One maddening tendency of any small electronic device is that whenever the battery is low, it wastes most of its remaining power beeping and flashing to tell you that battery is low.
Similarly, the human body comes with many self-defeating features. For example, whenever you’re low on oxygen, say while trying to recover your electronic device from the bottom of a public pool, the body goes into panic mode, raises the heart rate and burns away what little oxygen you have to work with.
The mind exhibits this kind of foolishness too. In has a cruel habit of misplacing its wisdom whenever you need it most. There are certain truths I really need to remember when I’m in a panicky state, which is exactly the time they are hardest to remember. So you may want to bookmark these gentle reminders, because the next time you’re overwhelmed you will never remember them.
1. The sky has fallen a thousand times already
I can’t count the number of times my world has ended. At least several dozen times in my life I’ve found myself in a situation so tangled and hopeless that I could not believe I would ever be happy again. Somehow, during each of those personal apocalypses, I forget that each of the previous ones somehow worked themselves out and are no longer relevant. Yet in real-time, the current catastrophe always seems to promise the death or at least permanent disfigurement of my entire life, and I crumple into despair and indignation. If only I could remember that almost all of the problems I’ve ever had are currently solved except the two or three most recent developments. This is just the way life moves along. It is my problems that are always marching to the gallows, not me.
I’m sure your sky has fallen many times before too. The overwhelmed mind underestimates the scale of a human life and therefore over-calculates the ultimate importance of any particular problem. Don’t be fooled.
2. Your problems are the same problems human beings have always had
You will never end up finding a way to suffer that hasn’t been fully explored yet. Heartbreak, death of loved ones, sickness and old age, chronic pain, shame, addiction, failure, poverty, and introspective nightmares are all realms that have been braved by people consistently and exhaustively for thousands of years, and to degrees much worse than yours. There are ultimately only a few basic kinds of human trouble, and they’ve all been suffered and confronted before.
Humankind’s vast experience with suffering is an asset to every one of us, because for every classic human problem there is a world of literature about the best ways to deal with it that other humans have found, and it’s never been easier to get access to this wisdom.