Knowing the Signs
A big part of the way we care for ourselves is to simply pay attention. One of the consequences of the frenzied pace that many of us run at is that we do a lot of things, but we don’t necessarily do those things in ways that allow us to be fully present. Think about your typical day- how much of it is on autopilot? Probably a significant amount. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it might mean that we are less able to recognize when something is “off” with us. As a general practice, its important to check in with yourself on a regular basis. Doing this allows us to have awareness of how we are doing, and if we need to make some changes in order to be well. Maybe you find yourself “going through the motions” from time to time. If so, keep reading!
Take the time to do a full inventory. For some folks, the easiest place to start is the body. Take a moment and mentally scan your body from head to toe: does anything hurt, feel tight, tingly, or out of line? Have you recently been having an increase in headaches, stomach pains, digestive issues, or trouble sleeping? I often tell my clients that our bodies have a way of telling on us. While cognitively we might be able to push through, our bodies often reveal the stress we are carrying around and not managing. Why is this the case? It’s physiology. Our bodies respond to physical, interpersonal, and emotional stress by secreting a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol is GREAT for managing physical stressors: it temporarily grants us keener vision, greater strength, speed to run, and the ability to ignore typical human needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep. That’s why we see stories of parents lifting wrecked cars to save their children, and people not realizing they’ve been burned as they run from a burning building after saving someone. However, most of our stressors are not physical in nature. And the same chemical that helps us to respond most efficiently to physical threats poses great dangers to our internal organs and bodily processes when exposure is prolonged. As a consequence, our bodies simply “tell on us” when we are under a lot of stress. So, don’t ignore physical symptoms– they might be a sign it’s time to make a change!
Mentally, have you been feeling lost, unorganized, or distracted? Do you have difficulty making decisions or keeping up with basic tasks? Do you find it takes you longer to complete things or that you are generally unproductive? Emotionally, have you had a short fuse lately? Do you feel sad, frustrated, or overwhelmed? Have you been worrying a lot, or feel like your thoughts are racing so fast it’s hard for you to keep up with them? Any one of these experiences could clue you in that something is off. When we are overwhelmed, we are less able to manage our emotions and there is less stability in our thought lives. Trying to juggle too many responsibilities at one time often leaves us unable to do anything well; you know the saying: “Jack of all trades, ace of none”.
Spiritually, people might feel unfocused and disconnected. There is a sense of dryness or a lack of excitement or energy. You might feel hopeless or helpless, wondering how to move forward. You might be feeling that God has forgotten about you or lack a sense of direction.
I have a simple message for you: don’t ignore the signs! When you start to feel off kilter, it is not simply a time to press through. Keep going, but you may need to do so with caution. A while ago, I provided some steps on how to manage crisis situations in the Stop, Drop, and Roll post. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed, check there first! If you don’t feel your situation is as dire, or if you’ve already read the post mentioned above, here are some suggestions.
First; prioritize and refocus your activities. This could be a process you complete with daily tasks, or with longer term goals in your life. Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower developed a simple system for making efficient decisions in wartime. He looked at tasks in terms of two intersecting dimensions: Importance and Urgency. Categorizing tasks in this way helps you to figure out how to make decisions between competing responsibilities and demands.
– task that are both important and urgent should go to the top of your list. You need to deal with these right away!
– tasks that are important but not urgent can become long term goals. You might be able to break these into some smaller tasks that can be more easily managed.
– tasks that are urgent, but not important require you to make a critical decision about whether this task is something that you need to complete at all. Is it your job to do? Will not doing it result in a crisis? Can the deadline pass, with the task left undone, without anything terrible happening?
– tasks that are neither urgent nor important……need I say more? Let it GO!
Second, develop a plan of action. Break large goals into smaller goals with clear deadlines. Ask for help if you need to. Do an inventory of the resources you need to be successful.
Third, pick one or two self-care practices to engage in. They can be simple: taking a walk every couple of hours, connecting with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, spending some time reading a book or doing an activity you love, etc. Often, self-care is the first thing to go when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But it’s important to keep these practices going! If you don’t engage in self-care, eventually you will run out of steam and you won’t be able to get anything done. It’s important to take care of you.
Hopefully, this helps as all to pay attention to ourselves and take good care of US. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!