How to…gain perspective

Do you ever find yourself in one of those low moments, when you feel overwhelmed and unsure of when that feeling will let up? On the cusp of graduation from a university that I love (and will be sad to leave), I found myself in this space recently. Change is hard for a lot of people, and I was not taking it in stride. It took actual bad news – the death of a beloved grandparent and the scary diagnosis of a close friend’s parent – for me to see things more clearly. In the grand scheme of things, my life was looking up. In the moment, there was real sadness, to which my initial concerns did not compare. Until I realized this, I was sorely lacking in perspective. Here are some simple steps that helped me to regain it.

1. Be grateful

What kicked off my little downturn was actually good news: I had been accepted into one of the best postgraduate programmes in my field. As soon as I heard, though, all I could think of was how expensive it was going to be. Poor me, right? But in the moment, the bottom line was all I could see; grad school seemed prohibitively expensive, and it was all I had wanted for a long time.

Soon enough, though, I got a reality check. Real challenges include death, illness, grief, heartbreak. Everything else is a privilege. Now when I start to feel overwhelmed by what is going to happen next, I try to remind myself to be grateful instead for the present. Gratitude has become something of a celebrity buzzword at the moment, but I like to think that this is less a trend and more a sign of its enduring value.

2. Recognise anxiety

I am not a particularly anxious person, but certain things send me into a tailspin. Feeling out of control is at the top of that list. Whether you are switching jobs, moving on after a break-up, or moving cities, transitional moments can shake even the most grounded of us. One thing that helps is noticing the pattern. Instead of feeling like a nervous wreck, we can instead recognize what might be triggering our anxiety (change) and try to address it in a more constructive way (see below).

3. Talk it out

When something bad happens, many people have an instinct to talk about it. I do not. Instead, I tend to sit on bad news until it seems less threatening. By this logic, bad news can be contained simply by keeping it quiet. Of course, this is not how things work. One way we can move forward is by sharing what we are feeling with others. When a friend confides in me, I always feel grateful to know what is affecting her and eager to help. Though it does not come easily to me, I understand that I need to give my friends the same chance.

4. Make a game plan

Even when we finally do gain perspective, our problems do not just disappear. My master’s degree still needs financing and my housing application still needs attention. So I did what my mom always tells me to do: Plan your work. Work your plan. If you also have a type-A personality, having a roadmap to follow can be a huge source of relief. But even if you are not super rigid by nature taking the time to consider what needs to be done and how to accomplish it can be both cathartic and hugely productive.

5. Think of others

One thing that adds to our stress is the constant stream of bad news, of global tragedies, of eco disasters, of mass deaths. Being constantly tuned in to this stream is both overwhelming and desensitizing. Instead of getting caught up in our own lives, we can always take a moment to consider those who are truly struggling. And we can also regain a sense of agency in our lives by making an effort to help. Donate £5 to a refugee relief fund. Buy lunch for the homeless person you pass every day. Adopt a shelter dog. You will not regret it.

We all lose our perspective sometimes. The important thing is that we always try to find it again.


Author: Emma Freer

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