The Trap of Powerlessness

My mind is racing. I can’t focus on anything. I’m exhausted. I can’t handle what I have on my plate right now. I can’t even start or finish anything. My relationships are being affected. I’m anxious about everything. I cry. I’m not myself anymore. I need help.

Maybe you can relate to these thoughts. If you have ever experienced this type of despair, feeling as if your life and emotions are out of your control, you know how powerless it makes you feel. Persistent stress can lead to this sense of powerlessness. All you want to do is avoid the tasks before you because of the fear you will fail or become overwhelmed in the process.

What could you do if you feel powerless?

Powerlessness is a belief that you do not have the authority to act or that you lack power to change. When you have a stressful work environment, family situation or health problem, it’s normal to feel and believe that you do not have the power to act. You may not have control over your work situation, family issues or health problems. That reality can be very overwhelming. That is why the first step towards regaining a sense of power is to accept the things you cannot control and the negative feelings that come with that reality.

Easier said than done. To feel powerless or out of control can be very difficult to accept. But start there and do not allow your thoughts to lead you to shame. When you recognize the things you cannot control, you may feel a sense of shame because of the expectation that you “should” be able to handle everything that comes your way. A person with a perfectionistic view of themselves and the world may struggle with this step. But allow yourself to sit with the thought that there are things you cannot control and refrain from any attempt to get away from it. Mindfulness meditation is a great practice to help get into this mindset (refer to my previous post, The Beauty of Mindfulness). Observe the thoughts that arise and write them down. This step can be very powerful if you have never acknowledged your limitations.

The next step is to observe the feeling of powerlessness as a feeling that you are experiencing. Powerlessness is not who you are, rather it’s how you feel. When you view your feelings as something you are experiencing, you are able to defuse from that emotion. But if you are fused to powerlessness, you will see your life from that perspective. This fusing can lead to lower confidence in your ability to cope with stressors you may face in the future. This step helps you answer the question: how true is your powerlessness? Are you really devoid of any power to act? Allow the reality of your limitations to fuel you to be proactive with what you can control – yourself!

Start by assessing what is important in your life. What have you avoided that is actually important to you? What do you value most? Family? Spirituality? Health? Career? Relationships?

Now explore how you can live out these values to feel more like yourself again. Make small goals and follow the SMART goals model. Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Time bound. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting vague or unrealistic goals. How would you know you accomplished the goal? Examples of SMART goals are:

  • Call a friend to get coffee this week.
  • Go to church.
  • Pray for 5 minutes.
  • Make a list of things you’re grateful for.
  • Sit in silence for 5 minutes.
  • Practice Mindfulness for 5 minutes.
  • Read one chapter of an enjoyable book.
  • Disconnect from your phone for 1 hour.
  • Go to the doctor.
  • Go for a 30-minute walk once a week.

Try to accomplish one item from your goal list each week. As you live out your values, you will feel like you regained the power you believed you lost. If you can’t even get out of bed to begin regaining your strength and power, then seek support from friends or family. Pick up the phone and ask for help or schedule an appointment with a therapist. Don’t dwell on the things that are out of your control. The way to get out of a powerless mindset is to make small, healthy choices towards a healthier more fulfilling life, despite your circumstances.

Tips for Parents: Spring Break Edition

If the phrase “spring break” enlists more panic stricken thoughts of how to afford a Florida beach vacation for the whole family or last minute day camp ideas than thoughts of an actual break, then you’re in good company. For many parents this time, once looked forward to for months, becomes a chore. Lots of families opt for a big vacation, while others may be more comfortable staying at home. Depending on what suits your family best, either option can be a good one. So…

If you’re planning the big vacation:

  • Think realistically about what your child likes/doesn’t like and age appropriateness of activities. Just because he loves watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on TV, doesn’t mean he won’t have a complete and total meltdown at the sight of a real-life Mickey. Also, if you’re planning a trip to Colorado with your 3 year-old, maybe don’t expect to be able to go on that 10 mile hike you and your spouse did for your wedding anniversary that one year. One last thing in this point: save the innocent fellow passengers on an airplane as much pain as possible if you plan to take the aforementioned toddler on a ten-hour plane ride. Bring an iPad (don’t forget the charger), coloring books, his favorite lovie, travel games, and literally anything else you can possibly fit into a carry-on in order to keep him (and you) happy.
  • Even though Spring Break is a time to step out of the same ‘ole routine, don’t take that idea too far. Kids still need rest time! They can’t be expected to go, go, go all day and then make it through dinner without either conking out right there at the table or having one of those famous meltdowns. Bottom line- make time for nap time.
  • Allow for exploration! Especially if you’re kids are older and assuming you’re traveling to a safe destination, there’s no reason to hover over them every second. No, I’m not suggesting you should let your adolescent go into town for the night by themselves or even with a friend or sibling. But letting them walk down the beach to find some cool shells or allowing them to stand in line for a rollercoaster while you sit in the shade isn’t a bad thing and inherently builds confidence by fostering their independence.

If you’re planning to stay home:

  • Don’t panic if you don’t have every second of every day jam packed with fun activities. For most kids who are already over-booked with school and karate and swimming and baseball during a non-break day, sleeping in, staying in your PJs, having a movie marathon, and ordering pizza can be a blast.
  • Take a day trip! With places like Kemah and Galveston right down the road, there’s no reason why you can’t “go on vacation”. Get a few day passes to Schlitterbahn or check out Pleasure Pier—it won’t break the bank and your kiddos won’t go stir crazy after PJs and pizza day gets boring.
  • You don’t have to get out of the city to break out of that same ‘ole routine. If your go-to field trip with the kids is to the neighborhood park, try a different park… it’s that simple! Take them and some of their friends to the IMAX at the planetarium, let them have ice cream before bedtime (if you can handle that after a day in the museum district)—anything to mix it up a bit and make it special for them.

Whether you’re traveling to the happiest place on earth or staying at home this Spring Break, just remember this: make memories! Thinking back on some of my family vacations, I don’t remember the hotel rooms, the restaurants, or all of the tours we took. What I remember is laughing until I nearly peed my pants because of some lame inside joke my mom and I came up with while I was keeping her awake in the hotel room, my sister laughing so hard that milk came out of her nose in the middle of the fancy restaurant, and trying not to chuckle at all the naked statues we saw in that one museum. Chances are, your child won’t remember how much money you spent or any facts about the tourist attractions you visited either. What they will remember is spending time with you, so make the most of it whatever you do!