The Scene: The author Elizabeth Gilbert is sobbing on her bathroom floor "for something like the forty-seventh consecutive night." She'd finally arrived at the place in life she'd thought she wanted--the house, the apartment, and the husband, with an eye toward kids--only to find she didn't want that life at all.
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The Reality: Okay, maybe we haven't cried 47 nights in a row, but who hasn't had a late-night meltdown--or hyperventilated in the office bathroom--over the life we're actually living? We're obsessed about whether we've chosen the right career, the right job, or the right relationship. We have babies, then leave them with strangers. We set aside friends, family and events for long hours at the office and agonize over whether it's worth it. After the freak out, what's next?
Ask some obvious questions. You may receive unexpected answers. Despite the fact that she was a successful writer who often examined herself in her work, it took Liz a few years after lying on that bathroom floor, years in which she left a marriage, started and ended another romance, and got really depressed, before she could ask herself a simple--and what she called radical--question: "What do you want to do, Liz?" Even if we aren't getting divorced and traveling to Italy, India and Indonesia, 9 million of us have bought Eat, Pray, Love because we can relate to needing a little inspiration to get unstuck.
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Career counselor Barbara Babkirk of Portland, Maine, (barbarababkirk.com) works with people who are ready for change. They seek inspiration, but first they need to know how to get through the freak outs:
"When you're having a meltdown or feel stuck about what to do next, you need a doorway," says Babkirk. "Sometimes it's a way out, but ultimately--like Elizabeth Gilbert learned--it's a way in." Here are a few handy tools to help you get through:
1. Take three breaths in and out. Repeat. If something doesn't feel right, fear is a common response. "When people start to imagine transitions, they often conjure up worst case scenarios," says Babkirk. I'll ruin my career! I'll never get love right! Breathing can help. Research shows it calms the nervous system, increases energy, eases strain on the heart, and may even reduce stress-induced wrinkles. "Breathing helps you become aware of your needs and feelings and how to manage them," says Babkirk.
2. Move your body. "When you're in a stressful situation your mind can take over and make things worse," says Babkirk. That's when it's time to move. Take a few minutes to stretch or walk, she says. "If the kids are driving you crazy, dance with them. If you anticipate something stressful tomorrow, take a yoga class tonight. Movement calms the mind. It can shift your perspective."
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3. Change your routine. Ready to shake things up a little, or a lot? Take different routes home. Watch the sunset instead of TV reruns. "When you shift the familiar, you rely on different senses," says Babkirk. "You're not on automatic pilot anymore, so you tap other resources in yourself. The results might not be evident immediately, but changing your routine starts an unfolding process that allows you to look at life in a new way."
Our Mantra: Stop, drop and roll--but not in the same old way. Stop: breathe and have courage to acknowledge what's not working. Drop: get out of your head and into your body and you'll see things in new ways. Roll: change things up and see what you notice, what new patterns start to emerge. As Babkirk says,
"Once you've stopped and dropped you've already changed the status quo. Keep rolling and give yourself an opportunity to try a new way of being. That can change everything."
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Photo Credit: IMDb.com