Coming up for air

If you have ever been in trouble swimming in heavy surf you will know the sensation. You get dumped by one wave and get the air knocked out of you. You struggle to the surface and take another gasp, only to be hit by the next wave. Wave after wave pushes you under and you just can’t get free. You know that you could swim out or ride one in to save yourself, but the waves won’t give you give you a chance. All you really need is a break – to catch you breath – and you will be OK. Isn’t that how the rest of your life feels sometimes as well?

When life leaves you gasping for air there are ways to catch your breath, but they seem impossibly distant at the time. When you are in the middle of trouble, just trying to survive, solutions seem out of reach. The best you can do is prepare yourself in advance by learning these 7 ways to catch your breath, before you need to use them:

  1. Run down your reserves - We all have reserves stored up in our lives and now is the time to use them up. You might eat out your pantry or freezer, saving time and money. You might forget the housework for a while knowing that your normal cleaning has kept things under control enough to last a few days. You might call in some favours that you have stored up. You might cut into a corner of your savings or “rainy day fund”. Reserves like these are only good if you know when to use them and this may be the time.
  2. Lean on your friends - True friends are obvious in bad times. The best friends support you without contributing to the problems. Lean on them a little and show them that you trust them. Lean on their advice, their time, their wallet, their help. How much you lean will depend on how serious your situation, how strong the friendship and how much dependency you can stand. If all you need is to catch your breath, you should not be hesitant to ask your friends for support (then be willing to do the same for them later)
  3. Tear off half your to-do list - Realistically half of your to-do list is essential and half is optional. Sure, you want to get it all done, but in this case sticking to just the essentials, will leave you with spare time to catch your breath. Tear off the items that are not absolutely essential in this couple of days. Most tasks will still be there later when you come back for them. Give yourself a break from your “get it done” attitude and you will soon be back on top.
  4. Ask for mercy - No matter where the waves are coming from there is someone, somewhere who can give you mercy if only you ask for it. You should not feel bad about asking for a break just to get you through a short bad patch. If you owe money, be honest up front and ask for an extension (people will usually agree – machines will usually not). If you owe time, ask whoever demands it, to be lenient for a couple of days. If you need to jump the cue at the doctors, ask for mercy. Explain what you need, why you need it and how they can help. You will be surprised how many people will willingly help you if you make a personal request and explain why.
  5. Think long term survival first - Your problems will quickly escalate if you don’t know what to focus on. You must attend to your most important needs first. If you are in the surf, you need air. In the rest of your life, you need at least your minimum sleep, food, water. Don’t take uncharacteristic risks. Keep your eyes on the road when you are driving. Now is not the time to play with chemical dependencies. Make sure you look after the basics of long term survival because otherwise a short term bad patch could end up crippling you for life.
  6. Downgrade your expectations but mark your place - When you are in the middle of it, you may have to cut back on your achievements. Put your progress on hold for a couple of days and concentrate on catching your breath. If it is not essential, it can wait till you are back on your feet. However, before you stop doing something, mark where you are up to so that you can quickly get back on track later. Measure, bookmark, photograph, write down where you are today, so that you can pick up where you left off later.
  7. Take one step at a time and do one thing at a time - When there are different pressures rolling in from all directions it is easy to try and do too many things at once. Don’t do it. Focus on one thing and knock it off. Then move onto the next. You will find that by doing one thing at a time, you are able to achieve more and get out of trouble faster than if you tried to accomplish everything at once. There is nothing that makes a bad situation feel worse than having too many half finished things on your mind at once.

Nobody ever caught their breath by just continuing to struggle. Whether you are facing an unending set of waves or the continual beating of bad times in your life, all you need is a break. If you can find a moment of peace, high up on top of a wave, you will probably see your way out. All you really need is to catch your breath.

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