I’ve learned, over the years, to employ a technique I call “periscoping up,” or “zooming out,” in order to deal with stress. I use this technique when I feel overwhelmed by my problems or alone and consumed by negative emotion. It’s an effective way to re-evaluate my priorities and gain a more optimistic outlook on life. I’m going to tell you all how I do it, and maybe the technique will help you someday.
Start: Yourself. I’ve learned that the most effective way to deal with a bad mood is to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. This, incidentally, is also advice some therapists give to patients with anxiety disorders (especially those with phobias). Acknowledging what you’re feeling and giving the emotions their place is important because it allows you to move past them. To ignore a problem or emotion is to invalidate it, and what good is that for your belief in yourself as Lovable, Important, and Valuable? No one needs the extra strain of undermining him or herself.
Step two: Context. Where are you? I’m here, in my chair, in my house, in Norfolk, near Old Dominion’s campus. I’m in the room that adjoins Kelsie’s, and she’s watching a movie. She’s giggling quietly. We’re in a neighborhood of students mixed with families, the dog is in the backyard, and the sun is setting. It’s cooling down. I think about things around me to take the focus off my inner self, just for a moment. It’s a step toward easing the internal pressure and, eventually, toward being able to take a look back at myself from a different perspective. I also start to think about what might be going on in the daily lives of those around me. People who live and operate near you might have similar lives, in many ways, to your own. Thinking about the lives of others encourages warmth, extends empathy outward, and helps you to feel less isolated. When I’m stressed about school it helps me a lot to think about what my fellow students are facing. I know I’m not the only one studying my brains out for a test, and I know we’re all going to get to the end of the semester together (somehow).
Step three: Zoom. If you were imagining walking down your street, encountering those around you, exchanging interactions with neighbors, or walking through a familiar area (like how I visualize my campus), change your orientation. Look down from above. Pretend you’re Google Earth and press the button that zooms you out a tab or two. Now you’re looking at your city. It’s a city full of people that share your spatial demographic. You’re united by geography and you can relate to one another on a very basic level. Imagine all the people contained in your area. I usually feel better at this point, because I know there’s someone out there who has it worse than me. Not only am I not alone, but I’m actually better off than I realized originally. It also helps to remember that every emotional state is impermanent and that you control the change.
Step four: Keep going. Zoom to your county, state, time zone, country, and continent. With each zoom more and more people get incorporated into your concentration. I usually start to think of people as dots at this point. Every person is a small dot, and every dot has connections to other small dots around them. Then I imagine how limiting it would be if I were to constrain my consciousness to the circumference of my own circular dot. We’re a globe of dots. Humanity is made up of all of us, with our individual lives, and we manage, ever day, to get so bogged down in the little stuff. We’re more than just ourselves. We’re a team.
Step five: Be Carl Sagan. By the time you imagine our planet as a tiny dot in the universe, you’ve gone far enough. Time to dial it back down and let gravity keep its hold.
But, while you’re up there, looking down at the Planet full of people not so different from you, imagine how insignificant and small your problem (most likely) seems when weighed against those of the world.
All we have is each other, when it comes down to it. We spend our days confined to our bodies and our minds, relating to others from an egocentric point of view. Some philosophers think the only consciousness any of us know to be true is our own, therefore we can’t know for sure what anyone else around us is thinking or feeling (or, morbidly, if anyone around us is real or just a projection of our own consciousness). We are lots of little egocentric dots on a Planet that’s one in a trillion (or more), yet the idea of Six degrees of Separation still stands. We’re more influential than we think. If connections between people could be marked by golden arches, we’d be completely webbed together. When I feel alone, I imagine all arches that would be coming toward me if this visualization were to come true. If I feel insignificant or ineffective, I imagine all the arches that I send out to others, every day, and endeavor to make them all count.
That’s why learning something new and sharing it with others is so important. #100LearnedDays is my personal trend, but every day for our entire history people have been learning and moving each other up. It’s inspiring to me, while I struggle to sort through my emotions and strive to relate to others on a more common, respectful level, to imagine others around me doing the same. I think learning something new every day is a reasonable favor to ask of each other. So, team, let’s do it!