Have you ever felt “capsized” by an event or situation in your life? 

Using the metaphor of being the captain of your ship on the ocean of life: perhaps it feels as if you are sailing along, and a huge wave comes and overtakes you. Something unexpected and completely overwhelming occurs, for a few hours or even a few days. We don’t understand what just happened — we couldn’t anticipate it and it wasn’t supposed to happen, just like ships aren’t supposed to capsize. But it did happen. Perhaps we get upsetting news, or we have a conflict or big misunderstanding with someone, and we are completely thrown off. We are in the midst of a storm, externally, and then often internally. What do we do? 

When something completely unexpected occurs, our mind often wants to make sense of it. But that just causes more distress, because the capsizing doesn’t fit with what we know or expect to happen in life. The truth is, we don't need to understand what happens to us in order to regain our equilibrium. We just need to regain our equilibrium. What I mean is: once we realize that we are feeling “capsized” and overwhelmed, then we can address the needs of the situation in the moment in order to right ourselves again. It is not about thinking through the situation, but rather about feeling what we are feeling and attending to that, so that we can get our balance back.

Righting our ship, mentally and emotionally, is what needs to happen before anything else.  

So how? 

Here are some ideas for getting righted after a capsize. First, go back to basics. Sleep and rest, eating simple and nourishing foods, maintaining routines, and gentle body movement — all can help us feel much better. The basics of a balanced life are often overlooked, and now is the time, when are are feeling off-kilter and overwhelmed, to go back to them. 

Next, get calm and stay calm. This is so difficult, but so helpful. Our brain wants to go into “fight, flight, freeze” mode when we are thrown off so abruptly. Remaining calm helps in many ways, by not escalating the situation either in reality or in perception. We can get calm by using soothing self-talk in place of fearful or angry self-talk. Self-talk does not get nearly enough credit for how it impacts our well-being. “I can get through this,” or “This is difficult and I will be okay,” or “I can get help with this” are all phrases that can help steady our internal ship.  

Speaking of help, when we are capsized by life, it is good to ask for help, and accept it. Ask yourself, “Who can give me support right now? Who can help me gain perspective?” And then reach out to those people. More often than not, they want to help. And, help yourself by being very gentle about what you can do while you are working, mentally and emotionally, to right your ship. 

Surprising and overwhelming situations are no fun, and at the same time, they present rich opportunities to learn new skills to care for ourselves in the face of stress. Once our ships are righted again, we are stronger and wiser because of it.