When we feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, when the world is confusing and difficult, it can seem like we’re adrift in a sea of struggle. Like we’ve lost access to our resources, optimism, or a good clear understanding of how to find our way to dry land and solid footing.
Mood-congruent memory is the ultimate kick in the teeth if you’re having a bad day: If you’re sad, you can easily remember an extensive laundry list of depressing things and struggle to access happy memories; if you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious, you can effortlessly recall the time you were underprepared for that work presentation six years ago, but all those empowered and inspired ideas you had yesterday (when you were feeling empowered and inspired) have mysteriously slipped from your conscious grasp.
Preparing for self-rescue
When we’re feeling good, the last thing we want to worry about is contingencies for bad days. After all, we feel good. Maybe we don’t even really have problems anymore. We can probably recall any number of reasons to feel good and wonder whether maybe things aren’t that bad after all (thanks, mood-congruent memory!)
This is when you need to organise self-rescue. A drowning person is not much help to another drowning person, so prepare your lifeboat and compass while you’re strong and positive.
Making a resource map
A resource map provides you with an easy reference to find your way home when seas are stormy and you’ve lost your sense of direction. It’s a simple, logical, easy-to-follow reminder system that will help you manage bad days and process difficult moods and feelings.
You can think of it as a lighthouse, guiding you home (you’d be surprised how much mileage I can get out of a single metaphor!)
It should be simple to understand and follow, requiring as little cognitive and physical effort as possible. There are no strict rules about its layout or presentation, but you can follow my formula (in the image above) if you’re not sure where to begin. You can always change it later.
Guidelines to follow
A visual layout, preferably colour-coded, with short, easy-to-remember reminders, and even pictures will be easier for you to access than a written list. Make it pleasant to look at, and friendly and inviting rather than prescriptive and ‘shouldy’.
Add anything that has proven effective for you in the past, and that you know works for you. This is a living document, and you may find that you want to add to it as new resources appear, and subtract from it as you realise some practices aren’t as helpful as they once were. If you create it on your computer, print it and put it somewhere you can see it.
Make it as easy as you can for yourself. You wouldn’t ask a drowning person to go looking for the life preserver, after all (I know, I’m sorry!)
Gestalt therapy emphasises self-awareness, self-regulation, and a focus on the here and now. Your resource map can help you recognise when you need help, regulate the overwhelming feelings, and make choices about what you can do right now to process and improve your situation. You may even find that following your resource map as a guide leads to greater self-awareness and growth, and new ways of coping with and being in the world.