How do you typically deal with the surprises life hands you? How you handle these situations – whether it’s a sick family member, a traffic jam on the morning of your big meeting or a last-minute, expensive repair – can determine whether the problem is minor or becomes huge and affects the rest of your day, week, month and beyond.

When unexpected things collide with the best-laid plans, some people have a tendency to react to the emotions of the moment. Their anxiety goes through the roof, they begin to panic, thinking about being late and all of the things they are supposed to get done. This often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness and in some cases, even feeling hopeless.

How can you effectively prepare for these situations in a way that will help you remain calm, cool and collected? The key is to learn how to respond versus react, so the first item on the agenda is to have a plan and utilize the resources available to you.

The first key: Have a backup plan just in case something goes wrong. This is like having an emergency generator so your life can keep going regardless of the crisis at hand. Be intentional about creating a support network of people who are willing to assist you when you are in a bind. It doesn’t have to be family. It could be teachers, neighbors, the parents of your child’s friends, co-workers, etc.

The second key:  Step back and assess the situation before doing anything. People often move to action before actually assessing the situation to determine all their options. This includes getting the facts. We are much less likely to do something ridiculous when we think before we respond.

Once you have your plans in place, remember to follow your plan when the unexpected happens. Having steps to follow helps to make these situations more manageable.

  • Keep your emotions in check. Don’t let the situation control you.
  • Be prepared. Keep basic medication on hand, have a spare set of keys for your car, take a lesson on how to change a flat tire, give your neighbor keys to your house, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. It is hard to be helpful when people don’t know there is a need.
  • Ask for a second opinion. Sometimes talking with an objective third party can be helpful.

All kinds of things will pop up in your life that have the potential to wreck your schedule, cause irritation or create stress, but how you handle it can be a game-changer. The next time you are dealt an unexpected surprise, be ready to respond by staying calm, assessing the situation and working your plan. You will probably be amazed at how quickly you can manage the crisis and get on with your day.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 16, 2019.

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Have you been to the doctor’s office or emergency room and they asked you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10? I really stress out over this question and probably way overthink it. I want to know what a 1 or a 10 stands for so I can answer accurately.  If I am going to be healthy – physically and emotionally, I better answer honestly. People are counting on me.

After 31 surgeries in the past couple of decades, and surgery 32 right around the corner, I have probably been asked to rate my pain hundreds of times. Hundreds. By doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, physical therapists, mental health professionals. Sometimes it’s hard to pin an exact number to your pain, but you know when it’s there. What do you do with yours?

Over the years, I’ve learned the patterns of my pain. For me, physical pain usually leads me to emotional pain like loneliness or depression. When I’m depressed, I’m more likely to do something like skip physical therapy which then prolongs my recovery time which only makes me more depressed. And the downward spiral spins…

If I am going to have a healthy relationship with myself (and my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers) it begins when I answer these questions honestly…

How would you rate… your pain today Mr. Daum, on a scale of 1 to 10?

How would you rate your depression…

How would you rate your anxiety…

How would you rate your anger… 

How would you rate your stress…

How would you rate your loneliness…

It is so tempting to ignore or downplay our pain. Are you honest about yours?

Call in the Professionals.

Whether your pain is physical or emotional, know when to get help. Some problems are just bigger than you are. Don’t be a hero. Don’t let it paralyze you. Don’t let it make you do something you’ll regret. Don’t pretend your anger is a 2 when you are at a 9. There is nothing wrong with calling in the pros.

Laugh.

Seriously, laughter is the best medicine. Mock your pain by laughing at it. Take some of its power over you away. If the people around you see that you can joke through your struggles, it puts them at ease, too. (This doesn’t mean you don’t take it seriously, just that you won’t let it steal your smile.)

Perspective.

All the perspective. True, sometimes the pain that you are feeling is the Worst Pain in the Whole Entire Universe to you in the moment, BUT there is always someone out there who would trade problems with you in a second. That doesn’t make your problems magically go away, but it gives you perspective

Embrace the Pain.

This one is a tougher sell. Work with me here. There is a huge upside to pain. Whether it is physical or emotional, your pain is trying to teach you something. Pain is a strict teacher, but it teaches some of life’s most important lessons. Lean into the pain. Be open to the lessons. Be grateful for them…

Keep It Real.

If someone asks how I feel, I usually tell them. They asked. (You don’t have to dump EVERYTHING on them, but you’ll soon learn that your Brave Face doesn’t help anyone.) At least have one or two people in your life that you can be real with about how you feel when you are hurting or depressed or angry or stressed. These are people who will let you vent, not be dismissive, listen for a while, but then help you get centered and refocused again. These people are your angels.

Prevention.

Listen to this, the cool thing is that a lot of what keeps us healthy physically also helps keep us healthy emotionally. Good sleep. Exercise. Eating healthy. Getting out in the sun. Spending time with friends and loved ones. Gratitude. Check-ups with professionals. Listen: The absolute best pain, physically and emotionally, is the pain that you avoid.

On A Scale Of 1 to 10, How Honest Are You About Your Pain?

For more resources, see our Self-Care page here.

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When crises happen on a local, national or global level, constantly watching the media coverage can cause you to experience the very real phenomenon of vicarious traumatization.

“What people often don’t realize is you don’t have to be present at a traumatic event to be traumatized,” says licensed clinical social worker, Pam Johnson. “Just hearing something can create a traumatic event in your mind. Add the visual of repeatedly watching the news segments and you can create some real anxiety. The deeper mind does not differentiate what is happening in real time and what happened in Texas to someone else.”

Think about the last time you watched a scary movie and you realized your heart rate increased and you became jumpy and tense. Your body reacts physically because your mind does not know you are not actually part of the scene you are watching.

“People have to be careful how much they expose themselves to because it can become toxic,” Johnson says. “The human mind cannot be in a creative problem-solving mode and a fight-or-flight mode at the same time. It is like trying to put a car in drive and reverse at the same time.

“If we want a productive response to what has happened, individuals have to calm themselves down and get their emotions under control. Then we can have effective dialogue and begin asking questions such as, ‘How have we gotten here? What can we do to get ourselves out of this place?’”

While emotions are understandable, they are often not helpful. If you feel them, be mindful of them, but don’t let them direct your behavior. If people run around angry and frightened, the problems will only get worse.

Johnson offers a few tactics to help you constructively deal with your anxiety:

  • Limit the amount of time immersed in media. If you just cannot pull yourself away, take a pulse check – literally. If your pulse is high, stop watching. Be mindful of your feelings. Are you angry? Anxious? Tense?

  • Take action to reverse the anxiety. Go for a walk. Meditate. Get involved in constructive conversation with others. Pray.

  • Focus on things over which you have control. Get adequate rest. Eat healthy. Watch sitcoms or movies that don’t aggravate stress. Do things that are calming and soothing to you. Create an emergency plan with your family. Discuss what you would do if you heard gunfire in a public place.

“Most importantly, I would tell people to learn to talk so people will listen and listen so people will talk,” Johnson says. “This is a crucial need in our society. We need to learn how to listen for the need and the heart of another person.

“It is a trait of human beings to look at differences in other human beings and attach a negative meaning to the differences. This has been a protective measure in humans since the dawn of time. Hundreds of years ago humans needed this defense mechanism. Today it is not helpful. We have to remember, it is not us against them. It is all of us against violence.

“The only way we can move beyond this problem is when people are willing to listen. It is through listening that the deeper mind has the time to discern that the person might think differently, but that does not necessarily make them dangerous.”

While no one can predict future incidents, everyone can do something to help make a significant positive difference. What will you do?