There are seasons in life when the winds are gusting and the leaves are swirling, when the storms rage and the rain pours down. There are times when life can no longer be handled, period (much less so with any sort of ease). Nothing seems to be taken care of adequately…house, kids, relationships, yourself…you name it. In these labored times, when what you are doing to survive no longer works, you might feel yourself starting to sink. I know I am not alone in this. It appears to be one of those inseparable elements of the human experience. So, what’s a gal to do?
While I am by no means an expert, below are steps I’ve utilized during my own days of tohubohu. (Look it up…I promise it is a real word!) If you are currently hanging by a very bare thread, may these be of some value to you.
- Reach out & connect.
If you are like me, when stress piles on and anxiety or depression creeps in, you pull back from life; you turn inward. Depending on the amount of stress, you may do a full out retreat! The bigger predicament? Life with kids = an inevitable amount of stress, which may result in a regular merry-go-round of disappearing from regular life routines and re-emerging later when you feel like you can breathe again….only to swirl half-way around, hit a stress wall and tuck back once more into the safety of your own figurative shell.
(Me comfy inside my shell)
I love my shell. Shell = safety. Shell = quiet. Shell = security. These are all so alluring when we feel out of control and lost. Being in the shell has clear benefits. Sometimes, we need to hang inside there awhile as we re-group. It’s okay to be in the shell! But even while you are in your shell…shielding yourself, resting, silencing the sounds of the outside world…make a small effort to let someone around you know you are in there. We are social beings, made to live together in communities, villages, tribes. Just as we cannot survive without food, water and adequate shelter, neither can we survive without connection. Reach out to someone you trust, let them walk with you on this leg of your journey and receive love from them. You will feel less alone, even if still inside your safe shell.
- Prioritize & scale back, waaaayyy back if need be.
When life gets to be too much (which is OFTEN for women in modern day America), it is time to cut out the chaff. When your days feel too heavy, it’s your cue to release some of the stones you are carrying in your jar. (If you are unfamiliar with the reference, watch this 2-minute video!)
Step 1: Figure out what is truly *essential* to your daily life and make a list of your priorities. Things like physical nourishment, hydration, light activity, some minimal self-hygiene might go here. (Definition of “minimal” may vary from person to person, or even within one individual during different stages of life.) Include only what is imperative to your survival at this point. What is essential to you living and breathing every single day? In other words, what are your big rocks?
Step 2: Look at the list from step 1. Does it already feel overwhelming? If so, stop there and let go of everything else for a time. Really, I mean it. Cut out everything that is not directly contributing to your survival and take it one day at a time. Put one foot in front of the other; repeat endlessly. Surviving the day is your priority. When days begin to feel consistently lighter, it may be time to review your list and see if it can expand.
On the other hand, if the “essentials” list feels comfortable from the get-go, make a second list. Consider it a “bonus” or “nice to have” list of things to incorporate in your daily life. This could be time with friends, engaging in hobbies (e.g. writing, painting, crafting, music, etc.), quiet time with coffee. (If you are me, this is definitely an essential and not just a bonus!) Select one or two items at a time to incorporate. RESIST THE URGE to include too many bonus items. Continue to make additional lists that go higher up in the luxury scale, as needed. If someday, you get to regularly enjoy extravagant activities that contribute to your well-being, hooray! Until then, only add in the pebbles and sand that are allowed by the big rocks in your jar.
Step 3: Maintain vigilance regarding your priorities. It is so very tempting in 21st century life to do all of the things and wear all of the hats. But that is not sustainable, and definitely not manageable for most. Know your priorities in life and stick to them. Be on guard against things that seep in and weigh down your jar unnecessarily.
(It’s okay to be on guard with less slobber and barking and sharp teeth.)
- Love yourself.
When you feel like you can’t breathe, it is time to put on your oxygen mask. I know we’ve heard this one before, but reminders are necessary. Too often, we plow through life without remembering that extra support is needed at certain times (like when the atmosphere of air surrounding us is thinner, or less supportive, or the burdens we are carrying weigh us down more quickly). Stopping to breathe is not selfish; breathing is good self-care. Getting extra oxygen is necessary at times.
Now, take a moment to think of how you show love to those around you. Ask yourself: do I do these same things for me? If not, today is a great day to start. Put at least as much effort into showing yourself kindness and charity as you do to others.
(Photo credit Patrick Cheng)
- Keep your eyes ahead of you.
Sounds impossible sometimes, doesn’t it? I get it, I do. I am a constantly-looking-back kind of gal…re-playing scenes from my life…analyzing thoughts, decisions, actions I have already made…wondering how they could have been perfected…evaluating where I fell short. You know where this leads, right? I end up wallowing in every possible past mistake I have ever made, while simultaneously adding to the burdensome weight of foul life-slime I am already drowning in for that particular moment in time.
The problem with looking back is that all we end up with are strained eyes and a crinked neck. No amount of peering behind us or classifying previous behaviors will lead to a changed story. It only keeps our eyes on the garbage of the past and our noses in the current stench of overwhelming feelings. Yet, when we dare to look ahead, we are providing an opportunity to potentially see the soft glow of a new horizon. When we keep our eyes forward, we prevent our past from continually whipping us and our present situations from paralyzing us. Tomorrow will probably not be instantaneously better or more manageable, but it does bring hope. And with hope, comes possibilities for renewal.
On the spectrum of personal authority, there are certainly components of life that we have more control over than others. The foods we eat, the people we associate with, the type of clothes we wear – all of these are fairly governable and areas where we get to call the shots for the most part. (I recognize this is not 100% true for all segments of a population, but I am generalizing here for the sake of simplicity.) However, life in all its beautifully chaotic and unbridled energy, also provides us with unlimited instances that smack us across the face with the knowledge that we have absolutely zero control in this world. These are circumstances that no amount of planning, of bargaining, of mighty effort or sheer willpower can change. Instead, we are forced to accept what we are given (or live in perpetual denial). Childrens’ temperaments, sudden changes in health, natural disasters are examples of what I would put at the other end of the spectrum.
This begs the question….what the heck do we do with the end of the spectrum that is not subject to our whims and desires? What do we do when we are ambushed with seemingly insurmountable and unexpected obstacles in our path? WE SURRENDER. We allow things to be as they are, rather than what we hoped or planned for or anticipated. We permit things to unfold freely. We surrender when we loosen our knuckle-white grip on the life we believe we should have and open our hands to the life sitting in front of us. Grant yourself permission to grieve, yell, cry and feel your feelings along the way of the unexpected; that’s a healthy response. But ultimately, we have more space to breathe, less weight to carry and more ability to manage when we open ourselves up to life as is. Much easier said than done, for sure. Good thing life gives us repeated opportunities to surrender over and over again.
(Please know I wrote this post just as much for myself as for our blog readers. These words are every bit for my heart, as they are for yours. Take comfort in knowing you have at least one companion on this journey of insanity, friends!)
by Shannon Morber