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(15) Staying Afloat When Times Are Tough

Staying calm in the midst of turmoil is one of the biggest challenges one can face as a highly sensitive person. Our finely tuned nervous systems have a low threshold for panic, and once we hit the “big waves,” it can be difficult to keep ourselves from being pulled under. The key is to make sure that you never get to that point, which is why it is so important to have a strategy to cope with difficult times. As my wife and I faced challenge after challenge during our move halfway across the country, my ability to “stay afloat” would be put to the test again and again!

After a terrible experience with a moving company that showed up with an undersized truck, my wife and I needed to find a way to get ourselves, our two cats, and the rest of our belongings from New Jersey to Missouri.

Our original plan was to rent a small minivan to transport us and the cats. Since it would be a long drive, we wanted a vehicle with enough room for us, a few of our personal items, and large enough to fit comfortable cages for the cats. However, after the moving fiasco, we now had to also deal with what the movers left behind. A change of plans was required…a minivan definitely wouldn’t be big enough! It wasn’t an easy task to get a larger vehicle on such short notice, but fortunately I was able to get a new cargo truck.

I was a bit nervous about packing everything into the truck and making sure that nothing got broken along the way, but it seemed that throughout this process, something miraculously appeared when we needed it. A man who was an expert packer offered to help us load the truck. When you’re on the right path, these things happen.

Even before the change of plans, my anxiety level was very high. The drive from New Jersey to the St. Louis area would be 950 miles, and I was extremely worried how our cats would handle such a long trip. I also dreaded the thought of all of that driving. After transporting my wife and the cats, I would then have to drive back to New Jersey to return the truck and retrieve my car.

And beyond all of that, the next challenge would be moving in with our daughter, who lived in a one-bedroom apartment! I couldn’t imagine how three adults and two cats would fit into such a small place! We would then have to find a house to buy. Since our last deal fell through due to home inspection issues, we wanted to take our time and find the right house for us.

As I got ready to make the trip, my stress levels escalated even more, and I was getting to the point of complete overwhelm! I kept thinking about everything that could go wrong. The cats would cry the entire 950 miles! The drive would be too much! We wouldn’t find a house and be stuck in that tiny apartment forever! I was also still very angry at the movers. I felt like they really left us in the lurch. They should be figuring out how to move our stuff…not me! Finally, at some point, I realized that if I wanted to emotionally survive this, I would HAVE to change my inner dialogue. I know from experience that the more I focus on negative thoughts, the more power I give them.

As busy as I was, I took a time-out and did some breathing exercises. It was important to find a way to relax myself. As I calmed down a bit, I realized that I needed to “accept” the situation, even though I disliked just about everything about it. Accepting reality is the first step toward taking productive action. Complaining, worrying, and throwing a pity party would solve nothing and only rob me of mental strength. It was time to focus on things that were within my control and to hone my attention on the next logical steps.

I also made a conscious decision to NOT allow myself to think too far into the future. For now, I would focus exclusively on the next milestone, which was getting us, the cats, and our stuff, to Missouri safely. I would NOT think about anything after that, such as finding a house or dealing with a cramped apartment. When you’re really stressed out, I have found it very helpful to focus on the next step or even on just the next small action.

As it turned out, we made it to Missouri with little fanfare. All of the things I had worried about never came to fruition. The drive was long, but we made good time and completed the journey in 1.5 days. We were able to fit everything into the truck, and nothing got broken. The cats weren’t thrilled, but they managed better than expected and slept most of the time. The following day, I put the truckload of our belongings into storage.

The next day, I drove back to New Jersey and returned the cargo truck. I retrieved my car from our neighbor’s house and picked up some items that were stored in their garage. I then headed back to St. Louis. It was stressful to do this much driving in such a short period of time, but I made sure to take breaks along the way. When I finally made it to Missouri, I had to unload my car and put it into the same storage facility where we had our other belongings. I was completely exhausted but happy to have everything done!

Even though I knew we had a long way to go to reach our ultimate goal, I took time to celebrate this major milestone. Selling and moving out of our house in New Jersey had once seemed like an impossible task, but when you have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish, you do whatever is necessary. I was amazed at what we had achieved!

How do you stay strong when times are tough? When I feel overwhelmed, my coping strategies include: (1) breathing my way to “calm,” (2) accepting reality, (3) concentrating on things I can control, (4) changing my inner dialogue, and (5) focusing exclusively on the next step. What about you? What are your coping strategies? I’m interested in any thoughts or comments that you have.

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The next post, (16) The Red Flags Come Home to Roost, is about managing crisis and learning from “worst case scenario” situations.

About Cliff’s Big Move Series: In this series of blog posts, I chronicle a really “Big Move” that my wife and I made to move halfway across the country to be closer to our daughter. This was a HUGE change for us, as we had lived in our home in New Jersey for over 30 years! My mother had recently passed away, and our only daughter had moved to Missouri. It is my hope that this series will motivate you, as a highly sensitive person, to take on something that’s truly important to you. I tell the story sequentially in 23 posts, with each one numbered. It’s best to start at the beginning. You can access all the posts by clicking on the Cliff’s Big Move category in the sidebar.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Sarah

    Wow, that’s a lot to deal with! I get stressed out over just a 5 hour trip to visit some of our family. (With my back issues, it’s hard for me to sit that long.) It seems like the movers should have taken more responsibility for their mistake. But at least you’re lucky about the cats. Our cat probably would have cried all 950 miles! I’ve had anxiety all of my life. Focusing on my breathing to calm myself down is my go-to technique. I also practice yoga and meditation. Someone recently suggested EFT tapping for anxiety…so that is on my list to check out. I like the new automated voice feature. I don’t have a vision problem and will most likely read the post…but I could see putting the audio on if I am doing something mundane, like folding clothes. While you can tell the voice is computer generated, it sounds more natural than others I’ve heard.

  2. Cliff Harwin

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for your comments!

    It was an extremely stressful time for all of us! I still don’t know how we got though it.

    In my next post about our move, you’ll see the other stress we had with our movers in Missouri. Stay tuned!

  3. Phyll

    At least you had (have) each other. I have to navigate in the world all by myself—HSP and all! It’s really tough.
    Misery loves company. Takes two to tango (or make a move or do anything stressful/sharing helps!)
    Moral of the story: one is the loneliest number.

    1. Cliff Harwin

      Hi Phyll,

      It’s really helpful to have my wife help me navigate the world.
      I hope that you’ll seek meaningful friendships/relationships that will make your life journey easier and happier. You deserve this!

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