I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted.
Yesterday, though I started my day as always with a long meditation, I proceeded to undo all that zen with a hard workout, sewing 2 dozen face masks, building a vegetable garden, a 3 hour walk with my husband, a few hours of work, 2 family zoom gatherings, some cooking, cleaning, and prepping for the week ahead.
I report all this, not because I am proud of all that I crammed into one Sunday, but because I am noticing, and now claiming out loud, that busy-ness has become my current way of coping.
And though it might be temporarily exhilarating to get so much done in a day, there is a cost.
Sometimes I fantasize (fool myself) that doing stuff is building my resilience muscles. After all, isn’t it cool that I can keep finding the energy to do things when life feels so darn hard? When I am most honest with myself, I see how filling my schedule is a way of numbing out so I don’t have to feel the fear, grief, and concern that comes with a world-wide pandemic, economic collapse, and my loved ones in places where I can’t touch them. For me, at least lately, busy ness has become my go-to stress behavior. And unlike resilience training, it is not sustainable.
Resilience is often defined as the ability to bounce back.
To bounce back, you first need to hit something.
What if our go-to stress behaviors were specially designed to get us to tank, to hit bottom so that we had no other choice but to face our situation and grow a new way of approaching it?
Think about it…what is your favorite go-to stress behavior? Stress eating, retail therapy, drinking, smoking? All of these, taken to the max can lead to bigger problems, demanding intervention. When under pressure we pick fights with loved ones, log way more work hours than we should, and dump on ourselves with stories of perceived incompetence or not being enough. Even exercise can be a weapon of self-destruction under stress, more a means to escape than care for our precious bodies.
Why is it that when we are maxed out, we do things that deplete us more? Why not automatically reach for a kale smoothie over peanut M&Ms?
It makes sense to see stress behaviors as problematic and dysfunctional. They can be at worst life threatening and at least expensive and distracting. What if they were actually a functional part of the resilience process, driving us to hit a bottom so we are faced with the opportunity to bounce back? What happens when we see it as part of resilience?
And…if resilience requires us to bottom out, how might we do that without crashing and burning?
Instead of hitting bottom, we can choose our bottom. Both hitting bottom or choosing a bottom will bring us to a point of inflection, an in-your-face- no kidding recognition of needed change. Hitting bottom can be messy, painful, and cause serious collateral breakage. Choosing bottom, though not necessarily easy and without pain, taps innate courage, wisdom, and a life affirming belief that we are worth more than the suffering we are experiencing and, damn it, let’s do something about this before it becomes really bad!
The former makes it clear to us that things are as bad as they can be. The latter we make clear to ourselves that we will not let it get that bad…why… because we matter and life is way too precious to spend any amount of time in a broken heap.
Suggestions for choosing your bottom...
· Become aware of your go-to stress behaviors. Meet them with compassion and care, after all, they wouldn’t be there if you were not suffering in some way so why add to your misery by beating yourself up, unless of course you think that will get you to your bottom faster, in which case…..
· Notice the negative stories that you tell yourself about yourself when stressed or feeling vulnerable. Ask how s the story or belief serves you. If it doesn’t, then consider what might be more affirming of what you want for yourself. If your stories serve to reinforce a familiar and therefore, comforting trope about yourself and the world, experiment with not buying so fully into the story. Consider what else is possible that might be a new or different response. Try it as an experiment.
· Ask yourself, what would be the cost of things getting worse, of hitting bottom? How bad do things need to get for you to be ok making a change? What’s the bottom you would choose instead?
· Make a clear declaration that you have gone as low as you will allow. Do it out loud, preferably in ear shot of others who can hold you accountable and be supportive. Better yet, make a few clear requests for support from others who are dependable and responsive to your needs.
· Identify one small thing that you will do differently in the direction up from the newly declared bottom. One small positive and life affirming action, done consistently over time, will reveal new ways of seeing what’s possible.
You can hit bottom or choose your bottom. How bad does it need to get make it worth
doing things differently?