How to Use a Crisis to Reframe Your Life
When I was a new mom I fought hard to control everything I could think of. I penned my son into the living room with tall pillows to protect him against falls. I used dye-free soaps on his smooth baby skin to keep him from developing red bumps. I even came close to covering his aunts’ and uncles’ mouth with duct tape when they visited him for the first time so that he wouldn’t wake up in the middle of his deep sleep cycle.
Unfortunately my goal was not very realistic. My son still fell and got hurt. He ended up with an allergic reaction to his babysitter’s sweater. Once his baby sister was born he stopped sleeping through the night completely. And I learned a pretty important lesson.
You can’t control everything.
That lesson applies to more than taking care of a new baby. You can’t control anything in life period. Things are going to happen. There will always be crises. People get divorced, lose their jobs, lose loved ones. Sometimes all 3 at once. It’s not preventing the crisis that matters- it’s how you choose to deal with it.
How do you deal with stress?
- Do you carry it in your body, mumbling “Why do these things always happen to me?”
- Do you lash out at other people, as if they are to blame- especially the woman in front of you at the grocery store who is taking 15 minutes to write out a check when she could swipe a debit card in 3 seconds?
How you approach a crisis makes a huge difference in how stress affects your body and your brain and believe it or not there is a healthy way to approach crises in general. It’s called reframing and learning how to do it can change your life.
Cognitive reframing involves making a shift in the way you perceive things. For example, if you go to show up at work to find out you need to work an extra shift that night you might get angry, wondering why you have to put in more hours when you are already barely existing on 5 hours of sleep a night.
Someone else may take the news completely differently, feeling grateful for an opportunity to make extra money that will come in handy. As spiritual guru Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
So how do you get to a place of positive perception? Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)- think Tony Robbins- has specific standards for all of the steps involved in cognitive reframing. However, I tend to look at it like this:
- Find a quiet place where you can be alone for 15-20 minutes.
- Think about how you typically respond to a crisis. You can do this by replaying a crisis that has already passed. How did your body feel when you were going through the problem? Was your stomach nauseous? Were your muscles tight? Did you have a headache?
- Next remember how you talked to yourself when you first faced the crisis. What was your first reaction? Did you think “These things always happen to me?” “Nothing good ever happens to me?”
- How else could you have responded that would reframe the situation in a positive way? What is some positive self-talk you can revert to the next time you face a crisis?
- Now think about how you would like your body to react in a crisis. Let your body experience those feelings.
The biggest step you can take is conscious awareness of how you typically respond. Once you are conscious of it then you can recognize it the next time it happens and change the way you react.
Let me give you a personal example. I was in a very serious relationship after my divorce. My children became close to the man I was dating and loved him very much. We began talking about getting married and ended up planning to have a ceremony in Hawaii the following fall. There was just one small problem. The man I became engaged to was living in Europe while completing a project for his employer.
He was there a total of three years and it was very difficult to maintain a relationship when living so far apart. We used all the technology available to stay close- Skype, email, texting, instant messenger. But the fact remained that I was living a busy live as a single mom and he was alone in Europe without the distractions that may have made it easier for him to handle.
Eventually it got to be too much for him. He ended the relationship. That was NOT a good time for me. I was very sad and felt anxious about how I was going to make it without him by my side. However, I also trusted that things happen for a reason and that there would be a positive outcome if I stayed strong and trusted.
Long story short, I filled the time I had once spent on my long-distance relationship with something I love- writing. I found ways to get my writing published. Eventually I started writing for other people and my freelance writing business was born. I had always dreamed of writing for a living and I made it happen.
In reflection, I wouldn’t have turned to writing if something so devastating hadn’t given me a little push in that direction. And now I can’t imagine not spending my days writing- and financially supporting my children at the same time.
You will notice that as you get more practice reflecting on how a crisis turned out to be a positive thing, you will be able to reframe a seemingly negative situation as it happens. It also takes practice. Do I react to every crisis with a smile on my face and open arms? Uh…no.But each time I see the outcome change when I approach a crisis with a positive mind-set, it becomes easier for me to look at things differently.