How to stop questioning yourself when life gets hard
Do hard times leave you questioning the wisdom of your choices? Universal as it is, self-doubt is a feeling we usually do our best to avoid. And we have some great tools for keeping low moods on the down-low, from exercise to nature to breathwork. These work so well for me most of the time, I sometimes forget they’re not foolproof.
The truth is we all have our triggers, and when they continue to compound during a vulnerable time, the whole house of cards can crumble. Then before we know it you’re lost in a rerun of Eat, Pray, Love reliving Elizabeth Gilbert’s bathroom floor breakdown like it was your own. Or maybe that’s just me.
And I know my problems are petty compared to what’s going on in the world, so it would be easy to shame myself out of being so selfish. But sadly, that only fuels the feelings into a vicious cycle of doom and gloom.
Some canceled spring break plans, incessant Oregon rain, and what seemed like a nonstop slew of little life blows, in which my struggling teen was punked by a former friend, led me to question my choices; poor daughter, poor me.
The problem with this kind of pity party extends beyond even the most valid of gripes. It can make you start questioning everything. And even with all of my tools I still questioned, hence this blogpost. I realized that sharing strategies for managing energy and emotions comes naturally when I’m in a good place, but but life will never be all wine and roses, no matter how many rounds of Wim Hof I do.
Back to “change is never linear”. Growth can be painful. I’m doing new things, teaching new classes, launching new programs, completing my Master’s, and preparing my daughter for college – all things I’ll be judged and even graded for. What if don’t measure up, then what?
And this is how life goes, in all its heartbreak and glory. When we’re in periods of uncertainty, change or growth, there will be times of loneliness, of questioning whether you made the right move, because you can’t see the outcome right now. I can either let fear of not measuring up, or worse failure, stop me. Or I can remember my lessons from Life Design. “Fail early to succeed sooner.” -IDEO CEO Tim Brown
In my case, I get to step back and see that my feelings, while painful, were not a sign of weakness or failure as continuing down the path of victim-stance would have me believe.
Instead, they were better expressed than suppressed, but not wallowed in. Although it took the morning to let go of my feelings, I recognized the massive difference a daily breathwork practice has made. A few years ago, a bout of rumination could get the better of me for days.
Stress-driven rumination is a regular on the emotional stage, but we don’t have to let it run the show. Here are some of my favorite ways to let go of the feelings of self-doubt, separation and shame that accompany it.
Breathe to downregulate, or get out of anxiety mode. When we’re chronically stressed, our breath changes to match our state, perpetuating a downhill cycle. Use an easy stress reduction practice like the physiological sigh, cyclic sighing or the 4-7-8 practice to come back to a state of neutral. Learn more about everyday breathing best practices here
“An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body” – Edmund Jacobson, b. 1888, creator of Progressive Muscle Relaxation and of Biofeedback
Journaling. Writing about our experience forces us to take a step back and helps us to see the big picture. And when we recognize that by shifting our attention to what we have instead of what we’re missing, we have the power to make it better, and the tools to turn our perspective around too.
Name it to tame it. Self-judgment, self-doubt, victim stance, anger, and fear. Acknowledge the feelings that accompany uncertainty, change, and growth. Know they’re not objective or comprehensive, they represent the dark side of the story. Tap into a place of self-compassion to level the playing field.
Reframe it into An opportunity for improvement, in my daughter’s case, an opportunity to make sure she upholds healthy boundaries and if necessary, make a new friend.
“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts I suffered, and when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer and this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that”. – best-selling author Byron Katie
Our nervous systems default to defense first. Defensiveness drives victim or self-doubt thinking. It’s a natural progression, but not a fulfilling one. Tools for self-awareness, self-compassion, and gratitude help us see through the dark clouds that otherwise obstruct our vision.
As I finished writing this post I’m already feeling better, and glancing out my window the rain is still coming down, so thank goodness for umbrellas, breathwork, and the power of a good reframe.
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