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The rainbow at the end of the drive

Posted 11/30/2012   Updated 12/5/2012 Email story   Print story

    


Commentary by Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Warren
Airmen Resilience Center master resilience trainer


11/30/2012 - JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash -- I had a lot to do and no time to do it! It was just one of those days. I had a million things going on, but nothing seemed to be getting done.

On top of the pile of projects I already had going, I was tasked with a big responsibility that I wasn't sure I had time for. I was behind on my college course work and was going to be up late again, finishing it. My dog was at the vet and I had to pick her up before they closed. As I left work late, I realized I needed gas to get home. Running very late now, after waiting in the gas station line for far too long, my kids' school called about a student/teacher conference I had forgotten all about. Nothing was going my way. My husband had just informed via text that he wasn't going to make it home in time to help with dinner and homework before the kids had to be at their extra-curricular activities. I still had to stop at the store because it was my week to provide snacks for the Girl Scouts and yes, it was raining.

I was already in a hurry, stressed and ready to scream. But the cherry on top of my bad-day pie was the guy who pulled out in front of me on the one-lane road home. Not only did he cut me off, which made my life flash before my eyes, but the guy decided to go exactly seven miles per hour under the speed limit! Could this day get any worse? I was stressed and overwhelmed.

I couldn't stop thinking about everything I had to do and how little time I had to do it all. "I'm too busy! I'm too far behind! I can't possibly make this all happen and make everyone happy! Why won't this guy get out of my way?"

The thoughts were circling around in my head, repeating themselves and making me angrier with myself and with the slow-poke driving in front of me. I was going over all the things I had to do, beating myself up about all the things I "could have" and "should have" done, and cursing at the slow driver in front of me.

Feeling very defeated and grouchy, I continued my agonizingly slow drive and my repetitive thought process, not realizing how tense I was, until, at long last, I came around the final corner before getting to my neighborhood. I was almost home.

Most of my drive home is through trees with no view of the sky - just the sight of falling rain and the bumper of the slow car in front of me. But as I rounded that last corner, I was still thinking (for the 3,248th time) how I'll never get everything done, how I don't have time, how I'm going to disappoint everyone. The trees cleared, the rain stopped and there, as big as you please, as bright as I've ever seen, was a full and amazing rainbow staring me right in my grouchy face and I felt like I had been slapped upside the head, in a good way.

I smiled.

In the midst of a whirlwind of negative thoughts, when I felt defeated and stressed and fed up, I smiled.

At that moment, things didn't seem quite so bad. Yeah, I still had a bunch of stuff to do. Sure, I was going to be busy. But stressing out about it wasn't going to get it all done and it sure wasn't doing anything to improve my mood.

Yes, I was still late and tired and overwhelmed, but that rainbow made it all seem okay for just long enough to get a grip on things. That rainbow was exactly the slap I needed (what we all need sometimes) to get me out of my catastrophic thinking trap.

Pay attention to your thoughts!

When things seem just too hard, too heavy, too burdensome, too catastrophic to handle, when your thoughts are spiraling downward and it seems there's no way back up, when your thoughts are erratic and non-productive, when you're too stressed to think clearly, when you're down, overwhelmed, underappreciated or otherwise poopy, what you need is a positive slap upside the head!

We all need it sometimes. For me, it was an actual rainbow, but for you, it could be some kind words from a friend, a favorite song, a hug, something funny, some time alone, or something going well just when you need it to. It may not come to you; you may have to seek it out. But when you know your thoughts are going nowhere but down, be on the lookout for that rainbow at the end of the drive!



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