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Adulting 101: When Those Lemons are Rotten

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade right? This is a phrase expressing the essential need for psychological flexibility in our lives in order to handle general life stressors. Hopefully you've read through the last few posts in this Adulting series, but if not, check them out! By now you've recognized the need for structure without perfection, mindfulness in the present moment, and handling your basic needs as pillars of strength building. The thing is, it actually wouldn't be hard to do any of these things to take care of ourselves if we didn't have to deal with unexpected circumstances.

If you're wondering what that means or what that's like, go ahead and take a look at your structure/schedule for this next week, planning out every meal, chore, outing, and all your work needs. Now, implement that exact plan. If you succeed, that's awesome! Most will not be successful in this experiment because what you'll soon realize is something is going to come along and insert itself into your schedule, leaving you to revamp your plan. What if it's a bad week, where a lot of things insert themselves, and then you're too exhausted when you come home to do anything you had planned? The battle is with how we choose to handle these issues and if the way we handle the issue zaps more energy than we need it to. An illustration of this could be that you have a deadline at work you need to meet, and as you're working on this deadline your boss asks you to shift your attention to preparing something for a meeting. You're already worried about your deadlines, and this is now putting more pressure on your energy reserves because of the fact that it will require you to work faster and harder to meet those deadlines while still attending to this new stressor. Your worry begins to consume you every day and you grow a resentment toward your boss for putting you in this position. You don't even like presenting in front of people and you're having to plan ahead on how you'll handle the stage fright, or imagining everything that could go wrong and planning a way to handle each of those things. This planning and worrying begins to take up a lot more of your time and now you have even less time to meet those deadlines and now you're stressed even more. Not to mention, at home your dog is getting sick and you need to find time to take him or her to the vet. You haven't done dishes in several days and those are starting to look pretty bad--even worse now that you don't feel the inner peace to be able to tackle them. You veg out on the couch to watch TV because you're emotionally and mentally drained and don't want to give attention to anything that requires effort, even if you think it's fun.

The primary issue in this illustration is not necessarily your boss dropping a new project on you. Sure, there are times you'll have to have conversations related to setting boundaries. In this case though, the primary issue is the time (and energy, which is more important) that you waste on the worrying and planning pieces of handling these stressors. What if you could reframe the entire situation: "I usually meet my deadlines, and this new project doesn't have to get in the way of that, because let's be real, no one enjoys paying attention to anyone talking in the meeting. They're going to want to get out of there as much as I am. This means if I make mistakes or stutter or something silly, I don't have to dwell on it because hardly any of them care that I make a mistake. They all also have deadlines they're worried about. I guess I can let go of feeling like I need to over-plan or overthink this." In this way of reframing your situation, you reallocate your energy reserves in a way that's more effective, decide to spend maybe 30 minutes preparing for whatever your boss wanted you to present, make an index card with reminders of what you're going to talk about, and allow yourself to be done with it. Another trick is to carve out this specific time that you're going to allow yourself to plan, over-plan, or worry. You're not supposed to address the issue outside of this time, as you've already scheduled your planning/over-planning/worry time.

When these lemons come your way and they turn out to be rotten, you can't exactly make that lemonade that life is expecting you to make. So you have to look at alternative actions or thoughts that can help you handle the situation in a way with more finesse and with less drain on your energy and emotions.

Stop by the forum and check in with anyone else who also struggles with handling unexpected life stress! What are your favorite coping skills or reframing techniques? What's worked for you?

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