The challenges of life are like navigating a river

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Stea and Linda Ringleka
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Wellness Team
Life, and the challenges it tosses our way, is like navigating a river. Sometimes it is calm and smooth sailing, and at other times it's like being in the middle of white water.

How we approach these situations can predict the outcome that is experienced. At all times we have control of our thoughts, feelings and actions. Choices determine the outcome we create and ultimately the course of our lives.

Self-control is an important part of everyday life. Like a river with many tributaries, there are many factors that play a role in self-control. The capacity to control our impulses has wide implications. For example, some individuals are tempted to turn to alcohol or drugs when navigating their troubled waters. That's when these individuals begin to lose their sense of control as troubled waters reduce their ability to maintain stability in their lives.

Lack of self-control or poor impulse control has two major features. These include fast, unplanned reactions to situations, coupled with lack of concern over the consequences of these reactions. There are many streams of troubled waters that contribute to a flood that may ultimately consume individuals. Lack of sleep and accompanying fatigue are fairly common tributaries.

Often, these troubled times are accompanied by life stressors such as relationship, financial or legal problems. The common saying, "When it rains it pours," holds true, for stress in and of itself can cascade into other problems that lead to the eventual loss of self-control.

These behaviors include depression, anxiety, and alcohol and drug use. All these may feed a seemingly overwhelming flood of life stressors and emotional distress with undesirable consequences.

The consequences of poor impulse control are many. Inability to control anger and impulses can lead to additional problems with family and work, contributing to even more stress and further deepening the troubled waters. An example would be an incident of road-rage, where after a night of heavy drinking, someone ignores his or her own warning signs, gets behind the wheel and crashes. Now that person faces potential personal medical consequences as well as legal, financial and criminal charges.

Considering the potential consequences of impulsive actions, taking control of these impulses can prevent potentially disastrous outcomes. Before navigating down the path of troubled waters, people can remind themselves of the potential dangers of continuing on that course. Building strategies to develop good self-control entails self-maturity coupled with support from family, including our military family.

Getting to know ourselves better may entail seeking assistance from helping professionals. Recognize that at the time when people are most distressed, there is a tendency to engage in unhealthy choices such as social isolation, poor sleeping and eating, and turning to drugs and alcohol. Seeking help from our families, peers and leaders is an important step in being directed toward helpful resources that can steer them away from these dangerous waters.

Substituting healthy behaviors for less desirable ones is a vital strategy to enhance self-control. An example is choosing to go to the movies with friends instead of going to a bar and drinking during a period of distress. Another example would be to go for a walk, run or workout session. Spending quality time with family is another positive choice.

In conclusion, seeking calm waters enhances our capacity to control our actions, which in turn enhances our ability to maintain stability. Reflections in the water around us, and how we see ourselves, are a constant reminder of where we are in our lives. The cumulative effects of making healthy choices will ensure that our time will be reflected in serene waters where calm and smooth sailing will enhance self-satisfaction and contentment in our personal and professional lives.