The bus seemed full…but oh no…they could still squish 20 more people on!
At this moment, I thought about my options. I could cry, but it really wouldn’t do any good. So I pulled out some distress tolerance skills that I use with my clients (as i’m a therapist), and decided I’d put them into action.
Here are 3 steps that help tremendously in a stressful moment:
1. Accept the Situation for What it is: One of the worst things you can do in a stressful situation is to start thinking “I should have done ______” or “if only I did ____”. You will beat yourself up and depress yourself if you think about what you should have done differently. Remind yourself that the situation is as it is, and at the moment, there is nothing you can do to take back the past. In my situation, I had to accept that we were on this bus until it left, and that I needed to be ok with that. The bus was eventually going to get us to where we wanted to go, and I had the capacity to wait just like everyone else. As soon as I accepted the situation, I started to calm down a bit.
2. Distract Yourself: In the heat of the moment, we often want to lash out at someone or something and blame them for our misfortune. Distract yourself instead. Distraction doesn’t mean you avoid the situation, it means you allow yourself to calm down before you do or say something you regret. While I sat on that bus, I could have blamed my friend Katharine for choosing this bus (which really wasn’t her fault at all) or I could have screamed at the bus driver to get the show on the road. Neither would have been helpful (or respectful for that matter!). Instead, I pulled out my book and started reading. It just so happens that my book was incredible, and soon I was sucked into the story and almost forgot about the chaos around me. I found my anxiety subsiding, and my acceptance growing. This put me in a WAY better mood, and allowed me to do #3….
3. Laugh about It: One of the best coping strategies when frustrated or overwhelmed is to use humor. When you are in a situation that is so absurd and ridiculous, laugh. Laughing is the best medicine, right? Laughing allows you to have some perspective on the situation, and eases your body tension to put you more at ease. At this point in the trip, Katharine and I started giggling hilariously at the insane situation. We ended up waiting 3 HOURS before the bus even pulled out, and the actual drive to Jacmel is only 2 hours! But we were able to make fun of the situation, and it made it SO much more enjoyable!!
Next time you find yourself ready to pull your hair out (or someone else’s hair), remind yourself of these 3 easy steps! Accept…distract…and laugh!
What do YOU do to stay sane in crazy moments??
PS- Yesterday marked the 1 year anniversary since Kevin’s heart attack. I have no words for the gratitude I have that God spared his life and gave me another 365 days with my best friend. You can read more about the scary experience here. Feeling thankful!