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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Self-knowledge will always support you (+ Happy Fall!)

When we’re going through challenging transition periods in our lives, or when we feel seriously overwhelmed, we can get triggered. Our “stuff” can come up big time — and by “stuff” here I mean our “core issues.”

For example, if one of our core issues is feeling like we need to do it all on our own because we’re not allowed to ask for help, we may coast along seemingly doing it on “all our own” during times when we’re not particularly challenged.

But one or two important elements of our life shift, we recognize we’re feeling in over our heads, and suddenly, bam! The core issue is pressing on us: “I need to do it all on my own, but I’m in new territory here and it feels like I can’t do it on my own, but I have to because I’m not allowed to ask for help/ if I were a strong person I wouldn’t need help/ maybe the kind of help I need isn’t out there.” (I use this as an example because it’s, in my experience, a pretty common core issue for my perfectionist-leaning clients — and for myself as well!)

Another core issue could just as easily be “I can’t do it on my own — I need someone to do it for me or I won’t survive.” You can see that, while this could indeed be very true for a child, for an adult it might not be true in many circumstances (depending on what the thing is and any number of other factors).

If we, as adults, don’t take a look at the core issue that is popping up for us during challenging times, we can stay in a sort of “spin cycle” for a really long time because we don’t see a way out of it.

Usually, working with a core issue involves gaining more and more perspective around it over the course of our lives, so that what once may have felt debilitating or terribly shaming to us becomes something we understand, something we can work with, something we can hold.

So, when we’re really challenged by circumstances inner or outer or both, we need to find ways to calm and soothe our nervous systems so we can relax and detach enough to see the core issue and work with it rather than running away from it, ignoring it or pushing it down.

One of the ways I’ve noticed seems to be particularly helpful here is to call on our strengths by asking them to come forth with this question: What do I know about myself that will help me here?

What’s useful about the framing of this question is that it presupposes that we do know things about ourselves that we value, are unique to us, and that have helped us in the past. This circumvents our tendency during stressful times to go to a place of self-doubt or a place of noticing what’s NOT working and what we’re NOT good at (which is totally habitual for most of us when we’re feeling dazed by something we’ve never dealt with before and in over our heads.)

This works even if we don’t have a lot of life experience. When I was in elementary school, I absolutely hated participating in team sports, but I was forced to for daily gym class. At one point, I was struggling through some sport or other in the gymnasium, wearing my red gym uniform that always seemed way too big, and my teacher shouted out, “You’re holding your own, Jill.” (I’m pretty sure my fourth-grade teacher had gathered by this point that I hated gym, since I sometimes pretended to have a stomach ache to get out of it.)

Now, oddly, when my teacher told me I was holding my own, I believed her. It felt true — I was holding my own. I was actually somewhat nimble and good at catching balls here and there. I just didn’t enjoy any of it — I wanted to read Judy Blume books under a tree somewhere, not dodge the elbows of my aggressive classmates.

What got me through playing countless team sports in gym class for several years after that, though, was my belief in what my teacher had observed: I could hold my own. It sucked, I didn’t want to do it, but since I was a kid and I didn’t have the agency to get out of it, I could hold my own (though not so well in wretched games like bombardment!).

This was my “kid version” answer to the question “What do you know about yourself that will help you here?” “I am pretty good at holding my own.”

(And, Hallelujah, when I got to high school I had way more options for gym class and I took almost all dance classes, which I actually enjoyed.)

Now, notice that if I hadn’t believed my teacher’s observation that I was holding my own, it wouldn’t have been useful self-knowledge to draw upon. When we draw on what we know about ourselves, it won’t feel supportive if we don’t have a certain conviction about it.

A client I worked with several years ago had been through an incredibly stressful relationship break-up. I asked her what she knew about herself that could support her in this bereft-feeling place. She said (shared here with her permission), “I am really good at finding comfort in the most unexpected places.”

What a beautiful piece of self-knowledge! And notice how her essential self served that right up when I asked? We always have within us the seeds of what we need to navigate those extra-challenging spaces, even if they are only seeds and have some maturing to do. That’s often how the hard places end up serving us in the long-run — by maturing the seeds within us that are so ready for growth.

What do you notice about this for you? What do you know about yourself that will help you in a situation you’re currently facing? I’d love to hear from you!

And: In celebration of fall, my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in an “in-between” space this fall and needing some support, you might want to learn more. You can do that here

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

Above photos, respectively, by Anh Trandavide ragusa, and Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

On stopping when you’ve had enough

bench

One of the things I often say here is that, when it comes down to it, self-care is less about what we do than it is about what we undo.

When I first started my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program in 2015, I noticed my tendency to “firehose” my clients with lots of information. After all, the more they knew, the better, right?

Then it hit me — whoa! This is a program about self-care. And, particularly if you are highly sensitive (as most of my clients are), you are already picking up on tons of subtleties that can make life feel extra-complicated. You don’t necessarily need more doing, more information. Chances are, you need to subtract, not add.

This “exquisite art of subtraction” is about noticing — really noticing — where we are doing more because of the belief that “if some is good, more is better.” This is such a pervasive belief in Western culture — and, in my experience, it simply is not true.

Let me give you a rather mundane example: I was out for my morning walk a week or so ago, wearing a pair of new sandals that still required a bit of breaking in. I had a wonderful meander over to the nearby park (where I’m sure to see lots of dogs and their humans and I always leave with a smile on my face), and as I made my way home from the park, I started to think, hmm, maybe I will make this walk even longer! Because it’s feeling so good!

Except that the new sandals were rubbing on my toes at this point. Even though my mind was telling me I needed more of a good thing (because more is better, right?), my feet were telling me that they needed some time away from the new sandals.

Well, my mind won out, and I kept on walking, and — interestingly enough — as I rounded block after block, I noticed I was starting to feel quite crappy. In fact, my enjoyment in the walk had decreased significantly. By the time I got home, I was in a bad mood (quite unusual for me after my morning walk) and my toes felt like they were on fire.

What happened? Well, my feet — toes, to be more specific — gave me a signal that my body had had enough. But I didn’t listen to it. (And hurting toes are not even a very subtle signal — they’re pretty blatant. Often, the signals to stop are much more subtle — but our minds are powerful, and in this case, my mind wanted more of a good thing.)

***

Underlying our desire to keep going even when we’ve had enough there is usually a feeling of scarcity, a fear of future deprivation.  Deep down, we believe we’d better capitalize on the good stuff while we’ve got it, because surely it will be taken away later.

In the moment I decided to keep walking even though I’d already had a beautiful walk, and my toes were beginning to hurt, there was a thought — outside my conscious awareness at the time — that went something like: You must really make the most of this good energy, because it probably won’t last.

Had I been aware of this thought, I could have countered it with: Yeah, it probably won’t last — today. And so what? Good energy returns. There will very likely be plenty of lovely walks in my future. But for today, I’ve had enough.

Stopping when we’ve had enough — whether that’s enough of something we don’t like or something we do, something that drains us or something that fuels us — is key to self-care, to working with our creative energy, and to avoiding burnout.

In fact, the periods of my life during which I have gotten into burnout can be always be traced to day upon day in which I pushed myself out of fear that if I stopped, if I trusted that I’d done enough for today or that I had enough for now, I would surely be deprived in the future. So it didn’t feel safe to stop.

The irony, my friends, is that getting into burnout forces you to stop. In fact, I believe that sometimes we reach a state of physical, emotional, and/or spiritual burnout precisely because it’s the only way we know how to stop.

Noticing that we’ve had enough comes first. If we don’t notice the often subtle emotions and sensations that are giving us the message that we’re nearing enough, we won’t stop.

So set an intention to notice. Pay attention to your body. Our bodies are the most trusted conduits of the messages we need — far more trustworthy than our minds (notice what my mind did when I was on my walk!).

Once we’ve noticed, that’s when it’s time to actually act on stopping when we’ve had enough. This is not easy! We probably have a bunch of deeply held beliefs about why we need to push ourselves through the stuff that feels bad, or hang on for dear life to the stuff that feels good.

It is so worth it to take a look at these beliefs and go deeper. In fact, doing this type of inner work is what will change our lives because it will change how we relate to ourselves.

When you can’t seem to stop, even though you know you’ve had enough, ask yourself why. Really take a look. What’s so scary about stopping? What are you afraid will happen if you stop when you’ve had enough, if only for today?

When you see the underlying fear, when you “get” it, you have so much more power because you have made what is unconsciously driving you conscious. In your willingness to look deeper, you cultivate trust in yourself. You start to befriend yourself.

Do you have a fear of stopping, even when you know you’ve had enough? Are you able to recognize what “enough” feels like for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Further reading: Martha Beck talks about “just in case” versus “just in time” thinking in this article. I’ve found this to be a truly helpful shift!

Work With Me: This can be tough stuff. If you need support in looking deeper, I’d love to help. Check out the ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Nancy Tripp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Are you distracting yourself — from yourself?

beachumbrella

One of the most life-changing books I had the great fortune to discover back in my twenties was Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child. When we hear the term “gifted”, we often think of school — academically gifted, or perhaps musically or artistically. In her book, Miller’s “gifted” refers to children whose sensitivity enables them to intuit and absorb the energy and emotions of those around them as a survival skill. 

One of the things that stuck with me most from the book over the years was when Miller described a psychotherapy client she’d worked with who learned, painstakingly, to connect with herself after many years of disconnection. Miller noticed that as soon as her client would connect with herself, and start to experience the satisfaction inherent in that connection, she would distract herself in some way — usually by attending to others.

Miller noted in her client this “compulsion to repeat” — in the client’s childhood, every time she had connected to herself, she had been distracted by family members who demanded her attention. As an adult, the client distracted herself in this same way, whenever she felt self-connection. 

Sound familiar? Just the other day, I happened onto the (wonderful) movie Revolutionary Road on TV, and found myself totally absorbed in it, and at the same time completely enjoying my own company. Then a thought occurred to me: I should call my mom and ask her if she’s seen this movie. I need to call her today, anyway. 

I was just about to pick up the phone and call my mother when I recognized (again!) my unrewarding tendency to distract myself in the name of some sort of “service to others” at exactly the moment when I am feeling most absorbed in some act of creativity and/or my own company.

Underlying this tendency is a belief: that it is somehow self-indulgent to truly savor time to myself or to fill my creative well. It’s also familiar, since (not unlike Alice Miller’s client) it was usually when I was enjoying my own company as a kid that I got interrupted to attend to something — or someone — more “worthwhile”. It wasn’t long before I learned to interrupt myself.

***

There’s a connection here to what some call “upper limits syndrome”. Upper limits syndrome has to do with our capacity to hold good feelings — the good stuff of life — within ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but in a certain way it is easier for me to “hold” feelings of failure, disappointment, and frustration than it is for me to truly embrace feelings of success, joy, and, yes, contentment. Learning to be with them — to be comfortable with the good and the great — is a work in progress for me.

When life feels “too good” — in other words, more good flows in than I’ve learned to embrace — I “default” to habitual behaviors that temper all this good stuff by bringing in more “bad”. This can look like eating junk food rather letting myself feel the wonderful feedback I got that day, or suddenly worrying that a cold (or some other physical issue) is coming on when I’ve challenged myself in a new way and therefore expanded my sense of what is possible for me.

This is what is known as “upper limiting.” Sometimes it plays itself out as a belief that it’s okay to do really well in one or two areas of our lives, but not in a third (even if it’s important to us). For example, if we have a great relationship, we’re not allowed to also make good money or have creative success — isn’t that just a little too much goodness? 

***

On a call with some fellow coaches a couple of years ago, we noted that each of us had the tendency to practice solid self-care only to the extent that it served our work, our relationships with others, or our creativity. We realized we were effectively sending ourselves the message that self-care was only truly okay as long as it was in service of something else.

For me, this sounded something like, “I need to take good care of myself so that I can show up fully for my clients and for my writing.” But — insidiously — I was leaving me out. When we do work that we love, it does give back to us, and we are not totally separate from the work. And yet, we are not the work.

What I’ve found is that I need to make sure I check in with myself and notice where I am fueling myself only so I can give that fuel to others, or to my creative work. Because it is when I can allow myself to just be for the sake of being in my own company, my own presence, that I truly fill up enough for there to be genuine overflow to the people and projects I care about.

What do you notice about this for you? Do you find yourself distracting yourself just when you feel most connected? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.