Many of my clients come in with complaints about personal habits that feel toxic in their lives. Just as you can detox your body when you’re feeling sluggish, it’s also possible to detox your emotional life. Here are some of the most common ways your life can back up on you, and how to handle it.
1. Frequently late
The cure to lateness is twofold: learn to estimate time better, and get more organized, so you are not delayed by looking for last minute items. Perhaps the most important reason to cure yourself of lateness is that it is rude to others, and costs you their good opinion. If your partner is late, stop waiting! Set a reasonable grace period (eg:15 minutes) and then leave without the other person, leaving a note about how to meet you wherever you’re going. That way, you are not forced to operate on the other person’s time schedule. You’ll be surprised at how quickly he or she will learn to be on time.
2. Often angry or irritated
Being easily angered or irritated is a great way to punish yourself. It raises your blood pressure, and tends to create unnecessary problems with others. Anger interferes with clear thinking, and being irritable makes it unpleasant and difficult for others to work or socialize with you. To reform this habit, you must develop more emotional maturity. Understand that your anger is not seen as power by others, but as childishness and petulance. It will lose you far more than you will gain. Learn to slow down, and reduce your overly high expectations. Allow others to be themselves, and don’t expect them to march to your drum. Counting to 10 works wonders, as does taking three deep breaths when you are upset.
Taking up yoga, meditation, tai chi, or another calming pursuit will teach you patience. Strenuous physical activity is a great way to burn off excess anger. If none of these work, see a therapist or join an anger management group.
3. Unsure of ability to do something
Insecurity and feelings of incompetence are definitely stressful, but they may also be useful. Find out if you really are unprepared for the task ahead. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or ask for help. It’s OK to be a beginner, even if you’re an expert in other things. If you don’t try to pretend you’re better than you are, you will get more help from others. Take it slowly, and allow yourself to learn as you go. Above all, be supportive to yourself, and don’t subject yourself to harsh internal criticism.
Frequently becoming overextended can be a sign of grandiosity—overblown expectations of your abilities—or of trying to control everything. Reduce your expectations of your own accomplishments, and allow others to help you in their own way. In the long run, being a team player is usually more efficient than trying to do it all alone and becoming overwhelmed.
5. Not enough time for stress relief
This is an extension of being overextended, and may be a sign that you always come last in your own life. Learn to schedule time for yourself to relax and to play. If you write personal time on your schedule the same way you do appointments with others, you’ll be more likely to actually do it. Join a class or group that meets regularly for a relaxing activity such as dancing, stretching or meditation, or schedule a regular massage, manicure or facial, so you’ll have a guaranteed place to relax.
6. Feeling unbearably tense
If your anxiety is this high, you may need therapy. Anxiety and panic attacks are among the easiest things to fix in counseling sessions. You are probably running non-stop negative self-talk, which keeps you anxious about everything. Try affirmations and/or prayer to counteract the running commentary in your mind. Learn to breathe deeply from your diaphragm when you feel anxious—it slows your heartbeat and calms you down.
7. Frequently pessimistic
A negative attitude is a result of negative self-talk, and of a negative attitude probably learned in childhood. There are many self-help books which will guide you in learning to change the nature of your approach to life. Techniques such as prayer and affirmations, counting your blessings, and setting small goals every day will help you turn this around.
8. Upset by conflicts with others
All conflict is upsetting. The key is to reduce the amount of conflict in your life. Many of the above techniques, such as anger reduction and positive self_talk, will contribute to improving your relationships with others. In addition, you can learn better social techniques such as active listening, positive regard, win-win negotiation and clear communication which will eliminate the source of conflict. Learn to listen to others (even when you don’t agree) and, before speaking, consider how your words might feel to the other person. Treat other people more as you would like them to treat you, and, most important, stop and think before reacting to someone else.
9. Worn-out or burned-out
Burnout is the result of feeling overextended or ineffective for a long period of time. Most of us can deal with small amounts of frustration or feeling overwhelmed, but if it goes on too long, we lose all our motivation, and become burned out. Motivation comes from celebration and appreciation, so learn to celebrate each little accomplishment, and seek appreciation when you need it. If you have trouble doing that, perhaps it’s time to make a career change or to change some other aspect of your life.
10. Feeling lonely
Loneliness may not result from actually being alone, but more from feeling misunderstood or not valued. People often isolate themselves because they feel inadequate in social situations. Value the friends you do have, and make new friends by attending classes or other group events where you can focus on a task or assignment. This will take the pressure off your contact with other people, and give you something in common with them. Be wary of spending too much time on your computer, in chat rooms, etc. These activities absorb time, but do little to dispel loneliness. Make sure you schedule some time with a friend at least once a week, and if you don’t have friends, then use that weekly time to take a class or join a group (for example, a book club or sports group ) which will give you a chance to make new friends.
(Adapted from It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction)