This sounds like an oxymoron.
Could you possibly help someone else cope with their stress when you feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of stress you have to deal with yourself?
The answer to that question is Yes, you can.
Until recently, I firmly believed that to help others, you should at least be fairly secure in your convictions of what works and what doesn’t work as stress management strategies because you use these strategies successfully yourself. If you believe that mindfulness works, like I do, you should practice what you preach and thus set an example to the people you are trying to help.
This week I found myself in a situation that turned this belief upside down.
As you may now, I am moving house, and the experience has deteriorated into an emotional rollercoaster ride that has turned my world upside down. So much for successfully using my own stress management strategies. Feeling barely able to face another day, another crisis, I woke up one morning to find an e-mail from a friend desperately needing help.
Groaning, falling out of bed and crawling into the kitchen for the first caffeine shot of the day, I asked myself how on earth I was going to handle a situation this demanding and devastating to my friend.
This is how I found out that not only is it possible to help someone else while you are sorely in need of help yourself, but you can help yourself in the process.
I discovered that:
• Helping someone else distracts you from drowning in your own drama. It gives you something else to ponder. It lifts you out of your depression and dramatically reduces your obsession with your own threatening Armageddon.
• It stimulates your creativity. Trying to find a way to help someone else, activates your problem-solving skills, skills that you may have felt too paralysed to apply to your own problem.
• It shows you that you are not alone, that you are not the only one suffering. It reminds you that there are people with problems much worse than yours.
• The person you are trying to help may introduce you to a new stress management method, help you to fine tune one that you are already using.
• Helping others makes you feel good; it lifts your mood. As Robert Ingersoll said, “We rise by lifting others.”
• It increases your self-confidence. I realised that if I can help my friend to cope with this stressful situation, I can definitively handle my own, much less stressful situation.
• It reminds you also to be kind to yourself. You should be as compassionate towards yourself during stressful times as you are towards your friend.
• It makes you feel grateful. Once the storm is over, and you are both still standing despite the howling wind, you feel thankful that you have been there for her, that you were able to stay on your feet and help her to remain upright as well and that your relationship is so much closer now for having made the effort. I am convinced that gratitude is THE most powerful stress management strategy ever discovered. I go on and on about it in my book “Embracing Change: Simple Strategies, Smart Suggestions and Insight-giving Stories.”
• It makes you put the strategies you so eloquently write about, to the test, in extreme conditions. Another approach I go on and on about in the same book is narrative expressive writing. In my current situation, I am using it to deal with the suffocating stress I am subject to myself. I am also using it to help my friend cope with an avalanche of stressful life-changing events. Both of us are using narrative expressive writing to write our trauma out of our thoughts.
As I am doing by writing this article.
Practice what you preach, my friends remind me. See, I am listening. Actively.
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