Emotional Quicksand

Emotional Quicksand

Life is not fair. There I said it. Sometimes it can even be downright miserable. When life is disappointing and things don’t go the way I hoped they would, or the way I needed them to, it can seem unbearable. It’s like being pulled down deeper and deeper, swallowed up by a sinking feeling. It’s sort of like quicksand, the more we fight it, the more stuck we feel and faster we sink.

Just about everyone can relate to this feeling at some time or another. Feeling like everything is a disaster, nothing ever goes right, and things are always bad. Feeling like if circumstances were just different, I wouldn’t feel this way. Even worse, feeling like there is nothing I can do about it. I’m just stuck, powerless, trapped, and sinking in my emotional quicksand.

The View We Take

The truth is we have a lot of control over what we feel; it is not simply the product of our circumstances. Famous Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them. In other words, what we think about our situation has a big impact on how we feel about it. That doesn’t mean we can choose to never be sad or that we won’t face times when we feel down. It just means we have some choice about how long we will live in these moments, and how we will work through them.

The Choices We Make

It is absolutely true that some times in life are difficult, and we will feel pain and sadness, but that doesn’t mean that we will be stuck in this state. If we can only feel happy when things go our way, times of happiness will be few and far between. We can work our way out of this sand trap. Here are some ideas that might help when you are battling those sinking feelings.

  • Tolerate. Be willing to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. Don’t try to avoid them. Some disappointment and struggle is just part of life. Spending our efforts trying to avoid things that cannot be changed just keeps the struggle going.  The quicksand analogy is helpful again here. Trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings is like struggling in quicksand, struggling just pulls us in deeper and deeper. 

  • Travel lite. It is important to try to let go of past issues so that we are not as weighed down in the present. If we are carrying around years of hurt and holding on to grudges, we can find ourselves sinking quickly. If we can learn to let go of things we might find freeing ourselves from our current emotional quicksand is an easier task.

  • Remember to breathe. In quicksand, keeping our lungs filled with air would help to keep us buoyant and to keep us afloat. In the case of difficult feelings, breathing techniques can keep panic from weighing us down by reducing physical arousal.

  • Remember that feelings are not forever. They are temporary states that are affected by the thoughts we think and the actions we take. We don’t have to live in this moment forever. If we keep moving and growing in life, not every step leads to quicksand. If every choice seems to lead to sinking and struggle, maybe we need to rethink things.

  • The thoughts we think. We have to be careful that our thoughts don’t keep us stuck. Continually thinking about how “unfair” things are is unlikely to positively change anything, including our feelings. In fact it is a recipe for continued struggle. Negative thinking is like thrashing and kicking in quicksand, it only makes things worse. Acknowledging a difficult moment is fine, but predicting a negative future based on this moment is not. Thoughts like “I’ll never be happy again” can keep us stuck, it might be better to think “this is really difficult”, “I am really hurting right now but I’ll get through this”.

  • The actions we take. This blog is not suggesting that we just sit helplessly in our emotional quicksand. Sure, we could just wait for things to turn out the way we want them to in order to make ourselves feel better, but that will probably be a long wait. A better idea is to do something to help ourselves feel better. Once we feel lighter, and we are breathing, and thinking clearly, we can make the best choice about what to do next. So here’s an idea, do something good for yourself. Reach out for support, choose to stay connected, do things you enjoy (even if you don’t feel like you will enjoy them), focus your attention on what you can change instead of wasting all of your energy on what you cannot change. Remember, you don’t have to be stuck.