Counseling Keys

How counseling and its mental health focus aids in faster healing, recovery, adaptation, and overall satisfaction in career, family, and other relationships in one’s life.

8 Pearls of Wisdom for Maintaining Sanity and Peace of Mind

Computers are getting smaller while human stress get bigger. 8 pearls for help.

Have you ever found something you wrote long ago and, as you read it, its wisdom seemed to ring truer today than it did back then? Well, that's what happened to me today. I found topic highlights from a workshop I used to conduct. It seems the more I learn, the more I tend to complicate things. I need grounding when that happens and finding my old workshop materials helped.

These salient reminders are simple and probably why they are consistent among many cultures and ancient texts. The wording changes yet the wisdom remains the same. If you’re feeling a little frazzled about anything (money, time, relationships, technology, aging, etc.), may these simple pearls of wisdom remind you of what you already know and needed to remember to reduce stress and reclaim peace of mind…just like they did for me today. Best of care and more to everyone on the path! 

1. Breathe–It sounds simple, but a lot of us forget to do that. Literally. The stress makes us take fast breaths and we don’t get enough oxygen. Sometimes, we even get little dizzy spells or headaches from it. So, breath, take a couple of deep breaths. It grounds you and gives your body rich oxygen to help you actually manage the situation better.

2. Look Within–Don’t be afraid to look within and understand what you are feeling. Sometimes we get so wrapped up into all of the responsibilities that we go into autopilot and just respond. Then time goes on and we forget to feel, or think it’s a selfish luxury. But, it’s not. Feelings move. They don’t go away just because you don’t acknowledge it. Unaddressed feelings can manifest themselves in a number of ways such as, in physical ailments (headaches, stomach aches, back aches, sinus problems, etc.), or through damaging habits (drinking, substance abuse, shopping, eating disorders). It’s when we turn away from our feelings–from ourselves–that problems arise. Then we’re no good to anyone. So, just take it simple and acknowledge what you’re feeling. Honor your feelings. That’s why sharing troubling things in a group or with a counselor is so helpful. Journals and tape recorders can also be a nice way of expressing your feelings.

3. Remove the Judgment–This is probably one of the hardest things to do because we’re so conditioned to it. We judge. We judge each other and we judge ourselves. In fact, we’re probably the worst on ourselves. Think about it. What do you tell yourself all day long? What does that inner critic say when you’re running late or when your project failed? How about when you look at yourself in the mirror? Remember how feelings move? Well, our inner critic creates a lot of feelings–fear, self-doubt, shame, embarrassment, sadness, loneliness, and so on. Quiet the inner critic and you’ll save yourself a lot of pain.

4. Permit the Joy–Some people feel they deserve pain. Or that pain somehow makes them a better person, or will serve to get them rescued. It goes back to a lot of the stories we heard growing up (like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, even Rocky, Superman, and stories of capitalist heroes that pulled themselves up by their bootstraps). These stories help frame the way we look at suffering in our lives. Sometimes we become attached to the suffering, never realizing that we’ve denied ourselves the chance to experience joy. But, by doing that, we numb ourselves to the rest of life in the process–and, in an ironic twist, many of those aforementioned stories were about people living life to the fullest, not people living numbed lives. So, it doesn’t mean you’re a self-centered hedonist if you experience real joy. It’s okay. Life is full of experiences with ups and downs. Just don’t be afraid to experience the ups. You do deserve it. Honor yourself.

5. Honor Others–By honoring yourself, you can honor others–because, how you treat yourself often reflects how you treat others. For instance, you’ll be more comfortable with other people’s feelings when you’re comfortable with your own feelings. Perhaps the biggest way you can honor someone else is to be comfortable with their feelings–and not by not mistaking your feelings for theirs, or their feelings for your feelings. The biggest problems come up when people incorrectly assume what someone else meant by an action, word or expression. The receiver of the message may be hurt, so they’ll interpret the message as hurtful. Or the messenger may be angry at their self and will take the anger out onto the receiver. It’s a lifelong process, but try to clearly differentiate your feelings from someone else’s feelings so that you can honor them and their feelings.

6. Self-Soothe–If you’ve lived a little, you’ve probably been hurt. We all have. As a consequence, we’ve developed scars, fears and triggers to protect ourselves from pain. Sometimes, these triggers can create irrational reactions. For instance, a trigger can get pulled and bring up feelings of panic when someone says the exact same phrase used by an assailant just before they wounded you. A person, even a smell, can also remind you of a happy time. Triggers are normal but become a problem when they interfere with our relationships by making us react to a previous event rather than the separate event that is happening in the moment (“overreacting”). Then we set ourselves up for feeling judged and may respond defensively if our feelings aren’t honored. So, the key in these sensitive situations is to self-soothe. Understand your feelings and triggers and calm yourself down. Recognize that two events are simultaneously occurring for you, emotionally. Take a deep breath and share it with the other person if you feel safe. Otherwise, take a deep breath, reassure yourself that the events are separate, and refocus on the moment. Then you can listen and respond with more neutrality.

7. Use Focused Listening–Real listening is a lost art and probably explains why so many people feel hurt and defensive. People just don’t feel understood, so even simple communication becomes a battle. We are all guilty of interrupting, assuming what someone really means, or zoning out altogether when someone else is speaking. The key is to make a connection with someone and really focus on what the other person is saying. Notice their facial expressions and listen for their feelings. You’re less apt to interrupt or think about your own response when you’re completely focused on what they’re saying and how they’re feeling.

8. Understand Time Zones–It is so easy to forget where people are and what they are doing. An unreturned phone call feels like a slight. Conversely, too many calls from someone can get annoying. The reality is that we are all in separate time zones, complete with different deadlines, projects, responsibilities, demands–and energy levels to deal with it. Know that some people are busier than others and will get back to you when their time allows. Think about it–have you ever had a lot of time on your hands where you felt bored and decided to reach out and call a lot of people? Did you a little feel hurt when they weren’t available? How about when you were so busy that you couldn’t even find time to return a loved one’s call for two weeks? Try to be a little more understanding about people’s differing time zones. One person may be incredibly busy and really isn’t avoiding you while another may reach out more frequently because they feel lonely or bored.


Kimberly Key is past division president of the American Counseling Association and author of Ten Keys to Staying Empowered in a Power Struggle.


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