I remember sitting in traffic one morning — complete gridlock — and learning a valuable lesson through seeing others in pain.
That sounds strange, I know.
I had just accepted that was going to be late for work. I even left early, but before I knew it, the morning’s events were out of my control. An accident here, construction there, and just enough rain for the congestion of people in rolling steel boxes to lose the ability to drive well — all of it compounded the commute’s delay.
All around me, it seemed that everyone had resigned to the drabness of the morning. People looked defeated as though each face gave away a secret it wished it hadn’t. Each individual was going to their own version of Nowheresville.
To my left a woman stared at her phone, her car idling in PARK.
In front of me, the silhouette of a woman berating someone on the phone became less entertaining as the intensity of the one-sided conversation ramped up and the minivan began brake-checking as emotion took over at the control panel.
Then I saw something that affected me in a way I haven’t been able to forget, nor will I in the future.
To my right, I saw a man in his mid-thirties. He wasn’t singing. He wasn’t talking on the phone.
He just sat there…almost emotionless before I noticed he kept hurriedly wiping tears from his eyes. As we came to a synchronous rolling stop, his floodgates opened up.
The rainsoaked commute was more brackish by a stranger crying to his steering wheel. He looked dejected and defeated.
I had no context. And perhaps that is the striking aspect here — it doesn’t matter.
The human part of me wanted to roll my window down and ask him what the hell was going on. The cyborg part of me pretended to ignore it all…as though it wasn’t happening…this man my age crying at his fucking steering wheel.
He smiled ever so slightly when his watery eyes met my concerned yet gawking gaze.
I wondered what was going on in his life that made him visibly cry and borderline weep in his vehicle…in public.
As random as that interaction was and as little as I know about what was really going on with him, I felt I could still relate. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I’d been that man before — it may not have been while I was sitting in traffic, but I’ve been that man crying at the steering wheel of life lost in a tempest of emotion, even if I couldn’t find the tears.
Hell, the more I thought out it, I’d been that man often.
Maybe it was while on another long run where my exhausted body and worn-out mind replayed the day’s game film.
Perhaps it was putting my calendar together for the next week of personal and professional obligations that brought the water-works forth knowing how little I would see my two young sons and my wife because work would take precedence over the family for yet another week.
Shit, not too long ago, I felt compelled to just sit and listen to the music of children playing with their toys to figure one important thing out — I remembered it’s OK to cry.
It’s acceptable to feel overwhelmed. I remembered how important it is to remind myself that I am human and I do have thresholds and limits. But more importantly, I have strategies and support systems in place.
So every so often, I think about that man crying and take inventory of my life.
I have my health, a wonderful family, a beautiful wife, and two beautiful children, a good job, a nice house, and amazing friends.
These are trying times. Politically, the world is in turmoil. Financially, people are desperate — even if they’re employed.
Emotionally, many are out of touch with their loved ones and more importantly and alarmingly, they’re out of touch with themselves.
It’s easy to lose oneself in the responsibilities and commitments of life. Oftentimes, we live for everyone else before we ever have the chance to do something for ourselves.
In short, we’ve cauterized our emotions so nothing gets in and very little is emitted. And what does “get out” is either intentionally fake (to save face and put on one of many masks we wear) or it’s an outburst.
We have become cyborgs. Showing emotion, empathy, and genuine feeling and concern for others and, more importantly, for ourselves is often seen as a sign of social weakness.
I find that when life turns a cold shoulder, we grow cold and our capacity to communicate falters. Our capacity for empathy atrophies.
What do you do when life’s everyday pressures stack up?
What happens when those pressures metastasize and multiply?
I know those pressures add up, often turning into a lead-laden stress straight-jacket weighing life down.
Everything seems to become unmanageable. Stress can make life uncomfortable in a put-a-toothpick-under-your-big-toenail-and-kick-a-wall-sort of way.
I found that I fall into the trap of trying to keep all the plates spinning. The problem with that is once one wobbles it diverts my attention causing the others to wobble, too. Then one crashes. As I attend that mess, another follows suit. Now, I’m on my hands and knees (in a figurative and even literal sense) sifting through a mess.
Responsibilities stack up because they don’t go away when you get overwhelmed.
Congestion clogs the calendar.
Everything is crucial, but is it? There’s a warning sign when progress stalls and halts too much. We grant power and assign importance to things that aren’t that important.
The more we put on a brave face, the more difficult it is to process each day. If it was a mundane, uneventful day, it feels like we accomplished nothing. If the day was a hurricane of hurried hustle, it was the bitter taste of the chaos that ruled the day.
‘Toughing it out’ is exhausting. But, we do so anyway because well, what other option is there? When the weight of the world feels like it’s teetering on your shoulder blades, what else are you going to do?
In an odd way, seeing that man weep at the wheel helped me think of the steps I take to defrag my mindset and re-establish a firm foundation and a sound baseline each day.
When I search for solutions, I assess my environment. This step involves doing a thorough inventory and a hard audit of things. Here, I take stock of what I call “the noise” polluting my day-to-day activities and adding to my stress.
One thing to acknowledge is that pain is part of life. When that pain dictates life and affects your relationship with yourself and others, it’s time to go to work on it.
I think the reason so many of us are numb is that we don’t allow ourselves to operate in the real world and feel anymore.
Perhaps the big culprit is social media. It’s a great time thief and a powerful vacuum of productivity. Socially-engineered topics turn into toxic debates that can alter one’s mindset and behavior. It also eats away at productivity.
Sure, it has its benefits, but do a firm check to make sure the content consumed adds value to your life.
A good practice is using social media in intervals to draw inspiration, have some fun, communicate with others, but then get the hell out of The Matrix.
Pay attention to not only your surroundings but the people within it.
When we’re able to do that, we learn a great deal about life and by proxy, you learn more about yourself.
Make an effort to balance operating in real-world environments. It’s OK to dip back into digital spaces, but not at the expense of adding more stress to your life or day.
Look, there is no substitute for seeking professional and medical advice for life rains shit down on you, and this is just what works for me.
Take a walk or go for a run. If that doesn’t appeal to you, just picking up a book or doing a small free-writing exercise can defrag your mind.
There is so much value in being more aware of the world that exists off the smartphone and computer screen.
People often fail to take in the sensory elements of the outside world. They grow accustomed to the staleness of the office or in a vehicle commuting to and from work.
I’ve found that if I don’t manage my anxiety or stress it will linger long enough to start charging it rent. Before long, that anxiety and stress will start to manage me.
We forget what the breeze blowing through our clothes and tickling our scalp feels like. We begin to miss the sunlight kissing our skin. The feel of the brisk morning air and the smell of freshly-cut grass become afterthoughts.
This is where it’s important to take ownership of your day.
You don’t need to wait until tomorrow to start a new day.
I handle most of my stress through hard physical activity. This method won’t be for everyone, and that’s OK. I like pushing my body and mind out of my comfort zone, which is different for everyone.
This is a challenge, especially when anxiety sinks its fang into me.
But, every journey begins with one step. Do something physical. You don’t have to run a marathon, but you do need to get moving. Get to the gym, run (or walk) around the block or office, do push-ups, take the stairs — move your body.
For me, exercise incinerates anxiety. The feeling of accomplishment is worth working up a sweat. This step is essential because it requires persistence and patience. Progress here comes in many forms.
If you find yourself confined to a desk or behind the wheel on a long commute, you owe it yourself to workout.
Inevitably, the thought of quitting blips up on the radar.
I tell myself, “If you quit now, you’ll end up right back where you first began. And when you first began, you were desperate to be where you are right here and right now. Keep going.”
Again, this is personal, but the pain or discomfort of a challenging workout is nothing compared to the pain of doing nothing and letting the opportunity go to waste.
There are numerous solutions to dealing with feeling overwhelmed, and I’ve presented a few that help me.
Just remember, it’s OK to feel empathy for others and emotions — life is difficult.
It’s necessary to communicate how you feel with yourself and others — seek out the appropriate sources of help whenever possible.
It’s essential to get some type of physical activity whenever possible — your body was made to move.
And it’s OK to feel pain and take an inventory of the elements of your life that are adding to the stress — write things down and have conversations to process what is going on.
But overall, it’s OK to cry.