Road Signs for Success – April 9, 2008

By Paula Lau

In February, my thirteen year old son and I were driving to school one day, when he began to tell me how things had taken a turn for the worse in his love life. You see at Christmas time, he decided that he wanted to buy his little girlfriend a necklace as a gift. It was fun to take him to the accessory store and watch him look at the overwhelming selection in a nonchalant fashion as if this was something he was used to doing every day. But at last he picked out a little earring and necklace set and presented them to her on the day before Christmas break. So I asked him how things were going with her. He replied, “Not so great. You see I didn’t realize that we would be in different classes after the new year. I only see her once during the day and that’s just in the hallway.” He shook his head sadly and said, “We’ve gotten to deeper water and we just don’t know how to swim.”

Of course, as his mother I couldn’t laugh out loud. However, as an adult I hated to tell him that this was probably just the first of many times in his life when he will feel as if he’s gotten to deeper water and just doesn’t know how to swim.

It got me to thinking about the times in my life when I have been presented with some pretty complex situations or overwhelming problems that made me feel as if I was beginning to drown. Psychologists talk about “flooding” emotionally. This can happen when a person who has been traumatized in some way begins feeling a cascade of emotion and sensations that literally come at them too quickly to deal with in an orderly fashion. All of us have experienced this to some degree so I thought some swimming lessons might be in order.

The importance of catching your breath before you start to swim can never be underestimated. In times of great stress, remember to breathe. When we become frightened or upset, our bodies react in predictable ways. We often times will begin breathing shallowly as our bodies prepare to fight or run. As you remember to breathe deeply, the calming effect will be almost immediate.

Learn to stay in the moment. “Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough present,” according to Elkhart Tolle. “Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past and not enough present.”

Swimmers will often pick out a focal point as they begin to push their way through the water so that they remain focused on the goal.  It is an important step in emotional maturity to be able to keep your goal in mind and sift through what needs your immediate attention and what can wait.

Don’t go it alone. When you feel like you’re drowning reach out for help. Ask yourself today, do I have friends that I consider to be lifesavers? You know the folks you can call up and go out to coffee with or to a movie on the spur of the moment. Those friends that listen without putting you down or offering pat answers to complex problems. Know yourself and what is best for you to bring equilibrium and a sense of “keeping your head above water.”

So the next time you get to “deeper water” remember these steps and in the famous words of Dory, the fish from Walt Disney’s Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

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