How we look at the stressors and the unknowns in our lives plays a big part in how we are able to deal with them – how much time and energy they take, how much aggravation they cause us. www.dhalia.co.uk
“The lake with the squishy bottom” is a phrase I used recently to describe these unknowns, these stressors. The lake’s shoreline is stable, having solid boundaries and rules. Life is pretty comfortable there. The lake and its squishy bottom, however, is where we often find ourselves – faced with the stress and the unknowns of life.
An earlier picture I used for looking at stress and the unknowns was that of a wall. I had to get to the other side. The other side of the wall contained relief and satisfaction. I needed to get over this wall, through it or around it to get to the answers. It was a different way to picture problems and it typically created more anxiety. It was, “How do I get there from here?”
We all have our stressors – physical, relational, emotional, the unknowns, you name it. You know what yours are and how you focus on them in attempts to deal with them. Seeing them as a body of water, something that we are already immersed in, not something separate that is on the other side of a wall can be helpful. We can look into the water to see what is there. We may only be able to see a little ways, depending on how murky things are, but it is there with us.
I can walk in the shallow areas on the squishy bottom. I can tread water, I can float, I can swim. I can imagine a lake where I could ride a surfboard when things are going well. I like the idea of riding a wave. I find myself asking people who are dealing with stressors that they can’t do anything about at the moment if they can sit with it for awhile. Trying not to get too anxious or upset when the answers are not there – sitting with it (in the lake), attempting to understand it a little better.
Other benefits of moving away from the wall are that we will no longer self-inflict wounds from banging our heads against it, something I seemed to do often enough (and always a brick wall). In the lake, we may feel like we are sinking or drowning, which does not seem much better. Yet, in the water, we have more options, more ways of moving.
When our difficulties are a wall we tend to think that if we can just get to the other side, things will be better. The answers will be there, we will have something to hold onto. With the squishy-bottomed lake, it is not so much of an all-or-nothing proposition as we try to make it to shore.
We want answers. Closure. That shoreline where there is more stability and comfort. When it is available and out there for us, I say, yeah, go for it. Yet at times, we look for something more solid. We want that concrete answer on the other side of the wall. When it is not there – and it is not going to be there – we add more stress and anguish in trying to obtain it. Instead of trying to break down that wall, we may want to look at staying in the water a little while longer before trying to make it to shore.
Reggie E., MSW, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor. Reggie has a master’s degree in Social Work as well as bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and the Comparative Study of Religion from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to a career change to social work, he worked in a variety of fields including banking, trucking and metal fabrication.