Managing the Short Fuse

By Dr. Clive Williams on 06 April 2020

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These are stressful times. In the days and weeks ahead, you may find, if not already, that you’re on a very short fuse. Things that only a couple of weeks ago you would have taken in your stride may now seem a bit too much. The short fuse is simply telling us that we’re at our capacity. Our stress level is maxing out with the speed of all this uncertainty and change occurring. And you may not have had time to realise it. Think of it possibly as the last straw on the poor old camel’s back.

So what do you do?

Well, firstly, being fearful at such times is completely normal. It’s not like you just lost your car keys. There’s a lot going on, and there are some really big questions. What’s going to happen? And will we be okay?

Secondly, change doesn’t happen without loss. And loss is grief. You may have lost a sense of certainty in the world, your financial security, your security about your health, or the security about the safety of loved ones. That’s a lot of loss.

Typically, Australians really suck at dealing with fear and sadness. We tend to deny both. We tell people we’re fine. What we really do is cover-up. We pretend. And no one ever got their needs met by pretending. So remember, a need is not simply just what you want. A need is something essential to living.

These two emotions, sadness and fear, they simply need one thing – to be acknowledged. This is not going to fix the world. Just remember, it’s logical to be fearful when scary things are happening. And it’s logical to be sad when you have lost certain things.

So don’t pretend. Fess up. Admit to yourself, yeah, I am scared. I am sad… Or both.

But here’s the most important thing. You need to tell somebody. This gets tricky as well because typically, Australians also suck at coping with things when someone that we love or care about tells us that they’re scared or sad. We want to make them feel better by saying things like “Look, it’ll be okay.”  “Don’t worry”, “You’re being silly”. Or sometimes the worst thing we can say is “You know, crying about it won’t help. Build a bridge. Get over it.”

These are the worst things that we can do. I mean, really, these are the worst things we can do. It effectively shuts us down, so we have to keep on pretending, keeping quiet about what’s really going on. And remember, keeping quiet, or pretending, won’t get needs met.

So, tell your loved ones what’s really going on, and also add in, “Please don’t try and make me feel better. I just need you to know where I am.”  This may sound too good to be true, but this is what I have found after 35 years of sitting in rooms with people.  Just having our feelings acknowledged helps us to feel safer. To feel better. I have seen this with war veterans, trauma victims, the sad, the scared, and the million different situations.

Once our feelings are being acknowledged we think “Okay, they get it.” So we relax a little. We have a sense of not being alone. And it’s these feelings, feeling more connected and better understood, that help with sadness and fear.

 

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