I’m not in control. I’m not perfect. And I feel like my life is falling apart.
So maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I did feel a huge amount of disappointment, frustration and guilt. Here’s what happened.
I showed up to work and realized I had missed a meeting the day before. A meeting that was pretty important and one I needed to be at. So I asked a co-worker to fill me in, then explained what had happened to my supervisor and apologized to everyone else involved. But everything still didn’t go back to being all OK.
You see, I felt horrible that I’d disappointed someone, and I couldn’t shake the feeling all day. The guilt and the frustration just kept rising, even after I had tried to move on (and even after I got myself a mocha!).
All day I kept telling myself that feeling bad wasn’t going to fix anything, so I just needed to get over it. Eventually, I started getting frustrated that I couldn’t get over my frustration. And I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it, so all my frustration stayed pent up inside, just building.
Focus on reality, not feelings.
I’ve always been told not to let myself be controlled by my emotions. The state of reality isn’t based on how we feel — in fact, it is often quite the opposite. For instance, even though I had missed a meeting, the project was still moving forward and there were several other good things I was able to get done that day.
But the problem is that when I feel bad, I start thinking negatively and then I start acting negatively (read: storm around the office and give short answers to co-workers). And acting negatively often results in feeling even worse.
I know there’s a few tactics to combat this cycle of behavior, and I even tried some of them that day.
- Acknowledge your mistakes and your frustration. Instead of trying to push through frustration by ignoring it, figure out why you are frustrated. Writing it down can help to clarify why you are so frustrated. For me, it wasn’t just that I had missed the meeting; I feared I’d be seen as unreliable. Taking a few minutes to pray about it can start you in the right mental and emotional direction.
- Figure out how not to make that mistake again. For me, this was a simple fix as I just needed to learn how to arrange my online calendar better. But sometimes it is more complicated, such as checking an angry reaction. In any case, a mistake can actually be valuable if it keeps you from making an even bigger mistake.
- Stop replaying the situation in your head. Find something else to focus on by changing activities or scenery. If this isn’t possible, then write out or tell someone what you keep replaying in your head, as this often helps differentiate reality from mental escalation. Replace the negative thinking with positive self-talk.
- Keep doing your job. Don’t let negative feelings keep you from doing what you’re supposed to be doing. It should be a rare thing that our frustration gets so out of hand that we become crippled. In some ways, this requires a “fake it until you make it” kind of mentality: You may not feel like you can work cheerfully for the rest of the day, but you can at least keep working and be as cheerful as you can, which often leads to genuine cheerfulness.
Sometimes these tactics are enough to goad me into feeling better. But sometimes they aren’t. What do you do then?
Rest in our unfailing God.
It’s hard to keep faking it to yourself at home. At the end of that day, all I could do was acknowledge my complete reliance on God, and how I’m not in control of the situation or even my own emotions.
I had recently jotted down some references to a few of God’s promises. I realized as I read them again that these promises are meant to be embraced even (and especially) when we feel like our lives are falling apart. God does not always grant that we feel good all the time, but He does grant us His ear all the time. And He remains faithful to His promises.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
What are you frustrated and disappointed about? No matter what difficulties you’re facing, these promises are true for all God’s children. Cling to them when your feelings tell you your life is falling apart.