Working with (not against!) your available energy

I’ve written a lot on this site over the years about working with our energy, energetic ebbs and flows, and the challenges highly sensitive and/or introverted folks can have with energy (especially when they feel forced to adapt to a lifestyle or pace that doesn’t work for them).

Many years ago, my very astute therapist at the time commented that “perhaps” I was a “low-energy person.” I cringed. I didn’t like thinking of myself that way (even though I knew she meant nothing at all negative by it and was only throwing it out there as a suggestion).

As we talked about it more, I understood that what my therapist was getting at was that I often took on way more than my natural energetic inclinations could handle, then crashed and burned. What emerged during that period for me was the opportunity not to go faster and work harder and push myself more (I’d already done plenty of that by the time I was about 14!), but the opportunity to practice what I began to term in my journaling practice radical self-acceptance.

Which meant recognizing that while I often had high energy “bursts”, it wasn’t healthy for me to attempt to sustain them over time — in fact, I really couldn’t without becoming ill.

I learned over the years that I functioned far better when I tempered those high energy bursts with lots of slower, quieter times, where I demanded less of myself, not more. It wasn’t so much that I was a “low-energy person” as that I hadn’t learned to honor the way my energy worked.

Ironically, I found that I got more done, over time, when I accepted my natural energetic ebbs and flows (you can read how that worked with my writing, here), than when I tried to force myself to stay in a “high energy” place and then crashed and burned.

Crashing and burning takes a lot of time. From the vantage point of burnout, I would find myself wondering why in the world I thought I had to move so very quickly, when now I couldn’t move at all.

***

Working with my coaching clients during the pandemic, I’ve noticed how many of us are experiencing our energy in new ways. Some clients have told me they feel “done” much earlier in the day than they had previously; others have said they feel the need to sleep later and stay up later.

Many have expressed that they feel there is “nothing to look forward to,” and this affects their available energy in ways they never would have anticipated. Sharing space with partners, children, and pets far more than “usual” also has unforeseen effects on our energy.

And some clients have shared with me that when “small” but unexpected things go wrong, dealing with them uses up much more energy than it did prior to the pandemic. There’s also a cumulative thing here: as the days and weeks and months pile up, what didn’t feel as challenging in April may feel very challenging in October (and vice versa, for some).

So what we might have gotten “used to” expecting from ourselves may not be at all realistic now. And this is where we have an opportunity, as I did all those years ago, to practice self-acceptance. What is true for us, now? Not a year ago, but right now?

I’ve been slowly recognizing that I need to “interrupt” the perfectionist, overachiever part of me sooner than I used to. I’d gotten much better at not allowing that part of me to call all the shots over the years, but I still often let her get a foothold and then needed to sort of grab her by the ankle and steadily loosen her grip.

Now, what’s true for me is that it’s more helpful not to let her get a foothold in the first place. And often, I simply don’t have the “excess” energy to allow that, so when I sense her trying to take the reins, I’m kinda like, “Nope, sorry, my dear, you do not get to do that today.” It comes from this very calm, kind, and quietly fierce place in myself. Nope. Not happening. We don’t have the bandwidth.

I’ve also noticed more than ever how our nervous systems and our available energy are exquisitely connected. If you are familiar with research on trauma, you may know about the “window of tolerance.” This is the space within which our nervous systems are neither hyperactivated and overstimulated (we might relate these states to the “fight” or “flight” stress responses), nor are they underactivated or shut down (these states connect to the “freeze”, “overwhelm”, or “collapse” stress responses).

The more we can stay in, or return to, our window of tolerance (which Elaine Aron refers to as our “optimal range of arousal” in her book The Highly Sensitive Person), the more sustainable, renewable energy we will have available to us over time, and the more we will stay connected to our creative, resourceful selves, where we are able to perceive many more options available to us than we do when when we are locked in a stress response.

I’ve been encouraging my energetically zapped clients to notice. Notice what happens for them when they begin to get outside of their window of tolerance. Do they feel agitated, headache-y, pushed or rushed? Do they feel sleepy (when it’s not time to go to bed), disconnected, tuned out? All of these might be signs that they are starting to move out of the zone of tolerance into a stress response.

Of course, sometimes stress responses come upon us suddenly. We read something in the newsfeed (right?!?), we get a piece of bad news about someone we love, we worry about health issues (and receiving care for them) more than before. We might find that some of our support networks are eroding, or have dissolved. In the U.S., as of this writing, many of us are feeling an intense amount of election stress. All of this means we’re leaving that “zone of tolerance” probably a LOT.

That will happen — there’s no way to completely keep it from happening — but we can return to our zone of tolerance once we realize we’re having a stress response.

So I often ask my clients two questions: 1) How do you know your nervous system is getting over-activated, or shutting down? and 2) How do you know you’re in a stress response?

When we can identify these signs for ourselves, we can take actions to bring our nervous systems back “online” — to that “safe and social” zone where we feel calm, alert, and able to connect with others.

So how can we regulate our nervous systems when they’re either hyperactivated or shutdown? I’ll go into more depth on this in a future post, but for now:

  • For hyperactivated nervous systems, think calming, soothing, comforting. What can you do to bring these states to your nervous system? Call a friend? Take a walk? Take four deep breaths? Have a cup of chamomile tea? (It worked for Peter Rabbit!)
  • For shut-down nervous systems, think small, manageable, actionable — to get you out of “freeze” state. Attempting anything too big at this point will feel overwhelming and only create more “freeze.” But very small actions that feel “doable” can help shift you out of freeze and into movement, even something as small as brushing your teeth, stretching, or interacting with your pet.

In the meantime, Happy Halloween! And, if you’re in the U.S., please VOTE!

What are you noticing about your energetic ebbs and flows during this time? And what helps you regulate your nervous system? I’d love to hear from you.

And: I finally have some limited availability for new private coaching clients. If you’re in need of support right now, feel free to check out this page to see if we might be a fit. 

Above images by Alex Simpson on Unsplash, Beth Teutschmann on Unsplash, and Angelina Jollivet on Unsplash respectively

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Puttering time, soul needs, and ever-shifting self-care

“what happened to alone time?”

During the loooong time since I published my last blog post, I’ve had to kind of reinvent the ways I practice self-care. Sound familiar?

Part of this (perhaps ironically?) was the decision not to offer my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program this year, for the first time since 2015. I realized that, with my own self-care so up in the air, I didn’t have the personal bandwidth to “hold” the program energetically this year (though I’ve still been working with clients on self-care issues in their individual sessions).

Self-care, for me, has been hugely dependent on the availability of regular time alone, and we’re not talking about just half an hour here or there. Solid, sustained alone time was a big part of my way of life prior to the pandemic.

This solitude afforded me several important things: connection to myself, without reference to others (which, for a recovering people-pleaser, has felt like a must); the fertile creative ground from which blog posts and other pieces of writing are born; the rebalancing of my energy and recharging of my battery that I, as a definite introvert, have felt the need to do alone.

In the five years that I’ve shared a home with my partner, I’ve gotten my alone time when he’s been out, at work. I’d schedule coaching clients during this time, and I’d also be able to have my beloved “puttering time,” in which I would, yes, putter around my home alone, doing things like folding clothes, rearranging books, remembering, musing, and weaving past and future together within myself. (And, of course, talking to my cat.)

Puttering time has nothing to do with “getting things done”; it’s that pure, intentional non-doing time in which I connect with “being” energy (even though I often am doing things during it because I’m just not a particularly sedentary person). Puttering time can be hard to allow to myself, and it can be easy to forget that I need it, even in “normal” times.

Well, the pandemic brought puttering time almost to a complete halt. (I did manage to reengage with it a few weeks ago when my partner was away for a couple of days.) Add in that I have been working with more coaching clients than usual, and, for a while, I had what felt like this whole tangled mess of needs I had no idea how to meet.

I’d like to tell you this is all resolved, but, of course, it isn’t. It’s a day-by-day thing — a process of ever-shifting and ever-evolving self-care that I am learning to embrace.

What has managed to occur, though, is that I’ve reached some form of acceptance.

Acceptance that it’s extra-challenging to meet some very important needs right now.

Acceptance that my partner and I have shorter tempers and we get irritated and angry with each other more quickly.

Acceptance that there are loved ones I haven’t seen in a very long time and probably will not see for quite some time more.

Acceptance that our cat is affected by all this and going out of her mind with hunting/predatory/play energy (she’s shown up on quite a few of my video coaching sessions, stalking imaginary things in the background). (Note to self: in the future, follow instinct to adopt two cats rather than one, to avoid “single cat syndrome.”)

***

Sometimes when I bring up the concept of “acceptance” to clients, they say that acceptance sounds like not trying, like giving up, like resigning themselves to things they don’t want, like being excessively passive.

I used to feel this way, too. But over the years, as life brought me to my knees time and again, I’ve come to realize that acceptance comes down to recognizing where we have true control and where we don’t.

It also means recognizing our limits — which I used to hate to admit I had. It means accepting who we are — that combination of strengths and not-so-strong places that is innate to each of us — and understanding that we can change and grow and stretch ourselves — and we should (this is one of the places where I mean “should” in a positive way — our world, quite obviously, increasingly needs us to stretch ourselves in countless ways).

And: we also each have core traits that we’d do much better to accept than to try to change.

Like my need for alone time. I can do without it for a while, but I’d better figure out ways to get it if I can. It’s a soul need for me, and fulfilling that need allows me to be present for others, for the world.

And I’m learning that there are ways of getting that time, even when it can’t be as “planned” or as consistently available as it was in the past. I grab it here and there where I can; I make more requests of my partner (and he of me) so that we can each have some time to ourselves (even when we’re both at home).

I am also learning to leave myself alone more. By this I mean, more than ever, out of sheer necessity, I am quicker to be kind to myself. To give myself the benefit of the doubt. To drop it when I realize I’m criticizing myself (that self-criticism is probably the number one thing that makes me less available to others).

The ways I practice self-care are shifting, evolving, transforming. This is not a bad thing. It is a necessary thing.

What are you noticing about your self-care during this time? What have you changed? What has changed you? What challenges you the most? I’d love to hear from you.

Above dog photo by Ann Schreck on Unsplash; mountain goat photo by Ray Aucott on Unsplash

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Detach from holiday stress: recognizing the Drama Triangle

It’s holiday time — which means it’s a very good time to revisit our understanding of the Drama Triangle.

What’s the Drama Triangle? It’s a concept that reveals the roles we can get into when in conflict. I often find it helpful to share with clients when we work on issues around self-care. The Drama Triangle was developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman in 1968 (it’s also known as the Karpman Drama Triangle).

Picture a triangle with the roles of victim, persecutor, and rescuer at the three points. Then imagine arrows that move from one role to the next and go around the triangle.

These roles are connected and reflexive — when we’re acting out one of these roles, we’re also setting the stage for the others. (Note that these roles are simply energies we can identify with — they’re not meant to be “labels” we give to ourselves or others. I’m not a fan of labeling people “victims” or anything else.)

For example, someone who strongly identifies with being a “rescuer” is going to see people that she is sure “need rescuing” all over the place. She’ll tend to “call in” people who often identify with “victim” energy.

Someone who enacts the “persecutor” (sometimes called “bully”) role tends to be critical and punishing, and can bring out the victim in others, and also trigger the rescuer who steps in to protect the victim.

And when we’re in a “victim” place, we tend to seek out people with rescuer energy.

Most people who hang out on the triangle actually shift between all three roles on a regular basis. And we can experience these roles not just in our relationships with others, but within ourselves.

Here’s an example of how I have experienced this dynamic within myself: I used to identify with a “victim” role quite a bit, and in order to get out of it, I had a “rescuer” or “hero” part of me that would step up and “save” the victim.

This seemed like a good thing for a while, but what I noticed eventually (and yes, getting off the Drama Triangle requires observing our behaviors!) was that the rescuer part of me was not healthy, either. It just wanted to save me and everyone else!

Also, if the rescuer didn’t rescue quite “right” or well enough, I noticed the victim part of me could actually shift over to the persecutor role and criticize the rescuer; similarly, if the rescuer’s “rescue” didn’t turn the victim around, the rescuer part of me could start attacking the victim part of me for being too slow or stubborn or aimless or whatever.

What was much more helpful was for me to observe the victim part of me and connect with it compassionately — not jump in to “save” it.

This is equally true in our relationships with others. When we can take an observing role (presence) and access compassion for ourselves and others, we detach from the Triangle.

Many of us have experienced life on the Drama Triangle in our families of origin at least some of the time. The main “benefit” of the Drama Triangle, for those who spend a lot of time there, is that the roles on the triangle are externally-focused ones.

When we fear looking inward, we may hang out on the triangle as a way of life. Staying externally-focused helps us maintain a sense of control. Our discomfort with self-connection is kept unconscious and directed outwards — we need to “fix” situations by taking up a role on the triangle and trying to control others.

The key to self-connection and calm is to stay off the Drama Triangle — or (more realistically!) to notice when we’re on it, and swiftly step off.

While the concept is fairly simple, it can feel like it’s not at all easy to take care of ourselves when we’re around people who live on the triangle.

This is why during the holidays we can sometimes find ourselves feeling “caught up” — and if we can recognize, “oh, I’m just back on the Drama Triangle, let me step off now,” we can return to presence and self-connection. It takes this recognition that we’re on it to step off, though.

So how do we know we’re back on the Triangle? By how we feel. If our mood takes a nose-dive, or we experience a more subtle sense of “being out of sorts”, we can check in. Have we stepped into any of the roles on the triangle? Are we reacting to someone who is playing one of those roles?

Now, sometimes stress can cause us to go “on autopilot” emotionally — we may not know what the heck we’re feeling. In these cases, we can take a look at our behaviors.

Are we arguing? Withdrawing? Defending ourselves? Trying excessively to make a point with someone else? These may be clues that we’ve stepped onto the Triangle.

Note that even if we haven’t gotten “sucked in” and are not actively playing one of the triangle roles, it can feel really uncomfortable to be around someone who is.

I’ve found that just acknowledging to myself, “Okay, this person is on the triangle and is trying to drag me onto it, too” can help me to return to presence and self-connection. This is the power of naming what is happening. It’s far less confusing when we recognize it and take steps to detach from it.

I’ve also found that honoring my needs as an introvert (and particularly my need for downtime — so important to remember at holiday time!) is truly helpful in keeping me off the triangle. It allows me replenish and I am so much less likely to get “sucked in” when I am rested and aware of my own boundaries.

We can bring in lots of compassion here — for ourselves and others. (I love this piece, Compassion for the Drama Triangle, by Sonia Connolly. And here’s an in-depth piece on how the Drama Triangle plays out and how we can disengage that I found very helpful.)

Here are some posts I’ve written in previous years that you may find helpful when holiday stress arises:

You only ever need to do one thing

There’s no “right way” to be social during the holidays

Your self-care bottom line

Ways to shift your energy when you’re stuck or overwhelmed

What are your experiences with the Drama Triangle? What helps you notice you’re “on the triangle”? I’d love to hear from you!

Wishing you holidays filled with peace and presence! (My holiday focus is presence more than presents these days. 🙂 )

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here

Above cat and dog images by Jessica LewisMaria Teneva and Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash, respectively

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Supporting your deep-diving self from the outside in

If you’ve read my blog posts, you probably know that I believe true personal change happens most of the time in our inner world (no matter how much we scramble to change the outer).

Many of us — and I certainly include myself here — have pushed and pushed to try to control our outer worlds to the point that we bottom out on that way of life.

When we’ve gone too far in the outer direction, and we start to sense the limitations of that, it makes tons of sense to start looking within.

That said, as an introvert who often works with introverts, I’ve noticed that we “deep divers” sometimes take our moving inward just a little too far.

This might look like trying to “accept” the unacceptable — for example, working on ourselves more and more to make a relationship better, when in fact we’re better off letting go of the relationship altogether.

It might look like using spiritual practice for the purpose of avoiding the “real world” (sometimes called “spiritual bypass.”).

It can also look like making things that are simple very complicated. I remember trying so hard to “like” taking care of the yard at my old home, but in fact, I just hated yardwork. It took me ages to recognize that I didn’t have to like it, didn’t even have to do it, and it was perfectly okay to hire help.

If trying to solve the problem on the inside seems to be creating more struggle, we might need to move ever so slightly outward.

In my last post, I wrote about how getting rid of energetic drains in our surroundings can clear space for creativity. That can be a hugely important part of an outside-in approach to self-care.

Another part of an outside-in approach can be making sure we connect with people whose energy feels supportive to us on a regular basis.

If you are an introvert, your natural tendency is to move inward. And this is a good thing! It’s why introverts who try to be extroverts end up feeling exhausted — and why not enough diving inward can be detrimental to us, as I learned early in life.

Sometimes, though, introverts may find themselves a little bit “too in.” (This may be particularly true if you have high sensitivity in the mix. Elaine Aron talks about the “too in/too out” dilemma many HSPs face in her work.)

The trick for introverts is that we may have quite a bit of ambivalence about keeping up with our connections — that time to ourselves, that delving inward, can be so enticing. So I like to make sure I have regular, “calendared” ways of doing this connecting. It makes it easier for me when I know I need to show up because people are counting on me to do so.

A few other ways that can be helpful in supporting ourselves from the outside-in:

Caring for animals. On my walks, I often run into my neighbor from the condo-across-the-way as he’s walking his dog. He’s told me how meeting his dog’s needs gives him a much-needed break from his tendency to “ruminate”. I was like, preach! I haven’t had cats for thirty years only because I love cats. They allow me to have my inner world while also bringing me out of it.

Gentle time limits. Journaling is fundamental for me — I do it most days through morning pages, but it takes many other forms for me as well and is key in making shifts in my life. I do, however, set a gentle time limit on my journaling each morning. Otherwise I can sometimes get lost in it.  We might also find it helpful to set time limits on certain phone conversations, watching Netflix, or any area where we tend to be a little bit “time-boundary-challenged.”

Soft deadlines. I used to think I hated deadlines, but I’ve learned they can support me as long as I’m not imposing hard, strict deadlines on myself.  (Many thanks to my friend and coach Theresa Trosky, who years ago pointed out to me in our work together that “soft deadlines” are actually my friend!)

Bookending the day. On most days, I try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time. This regularity bookends the day and becomes something I can count on, particularly on days when my emotions have been swirling. There are other ways I “bookend” my day, such as morning and evening pages, and we can create these kinds of “containers” for ourselves throughout the day, too.

Limiting news consumption. This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s abundantly clear that exposing ourselves to anything and everything is anti-self-care, particularly if we are energy-sensitive. I have to trust my intuition here on how much news is actually helpful for me. (Notice how many of these outer supports are a form of limit?)

I’m sure you can think of hundreds of other outside-in supports (and I’d love to hear from you!).

What I notice is that these outer supports, rather than constraining the “deep diver” in me, actually support my inward focus while keeping me connected to the outer world. They remind me that I am a human being in a physical body in a physical world, even though I do a lot of delving into my inner world.

Turning inward, doing that inner work, is fundamental for those who want truly know and understand themselves. But the outer world sometimes holds the answers for us, too (and if not “answers,” certainly support!). How do you use “outside-in” support in your life?

I’ll be enrolling in this year’s version of my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program soon. Want to learn more, or just stay connected? Feel free to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter, here.

Hearts photo by Rachel Walker on Unsplash ; woman with dogs photo by Frederik Trovatten.com on Unsplash

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Soft energy and true downtime

One of the most frequently viewed posts on this site is called “When your downtime doesn’t happen.”

I was reminded of it a while back when a client mentioned to me that she had blocked off a day just for herself, and when the day was done, she realized she needed more than a day.

I asked her to say more about this, and she told me she had spent the majority of the day worrying about all she had to do, and feeling guilty for taking the time for herself when the world is in such an urgent state.

It turned out, the day to herself didn’t feel restful or replenishing at all.

I nodded in recognition as she spoke, staring at some squirrels out the window who busied themselves with burying acorns in the lawn next to the neighboring condo building’s concrete patio.

How often have I experienced what my client did — blocking out some time to “just be”, and spending that time feeling crappy about what I’m not doing? A lot.

It’s even more challenging with the recognition that our world is in an urgent state. It needs us, and sometimes it’s hard to reconcile that with taking a day (or an hour) to replenish ourselves.

What’s going on here?

I’m reminded of a story Martha Beck told in one of her books (I can’t remember which one right now!). She was recovering from a medical procedure and told to go on bed rest. The bed rest was supposed to keep her from feeling stress and aid in her healing.

Except the longer she stayed in bed, the more stressed she felt. She called a nurse and explained the situation and the nurse said, “Get out of bed!” Martha did, and getting up and moving around felt much less stressful to her than lying still.

Sometimes, we have an idea of what “downtime” or “resting” is supposed to look like. But the truth for us will always be in how it feels to us.

***

This past Sunday, I took the Green Line into downtown Chicago to meet my friend for lunch. I wanted to meet my friend, but on the train ride I picked up some disturbing energies, and by the time I got off at State and Lake, my mood was foul.

Sitting across from my friend, though, my energy gradually shifted. We had a leisurely lunch and afterward I felt like meandering in shops and spontaneously bought a gift for another friend’s birthday. I hadn’t planned to do that — it just felt right.

I was doing, but it didn’t feel like doing. It felt like being.

Because I had shifted into being mode, the train ride back home was considerably less stressful than the ride there — even though the train stalled for a while at one point. When I got home, I felt replenished and energized.

Now, I generally don’t consider navigating the Green Line and downtown Chicago to be “me time”. But somehow this turned into spontaneous me time and felt like lovely downtime. How?

Because my energy had shifted. My friend’s relaxed company, the warm smile of our waitress, our leisurely coffee and omelettes, and our talk about our cats and rabbits had transformed my default tense, pushing energy into softer, allowing energy.

Which is exactly why my client’s planned downtime felt anything but restful. She’d blocked out the time on her calendar, but her inner state hadn’t changed.

True downtime is less about “not doing,” and more about accessing your feel-good energy. From that softer, non-pushy, feel-good energy place, you are better equipped to assess whether you actually want to “do” or “not do.”

(When I left my friend after our lunch, I could have just as easily gotten on the train and headed straight home — which, in fact, was what I’d planned to do. But my softer energy state led me to meander into a shop in which I not only found a lovely gift but had a lovely interaction with the woman who beautifully wrapped it for me.)

Now, yesterday I had a day where, although I had quite a bit I needed to do, I was able to do it all from home and it felt absolutely delicious to stay home with the fall air coming through the windows (the air conditioning is off, finally!). I was in the “soft energy place” and it let me know that puttering around my apartment, quietly getting things done, was exactly what I needed that day.

The next time you sense you’re in need of downtime, see how you might first access more relaxed, gentle energy toward yourself. It’s this softer, kinder energy we’re so often in need of, not necessarily “doing nothing” (though time to do nothing is absolutely crucial on some days!)

And we won’t change the world by neglecting ourselves. If you’re so frazzled you can’t think straight, you won’t bring your kinder, softer, gentler energy into a world that badly needs it. (One thing that is helping me take action toward the change I want to see AND stay focused on self-care is The Americans of Conscience Checklist.)

I’m curious about how you bring yourself to a place of softer, more relaxed energy when you need it. How does downtime play into that for you? How do you define downtime for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and need some support, check out these specially-priced sessions here

Want to stay connected? You can subscribe to my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

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Avoiding vs. replenishing (+ last chance to sign up for my fall coaching special)

Fall walks: so replenishing!

As we head into the holiday season, overwhelm is a topic that comes up for many of us (particularly if we are highly sensitive, empaths, or introverts — or all of the above!).

When we feel overwhelmed (or are anticipating becoming overwhelmed), it’s tempting to go into “avoidance” mode. This can feel like the equivalent of putting our hands over our heads and saying “I can’t! No more!” — and retreating. And not returning.

Sometimes it is absolutely appropriate to avoid something. It may be totally wrong for us.

But we don’t have to stay in the energy of avoidance. Have you noticed what avoidance feels like? Have you noticed that avoiding something actually takes a lot of energy from you?

Replenishing is different. Replenishing ourselves is recognizing that we’ve had enough, and retreating for a while to rebalance and rejuvenate, and then emerging — replenished.

I’ve noticed that, if I can trust in my ability and willingness to replenish myself, I don’t have to avoid as much. What a relief! Because a lot of avoidance is flat-out exhausting.

If we’re going to replenish ourselves, we need to give ourselves permission to do that.

That might look like leaving a party early, when we recognize we’ve had enough (rather than avoiding the party).

It might look like opting to stay in a hotel rather than with relatives (instead of avoiding the trip altogether!).

It might look like giving ourselves lots and lots of breaks while we get the house ready for guests (noticing our energy levels). (Or, my favorite: being okay with getting a C+ in housekeeping.)

It might mean choosing to let something go, so we can have more energy for something that’s more important to us. (For me, this is often letting go of my need to “do it right” and reminding myself that just my presence is of value to the people I love.)

What do you notice about how you feel when you avoid something, versus committing to replenishing yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

I wish you the joys of replenishing yourself this holiday season (and Happy Thanksgiving, if you are U.S.-based). And if you need permission to do that — well, here it is!

(If you need further support for dealing with holiday socializing when you’re an introvert, you might want to check out this post I wrote back in 2014.)

Speaking of replenishing yourself: Tomorrow, November 22, is the last day to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. If you need support in navigating a challenging transition in your life right now, I’d love to help! You can learn more about these sessions here.

Also, you can sign up for my newsletter (for updates on my offerings and other good stuff) here.

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How getting grounded changes your perspective

girlwalking

The other day I was standing in line at a store near my home, waiting to buy a Father’s Day card. The only line open was at customer service; no other cashiers were visible. There were three people, total, in line (I was last) and none of it seemed like any sort of problem to me.

The woman in front of me, however, considered it a big problem. She was in a hurry; why didn’t they open up another line? She kept craning her neck to see around the woman in front of her, who glanced back occasionally with a sharp expression.

Soon enough, a cashier came over and announced that he was opening another register and we were welcome to step over. “Thank God!” said the woman in front of me.

At this point, the woman in front of her turned around and snapped, “Why do you have to be so rude to everyone?”

The woman in front of me seemed shocked. “I am not rude!” she shot back. “What did I do that was rude?”

Their conversation escalated as they tried to get ahead of each other in the new line. I stayed right where I was at customer service, half-amazed and half-bemused at how they were going back and forth.

At a deeper level, though, it didn’t affect me in the least.

I hadn’t experienced the woman in front of me in line as rude. I had experienced her as anxious, and, in fact, I’d had some empathy for her, and had been planning, if we’d waited much longer, to engage her in some conversation about the ceramic plates she was holding (they had lobsters on them).

Now, lest I come across here as mellower-than-thou, let me tell you, this is not usual for me. Sometimes, when I encounter high emotion in others, I absorb it right up like a sponge.

That didn’t happen in this instance because I was feeling grounded. Actually, at that particular moment, quite exquisitely grounded.

What made this day, or moment, different than others where I would have reacted (if not verbally, at least emotionally) to the scene unfolding around me?

• I was at the tail end of my morning walk, which helps me feel connected to my body and to the earth, 95% of the time. I was relaxed within my own body, and, as a pleasant side-effect of that, I felt a solid awareness of what belonged to me and what belonged to others. To put it in Byron Katie’s words, I was in my own business.

• At that moment, I felt physically and psychologically sound. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t angry, and I wasn’t tired (read more about referring to the helpful acronym “H.A.L.T.” in this post).

• I was in a space of self-acceptance and feeling kind to myself (another frequent by-product of my morning ritual).

All of this contributed to my being in what Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, calls your “optimal range” of stimulation.

This is the place where, in terms of your nervous system, you feel at ease. You’re neither bored and restless nor bouncing off the walls with excitement. In this space, you’re good. You feel comfortably connected to yourself.

catwalking

Animals, too, have an “optimal” range of stimulation, and cats (who are masters of the art of self-care) are good teachers for us here. My dear cat Slinky, who passed away in 2010, had quite a low threshold for stimulation. If I pet her for more than twenty seconds or so, she’d start to thrash her tail, and, as I quickly learned, if I continued petting after the tail thrash had begun, I was in for a nip to my hand.

Sullivan (my current feline friend whose pictures you can see on the pages of this site and who has outlived Slinky by nearly seven years now) is totally different. I can pet him non-stop for hours and he will not get overstimulated. He’ll lounge on my lap while I work, fall asleep and forget I even exist. (Slinky wouldn’t get on my lap — a lap would be way too overstimulating for her!)

When I work with clients on self-care, one of the concepts we always get around to discussing is looking at our lives through the lens of stimulation.

Highly sensitive people have nervous systems which pick up on subtleties and process them deeply. Because of this tendency, they may (like Slinky!) have a somewhat narrow window in which they feel comfortable and at ease, nervous-system-wise. (If they are high sensation seekers as well, the window may be even tinier!)

Had I been already overstimulated when the argument between the women in line arose, I likely would not have been able to view the situation with detachment and compassion. My nervous system would have already been on overload.

Getting grounded — to that place where you feel internally stable, centered, and solid — is fundamental not just to supporting your own nervous system, but to getting a clear, clean sense of what is true — and what kind of response is required of you.

For example, I received an email the other day which contained some feedback for me. When I first read the email, it was toward the end of a long day and I felt drained and irritated. From this place, I interpreted the email as unnecessarily harsh. Taking note of my emotional and physical drain, I flagged the email to respond to later.

The next day I took a look at it again. From that rested, solid, post-morning-ritual space, I saw the email in a different light. In fact, there was a lot of positive feedback in it, and the sender then offered me a couple of suggestions for “next time” (indicating his desire to work with me in the future!).

That drained, overstimulated end-of-the-day space caused me to read things into the email that weren’t there, and I could give you countless other examples of this phenomenon. In fact, when I look back on my growing-up years, so many times I concluded that “something was wrong with me” when I was just feeling overstimulated (but had no frame of reference for such a thing!). Many of my clients report the same experience.

In this day and age of tons of emotion being tossed around in the online world as well as the “real” one, it’s more fundamental than ever to notice when you are getting uncomfortably overstimulated, and to bring yourself back to stability.

What does “grounded” feel like for you? What do you notice about the difference in how you respond to situations when you are feeling grounded vs. when you don’t? I’d love to hear from you.

Above images of woman walking © Peter Gustafson | Dreamstime Stock Photos and cat © Photozek07 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Self-care starts with self-connection (+ deadline to enroll in Stellar Self-Care)

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Nearly two years ago, I created my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program when I noticed a particular pattern in my life coaching clients: they needed permission to take exquisite care of themselves.

I realized that many of my clients — and this had certainly been true of myself as well — confused self-care with self-indulgence. (See “The difference between self-care and self-indulgence” for more on this.)

I also worked with people who had not established what I call a “self-care bottom line” for themselves — in other words, they weren’t sure about the basics that they needed to function at their best. And these basics will not necessarily be the same from one person to the next.  (See “Your self-care bottom line” for more on this.)

And some of my clients had been really excellent with their self-care practices — but life changes had shifted their daily lives to an extent that what worked before no longer worked quite as well. (See “Radical self-care: when your normal has changed” for more on this.)

Another common theme with my clients (most of whom identify as highly sensitive and introverted) was the huge lack of permission to allow themselves the amount of downtime they actually needed to feel balanced and recharged. (See “When your downtime doesn’t happen” for more on this.)

Our world is full of constant lures to disconnect from ourselves. And escapism can be just what we need at times — but if our disconnection from our essential selves is ongoing, we’ll notice, as a client I worked with the other day pointed out, a lack of presence in our lives.

We won’t feel connected to our true selves. And that self-connection is where self-care begins. If we don’t make a commitment to connecting with ourselves regularly, we simply won’t know what we need.

What this means is that we must make the choice to be in relationship to ourselves. This is fundamental. If you notice that you frequently choose to disconnect — to not nurture a relationship with yourself — consider these two things:

Your brain is wired to seek out pleasure and comfort. This is part of the skill set of your “old brain” — your “reptilian brain” that is only concerned with whether you survive (not whether you thrive). So don’t beat yourself up when you grab your cell phone or iPad and find yourself sucked into Youtube or Facebook. Just notice, with curiosity. How does it feel? I notice that I enjoy the online world a lot more when I am already feeling filled up within myself rather than when I use it to fill me up. If it feels more like I’m distracting myself from something uncomfortable within me, it’s time to step away and reconnect with myself.

• Connecting with yourself may feel uncomfortable, especially if it is unfamiliar, or if you are in a challenging place in your life. Being able to sit in that discomfort is key if you long to feel more connected. As one of my mentors often says, the ability to sit with our own discomfort is one of the most valuable life skills we can cultivate. But if we are committed to avoiding our own discomfort, we’ll only get more of what we’re avoiding.

It is so much more powerful to move toward connection with ourselves than to move away from discomfort.

Do you need support in putting connection with YOU at the center of your life? Enrollment for my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program ends on April 30. (This is for the one-on-one program — please note that the group version, which starts this week, is full.) Find out more, here.

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Honoring your way of taking action in the world

glidingswan

In my “former life,” I did a lot of one-on-one tutoring of writers, both privately and through the creative writing program at Columbia College Chicago.

A while back, I heard from one of these writers, who caught me up on the book she’s working on and told me that one of the biggest takeaways she had from the work we did together was that it was really okay for her to take time to ponder a question before she answered it — whether in her writing or in her life.

Who knew? I remembered, then, our talks about introversion and how she’d felt pressured to respond to questions very quickly in her college classes, but she needed a little time to sit with the question before answering it. Meanwhile, the “quick responders” would have carried off the conversation and it would have moved on, before she got a chance to put in her two cents.

Oh, had I been there. Whether you identify as an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in-between, it’s a fact that each of us has a unique way of taking in information and responding to it.

In other words, our individual personal make-up causes each of us to have our own way of taking action in the world.

I could empathize with my tutoring student because so often in school I felt I’d been “too slow” to respond, and so I wouldn’t speak up at all.

What was actually going on was that, as an introvert, I needed to take in information and chew on it for a bit before I could form my response. (Marti Olsen Laney talks about the “long neural pathway” that introverts’ brains must traverse as they respond to information — as opposed to the shorter “extrovert pathway” — in her book The Introvert Advantage.)

There’s also the fact that our personal energy moves in its own way (think about water: for some of us, our natural energy is more of a slow, steady river current, whereas for others, it’s still, like ice, and others are more like Niagara Falls).

In our Western culture, we tend to put swift decision-makers and bold, take-charge energy on a pedestal; but the truth is that that is only one way of taking action, one type of personal energy. If it’s not yours, you can — and must — honor your way of taking action in the world.

***

Kathy Kolbe developed a test called the Kolbe Index, which assesses your “conative style” — the way you take action. When I took the Kolbe, I scored equally high as a Quick Start (who needs to jump into an experience, before thinking much about how to proceed), and a Fact Finder (who needs to gather lots of information before taking action).

While neither of these styles of action-taking feel totally like “me”, I can definitely see where I have both Quick Start and Fact Finder tendencies (when I’m excited about something, I sometimes forget to investigate the finer points of how to actually execute it before moving ahead; when I’m not sure, I sometimes gather information way beyond the point that I’m uncovering anything new).

Mostly, though, what I’ve come to learn about myself over the years is that I have a fairly slow and steady style of taking action, punctuated by seemingly “sudden” leaps of faith at key points in my life that can appear as though they’ve risen up out of the blue. But what’s really going on is that all these slow and steady movements provide a foundation for me to take big leaps into the unknown when I recognize it’s time to do that.

I’ve also learned that it’s important not to allow myself to be pressured by people who have a swifter and bolder style of taking action than I do (just as it’s important for them to let me know if my slower, steadier style is feeling too heavy and cumbersome for them). I see this with couples a lot: when one has a swifter action-taking style, the one with the slower or gentler style can feel left behind and the swifter one can feel too slowed down.

With my life coaching clients, what I often see is that their self-care suffers when they are trying to adopt a style of taking action that doesn’t feel true to who they are.

This can take some un-learning (I often say that self-care is more about un-doing and un-learning than it is about doing or learning anything new!). We might have grown up with parents who required us to move more quickly or slowly than felt natural to us, or maybe in school the steady, structured pace of the learning felt out of sync with our more circular or “hands-on” style of learning.

***

When I became ill in my mid-twenties, I realized I’d been trying to move through life with a bolder and swifter energy than was actually natural for me. I kept pushing myself to move more quickly, to do more, faster. Why? Because I thought it was what would cause me to feel more accepted and loved and successful in the world. But guess what? It actually contributed to my physical collapse.

All these years later, I feel so much healthier when I allow myself to take action in my slower, quieter, ebb-and-flow sort of way (and in the long run I arrive at my destination more quickly because I don’t burn out along the way!).

And I’ve developed a lot of trust in this way of taking action — it works for me, and I’ve gathered plenty of evidence over the years that it does.

And truly honoring my own way of taking action allows me to be more honoring of others whose action-taking styles are quite different from mine. It’s not about “right” or “wrong”; it’s about what feels natural for each of us.

What do you know about the way you take action in the world? Is the way you take action true to who you are? How does it apply to your self-care? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of self-care, I have two spots open for one-on-one clients in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program (I’ll continue enrolling in this program through the end of April). And, if you are interested in participating in the group version of Stellar Self-Care, I am enrolling for that as well until April 21. Please contact me via my Ways We Can Work Together page if you’d like more info on the group version, or if you are interested in finding out about working together one-on-one.

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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The question that cuts through your overwhelm

sadgirl

A week ago I returned from a coaching intensive (which I’ll no doubt share more about in the future), feeling one part energized, two parts exhausted. I had that good feeling of having stretched myself a lot, but a quieter part of me recognized that I couldn’t keep going at that pace for much longer without losing touch with what I truly needed.

Hmm. What I truly needed. How interesting that it took me almost a week to get there.

As the week wore on, and my after-stretching-myself buzz began to wear off, I noticed I felt scattered, pressured, pressed. By Thursday, I realized I had arrived at that most dreaded of states: full on overwhelm.

Friday morning, “to-do’s” spinning in my brain, I recognized I didn’t want to continue feeling the way I was feeling. And, regarding my rather pinched expression in the bathroom mirror, I asked myself this question: “What do you need right now?”

It seems like a pretty obvious question — doesn’t it?

The thing is, when I get into the spin cycle of “I want to rest — but there’s so much to do — but I want to rest — but there’s too much to do”, I do not see this question.

It was only pausing and noticing how I was feeling, and seeing that feeling conveyed on my face in the mirror, that brought me to this truth. I had a need, and it wasn’t being met. And I didn’t even know what the need was.

Asking yourself “What do I need right now?” grounds you in the present moment, in what is true for you.

Often, when we are in that “too much to do” place, we get caught up trying to plan for and control a future that is not here yet. If I don’t get it done now, X, Y, and Z might happen, our minds tell us.

And our activity becomes more and more frantic. We may get something done, maybe a lot of things done — but we don’t feel productive. “To-do-list” brain just keeps churning out more to-do’s.

When I asked myself, “What do you need right now?”, I received a few answers.

• I need to permission to do it all wrong.

• I need permission to not do it all.

• I need to be kinder to myself.

• I need to recognize where my true responsibility lies.

• I need to take a long walk.

I stopped there, lest “what I need” started to sound to me like another “to-do” list.

And I decided to meet two needs — the need to be kinder to myself, and the need for a long walk. My walk turned into what Julia Cameron calls an “Artist’s Date”, where I found myself meandering in my neighborhood, noticing the squirrels leaping around in the unusually warm weather, and I bought myself a new lipstick at Ulta Beauty.

On the way home from the walk, I realized just how much I’d needed that “settling down” time — that bridge between the high, intense activity of stretching myself, and moving back into my regular routine. It just took me a week to give it to myself.

As I write this, I do not feel overwhelmed. I feel present. In fact, after my walk I found myself — quite naturally — doing several things I needed to do, from a settled-down place of peace, of groundedness.

Now, here’s an interesting thing: This whole week, upon my return from my travels, I’ve been taking a morning walk each day, because that’s what I do. That’s part of my morning ritual. But my morning ritual didn’t seem to be “taking hold” as it usually does. I still felt keyed up, worried, anxious.

I see now that it’s because I didn’t ask myself what I needed. I kept taking the actions I usually took, without checking in first to see what was up for me.

The experience I’d had away had shifted my needs. I was needing a different flavor of self-care post-trip that I’d had before I’d left.

But I didn’t know it for almost a week, because I forgot to ask myself what I needed.

Live and learn, my friends. I offer a coaching program on practicing excellent self-care, and yet it took me a week to see how I needed to care for myself. We are always beginners in the ever-changing landscapes of our inner lives.

Are you overwhelmed right now? How does the question “What do I need right now?” sit with you? Is there another question that helps you cut through overwhelm? I’d love to hear from you.

And: I will begin enrolling clients in my one-on-one coaching program, Stellar Self-Care, on March 6, 2017. If your life feels overwhelming and you’re needing support, I encourage you to check it out! I will also be offering a small group version of the program this time around — please contact me for more info if you’re interested in that format. You can also learn about other ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Jose Antonio Sánchez Reyes | Dreamstime Stock Photos