Small shifts during big change

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, or are subscribed to my newsletter (you can do that here!), you know I am a big fan of little changes.

Huge changes in our lives can be highly taxing to the nervous system. We’re experiencing that collectively now. And within that, we each have extremely personal, individual experiences of this time.

Probably the thing I’ve noticing most in a coaching context lately is the idea that “I should be coping better than I am.”

One of the issues my coaching clients over the years have tended to share is a tendency to self-pressure. Because the self-pressure is so deeply ingrained, it’s habitual, and when things get hard, instead of easing up, part of the habit is to double-up on this pressure.

If we tend toward self-pressuring and perfectionism, the current situation might be bringing these issues front and center for us.

We might feel like we’re “with ourselves” (or, depending on our living situations, with partners or family members  or roommates) a lot more than before, and it can feel a lot harder than usual to balance self-care and other-care (whether we feel alone too much, or with others more than we’d like).

If we “normally” struggle with a particular issue, it just might be magnified right now. Pre shelter-in-place, my partner and I had been grappling with the limitations of our living space, and now, wow are we ever challenged by them! A friend who’d resolved to spend less time in the online world and more in the “real world” for her mental health is having to accept that more time “out” is not terribly possible right now.

So many ways we previously resourced ourselves are currently off the table — and that’s real. It’s real loss and real stress, and it’s okay — and necessary — to acknowledge that.

I’ve noticed that some days — some hours — I connect with kindness toward myself. And on some days, and hours, I do not.

I’m not “trying to do better” at being kind to myself. I’m just noticing how I feel when I can find gentleness and compassion toward myself, and how I feel when I can’t seem to find it, in the moment. It’s harder than usual right now, and that’s what is.

I’m also finding that if I can give a lot of space to whatever I’m feeling, I don’t fight it as much. I’ve learned that fighting a feeling is a lot more stressful than the feeling itself — whatever it may be. It’s helpful to notice the difference between these two states — fighting the feeling vs. experiencing the feeling.

Behind “fighting the feeling”, I’ve found, is the belief that “there isn’t room for this.” Or, “there isn’t time for this.”

What if there is room? What if there’s plenty of space for whatever’s coming up (even if you feel like you’re in cramped quarters?). What if there is time? What if there is enough, right now, even in this situation?

These inquiries have been helping me.

Other seemingly “small” things that are helping:

• Allowing my body to relax while I was on an extra-long Zoom call the other day. Stretching my legs out on the chair next to me, allowing my jaw to soften and my shoulders to slump a bit. It reminded me that I can show up in a softer, more vulnerable way and still be effective — in fact, more effective than I’d imagined I could be on that day.

• Taking short drives with my partner a couple of times a week. Yesterday we drove past a curve of sparse nearby woods and saw deer eating and blinking at us through the trees. We saw colorful signs in yards in children’s handwriting: Thank you, helpers. We saw people in masks walking happy dogs. We saw plump robins foraging for worms through April snow flurries.

• Noticing my relationship to comfort foods. When does the “comfort” in comfort food actually give comfort, and when does it create more stress? I’m looking at all this with curiosity. So many people have shared with me that their eating habits have changed in the past several weeks, and it’s human to seek comfort in our food. “Just noticing” might not seem like a lot, but I’ve found the act of noticing to be incredibly powerful. It is, in fact, a cornerstone for self-understanding and desired change.

• Allowing myself a little more sleep and to call it a day a little earlier than usual. Just that little bit of extra sleep and rest can make the difference in my ability to face the day (and the news).

A final thought: If you’re not sure what you need on a given day, or in a given moment, sometimes it helps to think about what others have told you you’re really good at giving to them. We’re often experts at giving the very thing we need the most (we just might not notice it because it comes so naturally to us, and we might not realize we need it!).

What seemingly “small” shifts in your day are helping you through this time? I’d love to hear from you.

And: here are a couple of older posts you might find helpful. They’re not about current situation, of course, but some of the concepts are relevant: Radical self-care: when your “normal” has changed and There’s no right way to process change.

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Above image of robin by Jordan Irving on Unsplash

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When it’s hard getting started: part two

When we start something new our lives — a project, a program, a class — we put it on the calendar and tend to think “this will take X amount of time in my schedule.”

But “starting new stuff,” as I wrote in my last post, is often about much more than just the time it will take.

Our brains can protect us, when we’re “taking the plunge” and doing something challenging, by oversimplifying just how hard it might actually be. We get swept up in the enthusiasm of “doing the thing” — and then, a little bit after we’ve begun, reality sets in: Oh. This is kinda hard.

I remember working with a client who wanted to make a commitment to writing regularly. He’d blocked out times about five days a week on his calendar when he was going to write. He came to a coaching session saying he had been writing — which we celebrated! — but he couldn’t understand why he felt so “off” and overall depleted.

He’d thought it was just about “making the time” to write. But it wasn’t just about the time. It was about many other things: writing, after a long time away from it, was like using muscles he hadn’t used in a while. (I used to start and stop and start yoga practice a lot, and every time I started it again, it took about a day for me to be reminded of the muscles I hadn’t been using when away from it.)

It was also about: the fact that writing felt uncomfortable. It brought up uncomfortable stuff: do I really want to write this? Is it safe to write this? Is this any good? Why am I doing this again? (Not to mention anything challenging about the actual craft of writing.)

It was also about: The reactions my client’s renewed commitment in his writing triggered in those around him, who depended on him in ways he might be less available for now.

It was also about: Realizing he might not be able to do the amount of writing he’d hoped he’d be able to do and get everything else done that was important and necessary to him. It was about figuring out what could be let go and what couldn’t. (It’s a really common “blind spot,” I’ve found, for us to add something new to our schedules and not realize that doing so means we likely need to take something old out of the schedule.)

And it was about other things that I’m sure I know nothing about.

Scheduling that time to do it is a starting point, and a vital one. And it’s also vital that we recognize that it’s totally normal for it not to go “smoothly.” It’s normal to experience a period of “disorganization” where we’re letting go of part of our old routine to make room for the new one, and where we’re figuring out just how to best incorporate the new thing on a daily basis.

I’ve experienced this myself here at the start of the new year: the first week of January I started a new and challenging thing, and it took me until the third week of January to realize why I was feeling so weirdly behind, disorganized, and depleted.

I thought of my client and many others I’d worked with who’d had similar feelings when starting something new — and I realized, oh yeah! I’m not just “taking a really long time to recover from the holidays this year.” I’m actually doing a new thing, flexing muscles that haven’t been flexed in a while, processing the change, noticing what I’m needing to give up because of it, what new boundaries need to be set, and all kinds of other things around it.

Once I got it: okay, this isn’t just about taking an hour or two out of my days to do this thing; there’s a lot connected to taking that hour or two, mostly in my emotional world — an interesting thing happened: I caught up with myself.

And I began to feel far more in the present moment, more “on top of things,” and am establishing a pace that feels right for doing this new project. There is power in naming what is happening.

If you’re in the process of beginning something new and challenging, allow yourself the recognition that making the time is only part of it. If you’re feeling all kinds of other stuff as you start this new thing, it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It doesn’t mean you’ve made the wrong choice; it doesn’t mean you should quit.

The more we can accept that starting something new brings up our stuff — and that nothing is wrong when it inevitably does — the more we, paradoxically, are able to be with all the stuff that comes up. It’s believing “something is wrong here!” that is the problem — not the stuff that’s coming up.

(And if you are freaking out, try naming what’s happening: This is new to me, and it turns out there’s a lot more to this than I thought there would be. That’s okay.)

What do you notice about this for you? Do you expect yourself to “just put in the time” and get it done? How do you make room for everything that comes up around starting something new?  I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’re in a “starting new stuff” place and needing some support, I’d love to help! You can check out my one-on-one coaching offerings, here.

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

Top photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash; bottom photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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Subtle ways we reject self-care

Sundays are my “down day.” By that I mean they are the one day out of the week where my main focus is non-doing, replenishing, cultivating ease and rest.

I do thread these things throughout my week — after all, an overall foundation of self-care means we are going to infuse our daily life with the qualities that nourish and sustain us — but Sundays are my intentional “reminder to reconnect with myself” day.

Because of this Sunday intention, I do not sit at my regular workspace on that day of the week. I sit in other spaces — the loveseat in the living room, the table next to the window in the kitchen — places that help me connect with that more easeful energy.

But, oh! How I need to remind myself, some Sundays, that I am not going over to the workspace!

“But I’ll just do it for a second, just to straighten some things up, just to glance at email.” It doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? A quick dash over to my workspace to flip up the laptop is really a fairly subtle thing, right?

There have been times I’ve found myself sitting there without even knowing how I’d gotten there. It’s such automatic behavior, and my mind is quick to tell me “it’s not a big deal.”

But it is a big deal on Sundays, because Sundays are my down day.

Working with clients on the subject of self-care has clued me in bigtime to how quick and sneaky we can be about dismissing our needs — particularly if they are more of the subtle variety.

The need to go to bed half an hour earlier, for example — how quick we are to tell ourselves “it’s just half an hour, it won’t make a difference.”

Something I’ve noticed time and again is my lack of acknowledgment, after some intense time away on a trip or at a workshop or something like that, that I actually need “integration time.”

What usually happens is, a few days after I’ve returned from the trip, or had a heightened period of activity, my energy gets edgy and frenetic. No matter how much I’m “getting done,” it doesn’t feel rewarding to me, and I feel ridiculously “behind.”

That feeling of “falling behind” and vague dissatisfaction has become a red flag for me that there is an unmet self-care need raising its hand to get my attention.

What’s subtle here — and therefore can sometimes hover just outside of my awareness — is that it seems “normal” to finish up with a big event, a trip, a heightened period of activity, and immediately return to a regular routine.

It may indeed be “normal” for some people, but I’ve found it’s not workable for me. I need to build in rest and integration time when I’ve expended more energy than is usual — or comfortable — for me.

But because my need for this may initially be subtle — because I’m still functioning to some extent on the adrenaline that got pumped into my system when I stretched myself beyond my usual energetic limits — I may not notice until I become edgy and frazzled that, oh yeah, I never really gave myself that integration time after the trip! Duh!

Yep, that’s how it is sometimes. Self-care is an ongoing, unfolding, highly organic thing. We might forget what worked before, or maybe what worked before doesn’t quite do it in this particular circumstance.

Here are some other subtle ways we may neglect or reject our self-care that I’ve noticed in working with clients and myself:

• Picking up a phone or tablet repeatedly, simply because it’s nearby (and along with this, failing to turn off unnecessary visual and auditory notifications — and let’s face it, most of them are unnecessary).

• Pushing ourselves to exercise more, write more, clean more — whatever it may be — when we’ve already gotten cues from our bodies that we’ve done enough for now. (I wrote about a time I fell into this trap here.)

• On the flip side, cutting short something that matters to us — journaling. exercise, a conversation with a friend — before we’ve allowed it the momentum it deserves (and that feels satisfying to us).

• Neglecting to indulge our five senses — not taking time to really taste our food, smell the coffee in the cup in our hand, feel our pet’s fur beneath our fingers.

• Forgetting to focus on our breath. Obviously, we don’t want (or need) to be doing this all day, but checking in and noticing how we’re breathing, and allowing ourselves several deep belly breaths, can center us and point us to the fact that our breathing may be quite “shallow” — in other words, up around our shoulders. This is really, really common.

• Clutter or disorganization in our environment that drains us. (I’ve found that I feel so much better when I make the bed every day — not because I particularly care about making the bed but because it reduces visual disorganization when I walk into the bedroom.)

When we miss the more subtle ways we are forgetting to care for ourselves, over time the subtle can build to the dramatic, and we may find ourselves in “crisis mode”, as I have several times in my life. But the more we learn to pay attention — the more attuned we are to these subtleties — the more we can make self-care changes before anything builds to a crisis state.

What do you notice about the more subtle ways you might forget to care for yourself? Or, what are subtle ways you CAN care for yourself that you might not always think of? I’d love to hear from you!

By the way, enrollment for my Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) One-on-One Coaching Program ends this Friday, June 22. This program is for sensitive, creative folks who’d love support in creating a solid foundation of self-care in their daily lives! Curious? You can find out more, here.

Above images: snail, © Marilyn Gould | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and cat, © Valerii Rublov | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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