Speaking Mental Health
Forward Times Mental Health Advisors
You may recall that in the early 2000s, Southwest Airlines aired several commercials to promote their cheap fares for one-way trips to certain destinations. In one commercial, an artist concludes his on-stage musical concert in front a large group of excited fans at an outdoor venue. As the music fades, the artist enthusiastically says, “Thank You, Detroit!” As the camera zooms in on the artist, one of his band members leans over and whispers, “Detroit was last night!” Without missing a beat, the camera pans and zooms in on the bewildered musician’s sweaty face and perfectly captures his “deer-in-the headlight” look. Amidst the background noise of the angry concert attendees, the narrator says, “Wanna Get Away?” While many people found this commercial to be hilarious, myself included, that commercial reminded me of both situations, and the feelings experienced during those situations, where I really wanted to just get away. If you are honest, you can think of at least a few situations where you too wanted to get away. At the core of the sensation of wanting to “disappear in the moment” is usually the idea that there is a problem that needs to be addressed that will require major effort and have an emotional toll.
Adjusting to routine changes in life is a fairly automatic process and does not usually require much thought or effort. Being met with more challenging situations, on the other hand, is much more distressing because they may require significant effort or change, without the reassurance of success. In the referenced commercial, the musician crushed the positive feelings from the screaming fans and voided what appeared to be a good response to the performance despite his good intentions by calling out the wrong city name. We can all relate; sometimes our good intentions do not land, they crash and burn. The musician’s automatic response was to the situation in the commercial was neither fight, nor fright, it was freeze. The commercial, in very relatable and comical way, highlighted the idea that we would much rather get away than to have to deal with the discomfort of staying and dealing with the uncertain outcomes of awkward or painful moments.
Though often seen as daunting, dealing with difficult situations or complex change is vital to a person’s growth, peace, mental health, and overall wellness. Interestingly, the benefits of making the tough decisions and working through the challenges that we are sometimes terrified of, often greatly outweigh the costs of not making the necessary changes. Sad is the sight to see of a person who is fully aware of a change that needs to be made but refuses to make it because of the anticipated responses from others, fear, stigma, or other negative presumptions. Some people will even sacrifice their health and happiness, and willfully stay in a hostile situation because they are afraid to follow through with making changes they have already confirmed as vital.
Retreat, release, and regroup are three simple words that reflect three simple actions steps that can be effective in dealing with complex change or uncomfortable situations. Retreating does not require one to physically abandon his or her post, rather he or she only needs to have a separation from the debilitating effects of that difficult moment; it can be effectively achieved by a physical relocation or by a positive mental distraction. Once the encapsulating bonds of the feelings connected to the situation have been loosened, the person is left with an opportunity and space to release their own emotional weight. The mind that has been decluttered and made freed and clear of mental baggage can now process more rationale responses to the situation as they become more visible. This process is what I call regrouping. Retreating, but failing to release and regroup, may provide momentary relief, however, problems left unaddressed have a way of pursing and catching up to us eventually. If you find yourself tired of trying to merely get away, trust a therapist to serve as your mental health travel agent. They can provide resources and serve as your guide to help take the angst out of traversing uncomfortable moments in life, so that you can find your place of rest and relaxation.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC