Updated: Jul 10, 2021
The dog peed on the couch last night.
Yep, right in front of me and my family and a whole room full of people I love who had just arrived from out of town for a funeral. Max is an old dog. He’s blind and deaf. His younger cousin-dog had arrived ready to play. The energetic pup kept following him. So, Max just squatted on the brocade cushion and sent a message to everyone in the room: leave me alone! He’d never done anything like that before and I was stunned. Everyone in the room went into slow motion, staring at Max peeing on the couch.
All I wanted to do was scream. I wondered why no one was doing anything to stop it or handle it. Oh yeah. Maybe that was my job? I took a deep diaphragmatic breath and started giving instructions to manage the situation. We cleaned it up, separated the dogs, and went on with the evening. The problem is that Max peeing on the couch was just one more thing in a long day that was part of a long, difficult week, that was part of this extraordinarily difficult year. What should have been a simple issue to handle was overwhelming.
Do you ever feel like that? I do.
Like Max, some days problems and annoyances follow me everywhere I go and I just want to be left alone. That’s when one little thing can trigger an unhealthy response. I’ve learned, however, that peeing on the couch – or any other form of active or passive aggression – is not the answer. Face it, we can either behave like Max, making a mess of things to get our point across, or we can have a plan to manage escalating frustrations in a healthy way. As a therapist for over 10 years, I know that these steps can help you like they do me:
Be proactive. Set and maintain boundaries which protect your emotional space before you go into meltdown mode. Sometimes that means giving yourself a time out, closing the door to your office, going for a walk, or heading to bed early with a book.
If you do reach a state of overwhelm have a mantra, such as “don’t freak out” that you say over and over inside your head. Practice regularly in advance by visualizing yourself staying calm and repeating your mantra in crisis, so it becomes a natural response when needed.
Do the best you can with what you’ve got. In the moment, use whatever energy, bandwidth or wherewithal you can muster to handle the presenting problem. You don’t have to fix everything – just clean up the pee.
When others move in slow motion, it’s often a sign they don’t know what to do. This is a clue to give single-step instructions to manage in the moment. Things like, “get a towel,” or “pick up the dog.”
Do more permanent problem solving after the crisis has passed and your emotions are smooth again. Learn from what went wrong and create a plan to avoid the issue in the future.
We can’t foresee all problems, especially now. But we can be proactive to maximize our emotional bandwidth, manage the moment, and continually find ways to improve.