How Not to Build a Monster

Odds are, you aren’t as dramatic as I am, but I’m sure we’ve all been there — that moment when it feels like everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and everything sucks at the same time. Like all of the lights in a room just went off, and you can’t find the light switch. Kinda hopeless-like, impending-end-of-the-world-like, prepare-to-meet-your-doom type of situation. Basically, you just feel stuck, like you can’t catch up with everything that seems to be happening all at once.

There have got to be at least four people in history who have experienced this because there’s a cliché saying that pops to mind: When it rains, it pours (KUWTK, anyone?). Life does have a freakish tendency to do this. Just when something bad happens, more bad stuff happens. And sometimes, it’s the reverse, and the badness will unleash just when things are going great.

I’m not here to espouse some more clichés about karma and “having the bad with the good” and “life is all about balance.” You get to a point where hearing that just doesn’t help anymore. I get that, I feel that, and I know that bad things happen, and sometimes they just seem to build and build. But, here’s some advice, or thoughts, that have helped me turn a situation that feels hopeless into one that feels a touch more bearable.


1. Focus on what you can control.

This is a piece of advice my dad has given me my entire life, and it’s something I constantly say to myself. You won’t always be able to control everything that happens to you, which is difficult but necessary to accept. It might be helpful to ask yourself: “What do I gain from reacting to this situation, which is completely out of my control and won’t be affected by my reaction?” Ask yourself if it is worth putting yourself through the emotional strain, if that strain will change or help in some way. If it will, then go ahead and process in whatever way you need to. If not, move on.

A second part to this involves redirecting your energy and focusing on the parts of your life that you can control. For me, this is usually school. If things got rocky in high school, I focused on maintaining my GPA and getting my essays done ahead of time. And it really paid off because it meant that I ended up with some spare time to use to recharge and process the things that upset me (AKA Netflix).

2. Don’t forget that you’re in charge of your emotions too and not just your actions.

I know that being told that you’re in control of your emotions often feels belittling, but, sometimes, reminding yourself of that can actually help you process your situation. And, you don’t have to react to something right away. If you need time, take it, especially in a delicate situation that might be negatively impacted by a knee-jerk reaction.

3. Step away, and remember to blot, never wipe.

It’s okay to need a minute (or five), even if you’re in a public place. Sometimes we all need a place to duck away and angry-cry. When and if you do, remember to blot your face with a gentle dabbing motion and with a cold wet cloth/tissue if possible. Wiping at your eyes will only make them more red, which is way more difficult to come up with an excuse for (unless it’s allergy season). Speaking of allergy season, a breath of fresh air or a misting of cool water (if you’ve got one of those cool Evian spray bottles) can also do a world of good, unless you’re sensitive to pollen.

4. Vent to something but maybe not someone.

Pretty much everyone I know (including myself) has regretted venting to someone, especially if that someone wasn’t their closest friend. I know we all regret vulnerability, so unless it’s someone you completely trust and are comfortable venting to, keep it private. Scribble it down or monologue at your favorite (or maybe least-favorite?) pet — because at least a dog can cuddle you without judging you.

5. Break it down.

Believe me, I know how easy it is to let everything pile up, to build a monster out of every problem and conflict that comes rolling your way during one of those clichéd heavy rainfalls. It’s easy and often a knee-jerk reaction to stack your worries on top of each other, to stitch them together, give them an electric shock, and name them after you before setting them loose on the world (and you). But feeling overwhelmed is not necessary, and if you can avoid it, do so. Learn how to tackle or process things one at a time, consistently enough that you don’t let it heap into a massive pile of anger and sadness. And don’t freak out if this does happen, because we’re only human. You’re the one who put the monster together, and you’re the one who can take it apart.

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