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Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Hurricane is Coming!

Hurricane Irene headed my family’s way recently.  Were we scared?  No.  Did we decide to cut short our RV vacation by one night in order to avoid being pushed around by Irene on the I-87 battling her high winds and rain?  Yes.  Were my children anxious about the storm brewing down south heading our direction?  No.  Why not?  Well, as a family we decided to opt for courage instead of fear in this case.  We made sure to get all the information first, and then we made a couple sound decisions.  We checked we had a flashlight or two, some water and extra provisions, and we charged our cellular phones.  We also decided to still use our tickets for a five-minute hot air balloon ride we'd purchased before we hit the road home, before the winds started to blow.  Granted, we were not in the eye of the storm and many folks on the East Coast needed to be much braver than us.  That said, I decided to reframe this whole experience as an adventure.  Having kids in your life will help you develop this healthy habit! 


Driving home last evening from our foreshortened family vacation, we all sang at the top of our lungs delighting in the sunset.  During a pause in the radio's intoxicating Top 40 repertoire, my kids commented “Isn’t it amazing how calm it is tonight?  You would never know that tomorrow there will be a storm.  Can we stay up all night to wait for the storm to hit? This is going to be SO MUCH FUN!  We can watch movies all day together.”  Kids are amazing!  They help us all find the "magical" and accept the "meant to be" in life.  They are so focused on the present moment.  They don't worry until we teach them how to do so.  My kids didn't voice any concern until they looked at our faces as we mulled over whether or not to leave our riverside campsite and drive home early in our tin can-like motorhome.  We explained the facts as we understood them and showed leadership in making a prudent decision to drive ahead of the storm.  I must add that such rational thought is unlike me, being a more spontaneous person and someone who NEVER watches the weather channel.  However, having a couple of other lives to consider requires more thoughtfulness.  All my daughter wanted to know after we'd delivered our brief informational seminar about hurricanes:  "Are the shingles going to fly off the roof?"  More importantly, both kids wanted to know if we had enough of their all-time favorite snacks on hand.  Click here for my Ten Tips for Talking About Tough Stuff with Kids.

By now, most of you reading this post will know that the hurricane expected turned out to be a tropical storm of much less magnitude than expected.   There are few such anticipated changes, disasters, and/or tough times that we can actually try and predict other than the weather these days.  And even the weather, despite all our modern technology, continues to be increasingly unpredictable!  The truth is that we can predict very little in life.  Saving our energy for rainy days, like those of us on the East Coast are enduring, is a much better use our courage resources than worrying about imagined futures that may never come to pass.  For an illustrative example of the dangers of worry and the importance of getting all the information first before responding, read Jennifer's previous post: The Sky is Falling?  Really?

Framing life’s challenges and unexpected storms as yet another adventure in life is not always possible.  However, it is helpful to know that the biochemistry associated with fear/anxiety mimics that of excitement.  Biochemically, these experiences are very similar in the body.  Reframe any potentially frightening event as exciting and watch how your perspective changes.  Find the humor or something to be grateful for during any storm, and you will be better prepared for the next gale force wind coming your way.  Jennifer has always said that helping her to help her daughter, the Lovely K., reframe some of her fears associated with moving countries, making new friendships, or trying something new as “exciting,” is one of the most useful things I’ve shared with them.  Cognitive reframing, or restructuring, is a technique I learned in my training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).   It involves thinking about a specific problem, for example, and seeing if you can view it as an opportunity instead of something to worry about or fear.  Or to think of a weakness and reframe it as something that may actually be a strength.  Motivation and behavior can change as we shift our thinking.  We are meaning-making beings and our beliefs and values shape the stories we tell about our lives.  We have the cognitive capacity to ascribe the meaning we want to the events of our lives.  This can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how we use this gift of cognition.  Catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, mistaking feelings for facts, personalizing, and other shoulda'/woulda'/coulda' thoughts can be our own personal storm clouds!  It takes emotional and intellectual courage to push aside those clouds and allow resourcefulness, hope, and happiness back into your perspective (click on these links to revisit what we mean by "emotional courage" and "intellectual courage").

It would be nice if we could predict, chart, and know the outcome of every storm we will weather in life.  The only thing any of us knows for sure is that there will be storms.  Sometimes we will be better prepared than others.  We can, however, always choose how we cognitively frame the experience.  We can be afraid and freeze, or we can be in action.  My husband often says to me, especially on days when I'm anxious and want to shrink from life's demands, "90% of life is just showing up."  I hate to admit it, but he's right.  We all have the capacity to choose courage, and even to reframe our fear-based fight, flight, or freeze response as "excitement."  Either way, our biochemistry and our thinking will be a match.  I remind myself that there is little I can control in life, despite my best white-knuckled efforts to the contrary.  Like many other East Coasters who choose not to live in fear, and who have tucked their children and pets safely inside to shelter them from the storm, I hope to have more energy and resources to deal with what may come.  It is humbling to be human, and yet always possible to be brave!

May the sun continue to shine through the storm clouds in your family's life!


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