There Are Times When Life Is Overwhelming.
It's A Big Chaotic World.
Things may feel beyond your control in your work environment, or loss of work. In your family. In your relationships. In your finances. Or the constant hammering of a 24-hour negative news cycle: violence, politics, the coming global climate crisis. On and on, forever. Sometimes it feels like it is all crashing down at the same time. Let's face it, it can be a little overwhelming, right?
Maybe you get it is all a bit too big and there's only so much you can actually do about the melting polar icecaps, the antics in Washington, the last major natural or humanitarian crisis, or mass shooting. We get that. We can usually talk ourselves through negotiating our circle of influence and impact. We do what we can. We can at least stand as witness, vent on Facebook, write the checks, eat less meat, vote the vote, maybe even hit the streets. Alone we're not going to be able to make much happen, but maybe collectively we can play a role in shifting the thing over time. Doing our part. So we pick a thing, even a small thing, and we do our part. Or at least we feed it our worry and concern.
After all, for a lot of us, worry is our love language. So we love on the world and we love on the people we love, as best as we can.
But What If The Thing That Is Burning Down Is Your Family? Your Loved Ones? Your Life?
We Are Not Always Going To Be Able To
Make It Right.
And Suddenly, We're Drowning.
I'm Going To Talk About Self-Care And Self-Compassion And You're Going To Want To Punch Me In The F'ing Face.
The Glib Rose-Colored Positivity Of The Self-Help Industry Is Not What I Am Talking About Right Now. Not Even Close.
Most of what is going to help is all about inside work, not outside actions. And by help I don't mean find solutions. There may be no real solutions if what we mean by that is "make it all stop and disappear." I am strictly speaking about seeing ourselves through the storm that is today and finding a safer mooring within ourselves in the process. The world, your life, the lives of your loved ones may continue to lurch forward with their painful, limping gait. You may not be able to make an escape, but you can find a way to see yourself through.
Here Are A Few Of The Things I do When The Shit Hits The Fan And Life Becomes Very Hard.
Your Mileage May Vary.
Life keeps offering. I remind myself of this: Life keeps offering and I have choices. I have choices where it can seem I have none. When things seem to be completely outside my control or ability to manage or fix, I can still bring my option of choice online. I can choose to choose when it appears I have no real choices at all.
I can choose to feel it all. I can choose to feel it all in all it's shittyness. I can decide to be present for all those strong feelings. Strong feelings don't exist solely to be extinguished, although our culture and even our therapeutic communities can become confused on this point. Strong feelings are part of the natural way of things. If we allow them to surface at all, strong emotions can become as our teachers. They deepen us as people. They expand our capacity. They teach us empathy and compassion.
So, there are times I choose to sit with the pain of it and just be with the experience. Acknowledge the experience for what it is. I am having a difficult, painful moment, and it makes sense I will have strong, sometimes painful feelings in response. That's healthy. That's allowing my process and allowing it to move through my emotional self and my body. It's the opposite of getting stuck in the mud. It's honoring and acknowledging the moment and the depth of my feeling response. It takes some resiliency, so if I'm short on that today, I'm not going to hang in for long. But I am going to say, 'Hello. I see you. You're having a hard time of it. That makes perfect sense to me. Hang in there, Baby. This is just a moment in time."
I can choose to take a break from my feelings. I can choose to use my tools, distraction, and activities to move away from the fire for a moment and take a deep breath. I can choose to distract myself through work, tasks, entertainment, walks, and even focusing on others. Our culture is particularly good at practicing distraction, but that doesn't mean it is without value in the realm of healthy responses and self-care.
I can choose to focus on lifting my own boat. I can create the rising tide that lifts my boat. I can choose activities designed to nourish myself. This can be particularly hard for those of us on the anxious and care-giving side of living. Often we are last on our list and it can feel both unnatural and wrong to focus on our needs when the needs of those around us seem so great. In fact, this is a huge hang-up for Anxious Folks. We tell ourselves we can focus on our own well-being when we are done "helping" others. The problem is, we are never done.
For me, lifting my boat can show up in myriad was. I may focus energy on reinvigorating the entryway to my home so it lifts my mood and speaks of beauty as I enter my space. I can focus on beautifying or decluttering my home and work environment. On creating beautiful meals, even if I am eating alone. I can treat myself as someone with value and be my own host. It can be as simple as catching up on dishes and laundry. Re-enliven a flagging meditation or prayer practice. Read an enjoyable book. Tend to my plants. Walk the dog and focus on it as a pleasure, as opposed to a necessary task. Create art. Sing along to the radio. Dance. Pick up and learn an instrument. Listen to uplifting podcasts and books. Really, the list is endless.
Okay, I hear it too. You're not wrong. Some of this last bit does sound like the glibness of the self-help bookshelf. When taken in balance with other forms or care, though, it definitely has its place. For me, this kind of attention to the details of my life and abode is invaluable.
I can choose to move out into community. The parks are full of concerts in the summer and activities in the fall. There is yoga to be had at a variety of locations in the community. Tai Chi, Qigong. Movies. Coffee shops. Meetup groups. Libraries. Farmers' Markets. Art shows. Spiritual communities, if I find nourishment there. I don't have to talk to anyone in order to remind myself I am are part of a tribe of people, part of a community. Human.
I can slide in and out, silent and absorbent and attentive, if that's how it needs to be. I can actually choose to show up to receive, just this once, rather than to give.
I can choose to extend compassion and caring towards myself. I can remind myself this moment IS hard and it is okay and understandable to notice how hard it is. It is okay to have all the feelings. Even the unacceptable ones. I can choose to offer myself the same comfort and support I would offer another. I can choose to remember that acknowledging my feelings and pain is not the same thing as self pity. It is noticing my shared humanity and learning to hold myself gently, the way I am so willing to hold others.
I can choose to confide in a friend. Or two. Those of us oriented towards helping others, or even working in the helping fields, are not always adept at allowing help and support to come our way. We can cover ourselves with a blanket of "I'm fine!" It can be extraordinarily hard to be vulnerable in this way. And yet it is so hard to go it alone. So, I can choose to spend time with caring friends. I can choose to remind myself it is a choice to remain alone, feeling unsupported, and I can choose otherwise. I don't have to be sufficient unto myself and neither do you. It only seems that way. I can choose to stop lying to myself on this count.
I can choose to cart myself back to my therapist's office. Yeah, I do have a big ol' long-held bias on this one. A little therapizing always helps to regain perspective and identify patterns. It's safe and feels safe in a world that doesn't always feel safe. If that's all it was and all it did, it would be bomb, but,
of course, it's so much more than that.
I can choose to remember everything changes. Change is constant. The good. The bad. The ugly. It all changes. This moment and its intensity and pain will eventually transform or shift. The worst case scenarios are unlikely to play out. And if they do, they will, themselves, change over time. Everything changes. Even this hard, unbearable moment.
I Can Choose To Notice What is Good Or
Even Just Okay.
For myself and for my clients I notice noticing the good is invaluable. Even in the most simple and basic ways. And like everything we pay attention to, including our worries and concerns, the Good or Merely Just Okay, seems to grow and spread out when we nourish it with our attention. So, notice it. Notice the good, the beautiful, the merely okay. Notice it, even in the middle of this shitty, shitty moment and then notice what might shift within you in response. And keep noticing.