When Life Throws a Curveball …

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When Life Throws a Curveball …

By Cynthia Sanchez Vazquez, NCC, LPC

In varying degrees, we all make plans. Some big, some small. Some broad, some shaped down to the detail. Some are independent goals that we try to tackle on our own, some involve others. We plan weddings, business start-ups, vacations, starting a family, college and career trajectories … and the list goes on.

Planning is a process — one that can actually add to the enjoyment of the event itself.

But what happens when life throws us a curveball?

Curveballs can be as unique as our plans and can affect everyone differently. Whether a pandemic, a natural disaster, a traumatic event (death, accident, etc.), or something else that wasn’t expected, plans sometimes get interrupted.

These curveballs can catapult you into a place of uncertainty. Once you start the “what if” thought train (What if I don’t graduate on time? What if I can’t have my dream wedding? What if my business doesn’t survive this pandemic?), it can be hard to hit the brakes.

The emotional ups and downs that accompany uncertainty can feel overwhelming. These reactions are understandable! Research has shown that uncertainty can be a trigger for fear which can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

You might find yourself spending more time worrying about what the future holds, feeling pessimistic and hopeless, or even blaming yourself for some of the outcomes.

Life will throw curveballs. But how you respond to them is up to you. When plans go astray, these tips can help you manage your emotions:

Give yourself time and space to process your emotions. 

When plans change, it’s a normal “reflex” to jump into action mode, which explains why you might be tempted to rush into a rebound relationship or accept the first job offer that comes your way.

It’s understandable to want to skip right into survival mode to try to get your life back on track. However, it’s critical to give yourself the time and space to process the emotional ramifications that can arise from these curveballs. What this means is adopting a nonjudgmental stance and turning inward to understand the anger you might be feeling at the termination of a relationship, the feelings of shame or guilt you might feel for getting let go of your job, or the frustration for your life being put on hold.

Turning your attention to emotions like anger, shame, and guilt can be uncomfortable, but necessary in order to process them. Emotions are your mind’s way of providing crucial signals about what’s important to you.

They can provide a roadmap for identifying priorities — and for making changes that are aligned with those priorities. Ignoring your emotions can lead to rash decisions that you might regret later.

In exploring your emotions, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What does this emotion tell you really matters to you?
  • What does this emotion remind you that you need to address, face up to, take action on?
  • What does this emotion remind you about the way you want to treat yourself/ treat others?
  • What does this emotion tell you that: you’ve lost/ you need to be careful about/ you want to stand up for/ you deeply care about/ you need to deal with?
  • What does this emotion tell you about the way you’d like the world/yourself/others/life to be?

Address the Worrying that Comes with Uncertainty.

When you’re in a state of uncertainty, it’s common to find yourself worrying about the future.

That worry can take the shape of “what if” statements that are shaped from our fears of worst-case scenarios. Left unchecked, these thoughts can keep you anchored in worrying about the future instead of taking time to be in the present.

This weight can take a toll on your relationships and day-to-day experiences. Instead of enjoying Game Night with friends, you might find yourself worrying about your next career move. You might miss out on feeling the cool breeze against your skin on a warm day if your attention is focused on tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that rather than the present moment.

One way to break the cycle of “what-if’s” is to journal. List your worries and then, one by one, challenge them. Ask yourself what evidence you have to support your worry statements. What would have to happen in order for them to come true?  If you find yourself struggling to recalibrate your worry statements, reach out to a trusted friend, family member, clergy, coach or therapist who can help you challenge those statements.

Remember your strengths.

It’s easy to get caught up in worry and negative thoughts. But, clearly, you have many strengths that have allowed you to reach today. One of those strengths is resilience.  Chances are, this isn’t the first storm you’ve weathered.

Especially during challenging times, it’s so important to remember how you’ve overcome prior challenges in your life. One way to do this is by creating and repeating a mantra might help remind you of your strengths. Rely on your support system. Remember that asking for help is also a sign of strength.

Take small steps.

The curveball you’re facing might seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome. Take small steps as you build the necessary confidence to adjust your course. Engage in activities — and surround yourself with people whose company — you enjoy.

It’s at times like this that adopting the mentality of being your own best friend is crucial. This means being patient with yourself, realizing you are a human being, and understanding that what you are feeling and thinking is understandable.

As the saying goes, “You don’t need to have it all figured out to move forward.”

You don’t have to go this alone. 

*In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now providing telemental health sessions.*

 If you’re interested in learning more about individual psychotherapy, psychoanalysis or adolescent psychotherapy, please contact us by submitting this form, or by phone at 847-729-3034. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.

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