On the flip side: How our struggles might be trying to help us
Anxiety, depression, procrastination, perfectionism… have you ever wondered why life has to include so many challenges? Why our lives and personalities have to be so complex that we frequently don’t understand others and alarmingly, don’t always understand ourselves?
You might ask yourself these questions and sometimes feel a sense of despair at the uphill struggle of it all. But are we looking at these challenges through the right lens? Are we missing something? Could the struggles we are having really be trying to tell us something? To teach us something valuable?
First of all, we need to understand what causes us to either suddenly or slowly develop ways of feeling and of being in the world that we find difficult to manage.
Why do we feel like we're struggling?
This is a huge subject but to illustrate just a few examples of why, consider:
Anxiety is a natural, essential form of self-protection. Without it, we would walk to instead of from danger. There are complex primal processes occurring within the brain and body to keep us safe. A level of anxiety is essential to life and survival.
A depressed state can sometimes be a protective factor – keeping us contained and withdrawn from situations that feel unmanageable or overwhelming. Low mood can sometimes be part of the loss or grieving process, a time when slowing down and working through the pain is a part of healing.
Persistent anxiety or depression may need greater attention. Over time any usefulness can diminish, symptoms may worsen, quality of life may be greatly affected, and a way out becomes harder to navigate. At these times, seeking professional support from a GP and/or therapist or mental health professional is advisable.
So let’s take a look at some other flipsides to the things we may struggle with.
Take perfectionism. At times my perfectionism has slowed me down, held me back, wasted time and utterly infuriated me. But it has also helped me to focus, has given me space to be really present with what I’m doing and has helped me to achieve things I am proud of.
Anxiety can be terribly debilitating and interfere with our lives in challenging ways. Persistent worrying or obsession, hyper-vigilance, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, avoidance and physical symptoms are amongst those challenges. But a level of anxiety can also protect us from danger, motivate us to do things well and build tremendous strength in the face of adversity (people living with anxiety are some of the bravest people I know).
Highly sensitive people can struggle with seeing the world in intense and sometimes overwhelming detail. They may be hyper-aware of the clothes on their skin, the distracting (infuriating!) sound of someone’s breathing, the smell of an animal or the plight of a homeless person. Criticism can feel like a dagger to the heart. But they can also enjoy a fabulously rich inner world, be deeply moved by beauty, music or nature, help others with their deep empathy and have great insight and perception making them wise beyond their years.
All of these examples can work on a spectrum and it’s usual for us to slide along that spectrum at different times. Relationships struggles, hormonal surges, loss, ill-health or our circumstances are all potentials for us to slide up the scale into unmanageable territory.
Finding ways to keep the balance - using our awareness, recognising triggers, self-compassion, curiosity, acceptance, self-care (time-out, exercise, nature, prayer) or seeking professional therapeutic support are all ways we can ground ourselves and restore the balance.
And balance is what we really strive for isn't it? We don't expect an easy ride all of the time, just when things get tough that we can eventually find a way through instead of getting stuck. Life is about movement, we can move, we can learn, we can get unstuck.