UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Learning from Overwhelm

The past month has been incredibly challenging as the feeling of overwhelming stress crashed upon me. There were physical manifestations and mental lows.

Many of my friends seem to suffer from this especially during the fall. The days get shorter, the temperature chillier, and for those of us who do not love winter, the season of mush and sleet looms drearily ahead. Aches and pains get worse, fatigue sets in, and the day after a night where sleep is allusive, mini despair and spiraling start: I am tired. Why am I always tired? I didn’t get {such and such} done. I should have gotten it done. Why didn’t {so and so} do it? They don’t care about me. My back is sore. I want to nap. I really shouldn’t nap. I should doing {this and that}. Oh look at how together that person looks. I’m such a loser. I can’t make my life work. And so on.

The slide is a steep ride right down to: I don’t like this feeling. I don’t like where this is going. If I get any more anxious or depressed, I’m going to end up at that horrible moment at the (mental) cliff, the precipice, that line I really, really don’t want to cross.

So we try all sorts of things:

  • meditation (can’t because brain is chaotically in madness and won’t quiet down)
  • distraction (helps a bit, but is only temporary)
  • eating (helps a lot, but also temporary and has side effects that have to be undone at a later date)
  • yelling (sort of a distraction and valve to let off steam, but temporary too and hurts relationships)

The only way past it is through it. I hear that a lot, but didn’t really know what it meant. So many things just start sounding like clichés and sound bites. But today, I had an ah ha moment. Through it means feeling it, not running away from it. Through it means listening to it, not ignoring it. Through it means experiencing it to learn from it.

Okay then. I asked myself: What does my stress tell me? What are my feelings trying to tell me?

Emotions are what we feel after we compare our Expectations with the Reality. If the outcome is good, we feel positive. If the outcome is bad, we sad or mad.

Then I wondered: WHY do I think my emotions are trying to tell me something? And who is it exactly that is using my emotions to talk to me? Is it their language?

My theory: My body is host to so many ecosystems that make it possible for me to function. And when I feel overwhelmed, it is because what I want to get done is more than what is possible to get done with the systems in place and the resources needed. So the systems start shutting down or slowing down to rest. And the systems that haven’t done so start to bear the burden even more and then they start to shut down or slow down. As different ones respond at different times, different feelings emerge – they are the symptoms of what is happening.

My conscious mind is governed by thoughts that I try to control. And it will say things like: Suck it up. Don’t be such a baby. Just do it. You can do this. Don’t be lazy. You can’t afford to stop.

My subconscious mind is the one who is listening to the systems and making sense of it all. It knows when it’s time to stop, secure and start. It can sense when a system is breaking down. It can see when a system is slowing down.

If I listen carefully when I’m overwhelmed, I think I hear:

  • Rest and retreat
  • Recover and repair
  • Reflect and remember
  • Restart

It certainly feels a bit counterintuitive to slow down when everything in my conscious mind is screaming DO MORE! GET IT DONE! HURRY UP! But, when I do, I realize that my subconscious has been working on a solution that may be more creative, efficient or enjoyable. Or it’s trying to warn me of potential roadblocks ahead that need to be considered.

In any case, I’m learning not to panic now when I feel overwhelmed. I’m learning to just stop and let the chaos run its course, come apart and then come together again. It’s very hard and I’ve only tried this a couple of times, but inevitably after I emerge from the overwhelm with some energy or headspace to productively handle something that has been bothering me.

FOCUS ON YOU

Not Doin’ Nothin’ This Weekend

According to the World Health Organisation, stress is the health epidemic of the 21st Century. Everywhere you turn, people are stressed. There are many reasons for this, but it mainly boils down to our busy modern lifestyle and the way our reptilian brain is programmed to help us avoid life threatening situations through the fight or flight response. But prolonged exposure to this level of heightened anxiety compromises our immune system and causes inflammatory responses. Chronic stress leads to chronic illnesses and pain. Dude, people are stressed. Not just adults, but youth, little kids, the elderly… like… everyone!

So this has now spawned a billion and one (money making) ways for us to cope with the stress, you know, overcome this challenge, manage our response, because it’s our RESPONSE that’s the problem, not the problem itself. It’s not what happens that matters, it’s how we deal with what happens that matters.

Right?

So we need to work hard everyday on our physical and mental health, eat well (vegetarian? keto?), get enough and good quality sleep (but… insomnia!), exercise (at the gym with weird equipment? rigorously? 30 minutes? 7 minutes?), be positive, be mindful (meditate, do yoga, qigong)… CBT… CBD? THC!? use essential oils, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, but we have to focus on developing relationships, because relationships are everything, be kind, time flies, the clock is ticking, so we have to seize the day, make every minute count, be a good parent (attachment, authentic, free range, tiger), be a good spouse (thoughtful, organized, do your fair share), be a good employee, manager (get ahead at work, achieve your potential, network, manage up, get along with everyone), learn languages, be good at math, make sure your kids learn languages and are good at math, kids should play competitive sports to develop skills that will help them succeed in the future, travel the world with your kids, if your kids cannot sit still in class, they may have something that requires them to get drugged, be patient, do you have enough money for retirement? make a bucket list, skydive in Paris, eat Wendy’s no antibiotics meat free burger at 11 pm when you’re binge watching all the Must See shows before the Oscars and Emmys, sign up for Oprah’s newly revamped Weight Watchers, while you look at the Must Read Goodreads for your book club piling up by your bed, save your money, make your lunches, but working mothers are happier if they hire someone to clean their houses, every 20 minutes, look up for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away… get fresh air, get sunshine, take your vitamins, blend flaxseeds into your breakfast smoothie, brush your hair and look good, get organized and develop good habits that will make you successful… make a to do list, no don’t make a to do list because it doesn’t work, use a project management approach, break it down into little doable pieces… don’t overshare and don’t forget to keep your kids privacy private because companies make money off of their information… hardwire happiness, make happiness a project, Marie Kondoize your house!

You’ve got this. JUST DO IT!

If you can’t do all this successfully, happily, and through beautiful photos on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, Vimeo, Whatsapp, WeChat, you are an utter failure and it’s your own fault that you are stressed.

Because it all boils down to you doing the right thing at the right time…

Now even thinking about things that are supposed to help with stress is stressing people out!

So… I’ve decided… I’m not going to do anything this weekend.

I’m not going to make a list, I’m not going to feel guilty, I’m not going to pressure myself into working on being a better person.

FOCUS ON YOU

Lazy Procrastinating Mama

You know where I’m going with this, right? I’m not that mom who spent a month planning and creating the perfect homemade costume, who is decking out the porch in Halloween decorations, who spent the weekend carving Jack o’Lanterns with my kids and their cousins… Nope. I had to all day work Sunday. I was shuttling kids to their extra curricular programs on Saturday. And most days I have barely enough time to get home, sit down for dinner, check homework, yell (firmly… uh… point… out…?) about why homework didn’t get done, teach them to check their agenda for homework, actually do homework with one or the other or both kids, read a chapter of Harry Potter, brush my teeth, and fall asleep.

So. Halloween is that perfect mix of craziness that triggers my inner critic to berate me about just what a lazy mother I am. I do not make costumes. I do not bake cupcakes with awesome orange and black icing and plastic spiders. I do not decorate the house with amazing fall colours and cotton as spiderwebs. I do not buy boxes of treats to hand out to strangers. I do not dress up in a cool Halloween costume. I am SO NOT festive. Plus, I’m already stressed about the whole should / they shouldn’t they go to the houses of perfect strangers and beg for food that is totally processed and full of poisonous sugar, threatening them that, if they do not comply with providing a treat, they would have a trick played on them by my children. Seriously. The weirdest thing ever. But The Judge likes to take this opportunity to jump on every Instagram photo, Facebook post, family chat, story told by colleague, every decorated neighbour’s house… to pass… well… judgment about how I just don’t measure up to what a mother should be doing, leading up to and during Halloween.

So there I found myself on the Sunday before a Wednesday Halloween (oh why don’t we live in Palo Alto where they all do their activities, like Trunk or Treating on the weekend prior?) driving my 9-year old to Walmart at 6:30 pm, hoping (and pretty sure, but not quite 100%, I-probably-shoulda-googled-this, but-we-just-needed-to-go) that Walmart was still open. Yay. They were. We must have circled the two and half aisles at least 6 times, rummaging through what was left (25% off, as a bonus surprise that I didn’t really notice until we left) and argued over 10 things he refused to consider.

I think we both did okay, considering we were both privately worried that we wouldn’t be able to agree on something. ‘Okay’ meaning he apologized for being so picky and I grumbled a bit but tried to be patient.

And… we did it! We found something that was not overly expensive, that would work with all the logistics (it’s going to be cold, he has to carry his candy bag too, we’re not putting colours in his hair or make up on his face), and that he was happy with!

I’d like to end my story by sharing that after this successful trip, we got home and I happily and joyously confirmed they completed all the homework they were supposed to. But then I would not be telling the truth. And that is for another blog post.

What I can say though, is, I can own it. My little skeleton assassin with the bleeding knife (with black polka dots, no less) was happy. He reassured me, when I started making questioning facial expressions about the idea of such a violent concept, that, no, he isn’t violent in real life, and yes, he agrees that violence is not a good thing, and no, dressing up like this doesn’t make him more violent, and yes, most kids do this sort of thing without becoming violent in real life. So, in the end, we spent some together figuring out something, we are both comfortable with the solution, and we are all going to enjoy Halloween.

Boo to you, Judge. This mama is going to plead Not Guilty! I may not have the skill to be crafty, the energy to be decorative, or the goods to bake cool treats… but this mama can still healthily and joyously enjoy Halloween with my kids doing it my way. So take that!