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.

The Beauty of Mindfulness

What do you think about when you hear the word mindfulness? Not losing your mind, being quiet, being attuned to social cues, or staying in the present?

Mindfulness as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is the “quality or state of being conscious or aware of something; or the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”.

Why would someone exercise this practice at all?

In a person’s average day, thoughts and feelings that surface are appraised as either positive or negative. The thoughts and feelings appraised as negative typically are suppressed or avoided, which affirms them as powerful. This affirmation helps the thoughts and feelings develop into a disruptive part of a person’s framework. In the wake, lots of energy is spent on avoiding those negative thoughts and feelings at any cost. That can mean staying home, not engaging in enjoyable activities, or even self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness does not just help you relax, although that ultimately happens, but it also helps you acknowledge and accept the real time experiences in your mind and body without judging yourself for it. The hope is that as you acknowledge, accept and stop struggling to control every sensation, thought, or feeling, you realize its only a process that will pass on like a leaf floating on a stream. With enough practice, individuals can gain self-compassion and break the cycle of avoiding and self-medicating, which only maintains what could ultimately become anxiety or depression.

If you are calm, mindfulness can be relatively straightforward. And while it can be learned in many different ways, breathing exercises or eating exercises are probably the most common way to start. These exercises help slow down the restless mind and create an opportunity to focus on the simple act itself. During a breathing exercise, for example, individuals may be encouraged to be conscious of how the chest rises at inhale and falls at exhale, the temperature of the breath, the cold air as you breath in, the hot air as you breath out, the feeling of your arms hanging on your shoulders, or your bottom on a chair or on the floor. If thoughts arise during a breathing exercise, individuals are encouraged to look at them as non-judgmental observers, not trying to get rid of them or classifying them as good or bad, but just letting them pass on.

Mindfulness may not be as easy when you are not in a peaceful state of mind. Whether you are dealing with an overall feeling of anxiety, a specific trigger, or a fear of losing control, for example, mindfulness can require a great amount of discipline. And in the same vein, if negative thoughts arise during the actual mindfulness exercise, it’s easy for the person to become defensive and lose the intent of the exercise. However, it is these times that are arguably the most important to stay dedicated and re-center on the exercise itself and be a non-judgmental observer.

 

Spooktacular Tips for Parents this Halloween

When you think back on the Halloween adventures of your childhood, what memories come to mind? Were you the kid who always had the best costume? The one who was in intense competition to get the most candy? Maybe you were the teen who had to stay home so someone could man the passing out of candy at home while your little brothers and sisters (who still needed parental supervision) got to go out trick-or-treating. For some families, Halloween can be a time of healthy controlled chaos with block parties, bobbing for apples, and zombie-shaped brownie fun all before heading out to trick-or-treat with friends. However, some younger children may not be too keen on running around the neighborhood with flashlights and stumbling upon a scary costume or decoration. Halloween night has the potential to be a chocolate-induced nightmare and not many children handle that amount of sugar very well. The combination of candy, competition, and a lean toward being easily spooked can create one heck of a bad night. As a parent, you know your child’s temperament- BUT, here are a few things to be aware of in order to make this night as fun and safe as it can be:

  • Monitor your kid’s candy intake! Because you aren’t a hawk and because children can be super sneaky, you’re obviously not going to be able to keep your child away from ALL sugar, all night long. You can, however, make sure they eat a good dinner before they go out trick-or-treating- this way, they’ll be less likely to inhale their candy faster than they are getting it.
  • Set a rule stating “Do not eat your candy until you get back home and check out the goods”. This will not only give you the chance to go through your child’s candy to inspect for allergies, suspicious candies, or unwrapped junk, but will also give you at least some control over what they eat that night (plus, you get to have a few handfuls yourselves before all that’s left is Smarties and Bottle Caps). Let your kids know ahead of time that this candy needs to last them MONTHS. Put the candy in the freezer and allow them to pick out a couple of pieces per day or pack a piece in their sack lunches every once in a while and make it last as long as you can!
  • Anxiety is easiest to manage when situations are predictable. Whether your child is scared of the big kids dressed as ax murders, nervous about going up to random houses to ask for candy, or walking around in the dark, prepping your kids may be necessary.
  • Consider only visiting friend’s houses for trick-or-treating or heading out to get some candy before the sun sets. If your neighborhood is notorious for scary decorations, crazy teenagers going overboard with gore make-up, or big haunted house parties, it may be beneficial to keep your child at home once the sun goes down to help you pass out candy.

Because children are extremely impressionable, keep an eye on what they may encounter. No parent wants their child waking up in the middle of every night for the next 4 months having a nightmare about something he or she saw while out trick-or-treating. Halloween should be a time of dress-up fun, staying up past bed time, and spending time with family and friends- SO, remember to prep your kiddos, make rules clear and reasonable, be aware of what they’re doing/seeing, and most of all, have fun!

Happy Halloween!