Last week I told you how my health had taken a downturn my senior year of college from too much stress, and how one thing that helped me heal was the simple practice of going for a walk on a daily basis.
Another thing I did toward the end of that year produced a helpful long term perspective to the stuff of life. I saw a counselor to get some help with stress management.
I didn’t want to at first. Even 20 years ago, it wasn’t as common as it is today to see a counselor. But the wise words of a university professor helped change my mind.
“Listen, Marcus,” he said. “Life can get complicated these days. We go to a mechanic when our car needs to be fixed. We go to an accountant to get help with our taxes. What makes you think you can sort out your emotional life all on your own?”
I saw the counselor four or five times, and I learned pretty quickly that a counselor’s role is not to solve your problems. I think I was hoping he’d do that, but it doesn’t work that way.
Rather, a counselor’s role is to offer objectivity and insight. It’s to help you cut through the forest, see the trees, and work toward solutions yourself.
Early in our sessions, the counselor quickly sketched a helpful diagram on the back of a napkin to illustrate how easy it is to let our objectivity get clouded so we’re not seeing correctly, and, conversely, what a difference an unclouded worldview makes.
He drew a line on a piece of paper, and on the far side he wrote this word: catastrophe.
One harmful extreme people lean toward, the counselor explained, is viewing all their problems in an overly important light. Like, Oh no, my friend said so and so, and now it’s the end of the world.
That’s bad news if you want good health. Few things in life are actually a catastrophe. Avoid this extreme.
On the other side of the paper he wrote another word: indifference.
Another harmful extreme people lean toward, he explained, is the tendency to shrug everything off. These people experience real problems, but they pretend the problems are no big deal. Like, I’ve got terminal cancer. Oh well. Easy come, easy go.
That doesn’t work either. When problems happen, they’re real, and if something is bugging you, it should be dealt with. Avoid the extreme of indifference.
In the middle of the sheet he wrote a final word: reality.
Reality is always what to aim for. Problems are seldom catastrophic, but at the same time, you don’t want to be indifferent to them, either.
The balance is to seek reality, see problems in perspective, learn what you can do about life’s hard stuff, and discern what you simply need to let lie.
That’s a diagram that’s helped me enormously over the years. When the stuff of life happens, it helps sort out an appropriate response.
When a genuine problem arises, don’t shrug it off and say, “Oh, it’s no big deal.”
Similarly, avoid the other extreme, and don’t cry out, “Oh no! It’s the end of the world!”
Figure out what reality is, and work from there.
Question: What are some other helpful ways you’ve learned how to handle stress?