How do I develop tools within my control to self-actualise and meet my full potential?

I'm at an inflection point where I'm dissatisfied and regret some of my own behaviours of the past with respect to my career and relationships. Many factors have been circumstantial and not within my control, but I also believe shame, guilt, fear, inertia and a lack of confidence or ability to give something my 100% are at play. The root cause of these emotions are likely linked to childhood and social conditioning but I struggle with bouts of high and low motivation and wonder if there's a need to talk through and understand my patterns better so I can move past them and cultivate a winning attitude.
Asked by Dua

Thank you for reaching out and being brave. Based on what you are sharing, you may be experiencing some symptoms of depression. But you will need to address it with a mental health professional. You can obtain one through Betterhelp. You can use code: sharethecare for 1 free month. 

Life is full of ups and downs. There are moments where it feels like a rollercoaster. Emotions fluctuate throughout the day; this is normal and expected. For example, you wake up at 6 am and you FEEL tired. You pet your dog, and you FEEL joy. You get hungry and you FEEL grouchy. You go to work, and you FEEL excited. Your manager gives you a warning and you FEEL upset. You get home and FEEL tired. It is a myth to FEEL happy ALL day. This is not realistic. A lot of things happen in one day. The problem is, the false expectation of "being positive, think positive, just be happy" mindset that we are pressured to have. This only opens the door to, "If I am not positive, then I am negative." 

We need to consider the in between. What perpetuates negative thinking is the constant thoughts of worst case scenarios. But we should also consider best case scenarios. The other scenario that we often bypass is the "okay" case scenario. 

Example: You are in law school and have a test coming up. You have had difficulty focusing and feeling anxious about the test. You feel a lot of pressure from your parents, and you are worried that you will never be a lawyer. 

Worst case scenario: You fail the test, your grade lowers. You may have to retake the class.

Best case scenario: You pass the test. 

Okay case scenario: You pass with a C, but you have chance to raise your grade by doing well on other tests and homework assignments. 

Example 2

You and your partner are not speaking to each other because of an argument you had earlier in the day. You worry that they will stop caring about you and will realize that they are better off with someone else. 

Worst case scenario: You guys break up. 

Best case scenario: You guys make up and proceed as if nothing happened.

Okay case scenario: You guys break up and you are able to cope with it. 

You guys make up, but you guys need to improve your communication skills to maintain the relationship. 

Other approaches that can perpetuate these negative feelings and continue the rollercoaster cycle, are untreated mental health symptoms and suppressed stress.

Below is a list of coping skills that can help manage symptoms and stress: 


Emotion-Focused Coping Skills

Sometimes we are not able to resolve the problems that are causing our negative stresses.

In such situations, we would employ emotion-focused coping strategies that help us to navigate and process the emotions coming from that source of stress.

The idea is to reduce the emotional impact of negative emotions and stress.

Examples include working a difficult job that you don't want to leave, a loved one falling ill with a chronic sickness, or facing legal troubles.

None of these particular things have an easy or simple resolution.

Why not just quit the job? Well, some careers come with stress, but they are fulfilling and what a person wants to do.

Social work is a good example, as it is a stressful field that generally provides a lot of meaning to the people who work within it.

What kind of techniques work with emotion-focused coping?

1. Distraction.

Negative thoughts and emotions tend to spiral and get worse the more we ruminate on them.

Distracting oneself is a viable way to combat these negative emotions.

Force the thoughts from your active thought processes by engaging in other mentally stimulating activities.

Logic puzzles, sudoku, crossword puzzles, or jigsaw puzzles can be an excellent tool.

2. Emotional expression.

The act of channeling one's emotions into art is a practice as old as humanity itself.

Turning the negative energy into something positive by creating is a tangible way to vent out difficult emotions and process them.

You don't necessarily need to be good at the thing you're doing for this to have a great benefit.

Draw, paint, sing, dance…do whatever will help get that emotion moving out of you.

3. Meditation.

Meditation provides a number of mental and physical health benefits.

By taking the time to still the mind and empty oneself of thought, you give yourself an opportunity to put a pause on everything going on in your life and mind.

It helps to draw you into the present moment where there might not be a necessity of dwelling on or dealing with those negative thoughts and emotions.

4. Prayer.

Spiritual and religious practices can be an excellent way to unload negative emotional energy if you happen to be of a spiritual inclination.

Prayer is similar to meditation; in that it is an opportunity to rest in the present in a moment of peace and quiet.

Many people use spirituality as a means of coping with the stresses of life.

5. Medication.

Medication is technically an emotional coping mechanism because it is used to curb the emotions associated with a negative experience.

A person who is experiencing overwhelming anxiety may need medication to keep their mind on track, because it is causing too much of a reaction to negative emotions.

Medication is a healthy coping mechanism so long as it is used as directed and not abused.

6. Reframing.

A problem is no longer a problem if you choose not to view it as one.

It is much easier to keep a positive attitude about life when you decide that the negative experiences you meet are just challenges to help you grow and develop as a person.

Yes, that's not possible with every negative experience you'll have in life, but it is a powerful tool you can apply to many life challenges.

7. Exercise.

Though it is physical activity, exercise helps us deal with our emotions by giving us a place to channel them.

Anger and frustration can be easily channeled into physical activities like weightlifting or running.

And one can use lighter exercises to help work their way through sadness and pain.

Physical exercise is also a great tool for combating depression.

8. Positive Thinking.

Positive thinking can sometimes evoke an eye-rolling effect for people who have been stuck in the negative for a long time.

But the more a person can find a way to find the silver linings in the difficulties of life, the easier those difficulties become to manage.

If you're wary of the whole idea of a positive mental attitude or think it's superficial, just focus on trying to not interpret every bad situation as negative.

You don't have to be fake positive, just try too not be negative.

9. Journaling.

Journaling deserves its own mention because it is a specific type of writing meant to help process one's emotions, achieve goals, and process thoughts.

It is a deliberate action where a person purposefully writes about their challenges with the express purpose of processing and finding a solution to them.

Journaling is a fantastic tool for self-improvement and stress management that can be employed by anyone.

10. Disengagement.

Sometimes a situation is past the point of no return.

Sometimes there is no positive or necessary outcome to be had from a situation.

Sometimes disengagement and removing oneself from a negative situation is the only way to deal with it.

Disengagement becomes a problem when it's the primary means of coping and becomes avoidance.

But there are some situations where disengagement is the only option.

Problem-Focused Coping Skills

Instead of managing negative emotions by addressing the emotions, sometimes it is a better idea to use problem-focused coping mechanisms.

A problem-focused coping strategy requires you to identify what the problem is and take direct steps to curb, change, or rectify it.

Though this may seem simple at first glance, the actual source of the problem may be deep beneath the surface.

Let's say your job is stressing out. Well, why is it stressing you out? Is it the work? The workload? The commute? Your coworkers? Your boss?

Any one of these things could be the problem. The actual problem and source of the stress will determine what solution you need to use to fix it.

Maybe you love your career but just don't like working for your boss, so you can opt to look for other job opportunities in the field.

Problem-focused coping skills are generally better than emotional-focused skills because they focus on dealing with or removing the source of stress.

That's not always a possibility. You can't take a chronic illness away from someone.

And some people do not have the personality to take on difficult people in their lives in a head-to-head way.

What is some problem-focused coping techniques?

1. Disengagement.

Disengagement can be a problem-focused coping technique when it is used to remove oneself from a stressful situation for good.

Perhaps it is time to let a relationship end, quit that job, make that move, or do whatever it is required to eliminate a source of stress from your life that isn't going to get better or change.

2. Time Management.

Many people are stressed out because they can't seem to find enough hours in the day.

Time management is an excellent solution for those that feel like they don't have enough time to get everything done that needs to be.

It's also worth noting that sometimes it's not a lack of time management, but rather the person taking on more than they can reasonably handle. They may need to drop some activities.

3. Request Help.

A request for help can significantly lessen stress in just about any area of life.

Too much to do at work. You might need to bring it up with the boss so you can receive help.

Too many chores to do at home. Might be time to ask for more help from whoever else you're living with.

The stress might be coming from somewhere bigger than that, requiring professional intervention.

4. Medical Management.

Illness and health are common contributors to stress.

Medical management by an accredited professional may be necessary to address physical health concerns, like with diet, exercise, or chronic illness management.

Getting those problems under control can significantly reduce stress and help you be a happier person.

5. Problem Solving.

The best way to counter stress about getting things done is simply to do the things.

Identify the problem and take action to correct it.

The quicker you go about doing that, the less stress you will experience because of the thing.

6. Psychotherapy.

Therapy is an excellent tool for stress management and problem solving.

It has the added bonus of being an actual safe space to vent one's innermost thoughts.

Having and confiding in friends is all well and good, but they are not always a good source of information and may not be able to help you.

Mental health problems should be addressed with a therapist.

7. Coaching and Consulting.

Coaching and consulting are a field that sits in kind of a gray area.

There are no real mandatory legal requirements or certifications to call oneself a coach or consultant.

But there are several avenues of life where a "professional" isn't necessarily the right choice.

A person can learn a whole lot from actually doing and experiencing things. And if those problems happen to be something that is outside of the scope of an accredited professional, a coach or consultant with experience with that problem may be a good solution.

8. Break Problems Down.

Problems become more stressful when they feel overwhelming.

Breaking those problems down into smaller, more manageable chunks is an effective way to cull the stress down to a more manageable level.

Take the example of finding a job. Finding a job is rough and tedious even in the best of times, but it helps to break that down to a more manageable level of just submitting five applications a day until you find something.

9. Taking Control.

A person's stress level can climb dramatically when they feel like they are not in control of themselves or their situation.

Instead of sitting in that anxious space, it can be a good idea to take control of the situation and start working your way toward a solution.

Granted, not everyone has the personality or demeanor for doing this, particularly in a group setting.

But if you are getting stressed out from the aimless nature of a project, it might be time to offer to lead the way through it.

10. Acceptance.

Acceptance is a powerful coping tool because it puts you at ease with whatever situation you're in.

If you can't change it, there's no real point in stressing out over it. It is what it is.

To practice this, one must be adept at identifying what is within their control and what is not.

Any situation that you are not in control of or cannot gain control of doesn't necessarily need to be worried about.

It's true that you might need to deal with whatever the situation is, but after some time and practice you can choose how to feel about it.

Avoiding Negative Coping Mechanisms

Negative coping mechanisms can trap a person in a destructive, emotional spiral.

There are obvious negative coping strategies such as promiscuity, substance abuse, emotional eating, escapism, and self-harm; and then there are not so obvious ones.

Most of the emotion-focused coping mechanisms can devolve into negativity if they are a constant escape hatch for a situation that needs to change.

Avoidance is an easy negative coping mechanism to slip into. The problem might be ugly, painful, and difficult to deal with, but it's going to need to be dealt with one way or another.

A person may be fearful of confronting the issue or not want to accept the truth of the situation. Instead, they choose to avoid making a decision about the thing.

They might do so by binge-watching television, sleeping, or focusing on fixing the problems of other people.

Fixable issues need to be confronted and fixed. Issues that can't be fixed need to be acknowledged and managed.

One must take some time to really analyze the situation and make sure they are following the right path for coping with or changing their situation.

I wish you joy on your journey to wellness. :)