There is nothing that puts a pit in my stomach faster than drama: both the drama of actual hard things and then the drama that we can stir up about actual hard things. Heck, I can even get a pit in my stomach over imagined hard things.
Case in point: a young friend sent me a text late one night-I was asleep and didn’t get it until the crack of dawn the next morning when she was asleep-that said she needed to talk to me urgently ASAP ASAP ASSSSAP- it was an emergency!!!!!! I texted her back as soon as I got her message and then I talked myself out of a doom and gloom stomachache so as not to cash in on a future worry that may not even be necessary because, let’s be honest, there are too many real, already realized not great situations out there for me to be inventing one prematurely.
I used to think that you knew you were settled and all adult-like when there was nothing left to worry about and then I became a mom and my parents got older and I realized that “oh, life is all about throwing difficult things at you” and you just have to breathe, love, live your way through them and HOW you do that is really the indicator of your adulthood.
And so once that epiphany struck me, I’ve tried really hard to box in the drama, to compartmentalize the crap and make sure that I am just dealing with the truly dramatic stuff and not the invented dramatic stuff. It’s not easy. It’s not fail proof, but the earnest attempt at putting drama in its place have been powerful for me. Want to right size the drama in your life? Maybe some of these strategies are right for you.
Know your tendencies. When I got that email from my young friend, I knew it was just the kind of thing that would have made me sick with worry a few years ago and made me fixate on it so much that I would have been paralyzed from being able to focus on anything else until I knew what was going on. And so I had a pep talk with myself. There’s no point in worrying about it right now, I reminded myself. It could be absolutely nothing. Every time a little bit of doubt swirled in my head, I settled myself back down. And good thing I did. My young friend texted me later to say, “can I use you as a reference for a job application?” Whew, I thought. Of course, I answered. And then I thought, “Clearly, we need to talk about what constitutes an emergency!”
Don’t label it catastrophic. Crap happens. A lot of little crap and then, sometimes, some big crap, too. But there is a very human tendency to sometimes make smaller things much, much bigger. Do you magnify, intensify situations? Does it make things feel harder to manage? Then, resist that urge. Don’t make disasters out of inconveniences. Watching your language can really impact your heart rate and mindset about things. If it doesn’t need a label other than the facts of it, resist the urge to label it with something huge.
Know your people. Now, you may not make things catastrophic but perhaps some people in your world do. Some people get energy from drama, but it could be that it sucks you dry. Since we all need energy to live on purpose, you need to know what your capacity is and what your peeps are like. If you want help solving a problem and know that one friend will help you see the options and pick one and another friend will help you imagine all the hard places this thing could go so that you are ready for that, you need to determine what is better for you and go with that. Also, if you know that one of your peeps is prone to a dramatic read on situations, maybe you listen to what she’s sharing with that awareness. An added note: if someone is consistently toxic, don’t be afraid to downsize the presence he or she has in your life.
And related: you can limit your involvement in someone else’s drama.
Don’t dig if you aren’t up for it. Sometimes, someone will drop a hint that there is more under the surface of something- something that you don’t really need to know about to go on with your life. She might say, “what teacher did your son get for next year” and then you answer and she says, “Oh….” and trails off, and you just know that she has an opinion about it, maybe knows something about the teacher or someone who has had an unpleasant experience. But what good will that do you two days out from the start of the school year? Maybe not much. And so this is just a gentle reminder that you don’t have to ask for more.
Remember you aren’t responsible for whether or not other people like you. One thing we worry about is how we handle situations and how people feel about how we handle situations. And we do have a responsibility to honor people’s humanity but, you know what, sometimes we have to make choices that other people may not love. We have to take our kid out of town for her grandmother’s birthday and so she is going to miss the big volleyball tournament and, yes, she is the tallest kid on the team and that matters to some people but, you know what, you have to do what you have to do. You are not responsible for whether or not people like you or your choices. Life’s too short to try to be universally pleasing and trying to be universally pleasing is a short-cut to high drama.
Say what you need to say—but say it productively. I think it is important to be a truth teller as much as possible (although I also believe in “don’t engage crazy” which is when speaking the truth is going to have no effect and will, in fact, make things worse), but I don’t think truth telling needs to be hurtful (although the concept may hurt the person who is hearing it). What is the most gentle, productive way to offer the truth? Try that.
Remind yourself that the situation is not permanent. When Happy was a non-sleeping baby and early toddler, we were nearly up the wall in exhaustion, but something that helped us was having some perspective about the situation. As we swaddled him and put him in the crib, a little bit longer than most babies are swaddled because it was one thing that worked a little bit when so little worked, we would joke about how his college roommate would have to put him in his swaddle at night. Obviously, we knew that he wasn’t going to college with his swaddle. And obviously we knew that the sleep situation wouldn’t be like it was forever. Those little jokes reminded us that our life wouldn’t be that hard—in THAT context- forever. And now this strategy reminds me of this other one…
Irreverent humor helps. DO NOT tell my mom I shared this story, but it is the perfect example for this strategy. When my dad was in that god-awful coma a few years ago, my mom and I would sit by his side for hours in the ICU. I would read him the book that he packed to read during his surgery recovery (before the major setback) and she would crochet and we would try to act like we weren’t awaiting the worst possible fate. Several days into our vigil, my mom passed some couldn’t politely act like it hadn’t happened gas. “Mom,” I said, incredulously, “did you…?” Without flinching, she answered, “That was your father.” She blamed it on the poor man in the coma who had only had IV sustenance for about five days at that point. The result? Both of us doubled over in laughter for a ridiculously long time, washing ourselves in some feel good hormones instead of the cortisol stress wash that we had been soaking in for days. It was such a boost to our systems. Sometimes, really inappropriate humor makes a big ole’ difference.
Focus on what is controllable. Rather than spinning your wheels around all the stuff around something, focus your energy on what you really can control. Talking it over with someone can help and try to come away from the conversation with an action plan (rather than just rehashing the experience).
Take a break from it. If it is an ongoing situation, give yourself a periodic time out from it. Schedule some self-care. Do something with someone who knows nothing about the situation just for a change of mental scenery. Go volunteer. Watch a movie. Do something that absorbs you like cook a new meal from scratch. Sometimes our mind and heart just need a little break from grieving, gripping, or going so hard.
Apologize. Did you create or exacerbate the situation? “I’m sorry” can be hard words to utter but taking responsibility doesn’t just make someone else feel better. It makes you feel better– because you are acknowledging to yourself that you can and will do the right thing.
Remember the good stuff. We tend to count our blessings when things are going well. Counting our blessings when things feel like crap can be even more satisfying. Feeling overwhelmed, defeated, or daunted? Take a minute to remember the good stuff that is in place. It will be a nice boost in the midst of the madness.
What are your strategies for smoothing things over?