Many of my therapy patients are telling me these days that they are overwhelmed and exhausted in ways they have never felt before. They can't seem to find the time or space to regenerate and are overwhelmed with what they feel obligated to accomplish.
If you're feeling the same way, you're probably stressed to the max and not knowing how to change the situation. Your inner voice tells you to practice mindfulness, but you can't sit still. You try to eat more nutritionally but your internal conveyor belt is going so fast that you're not benefiting from your discipline. You're afraid to stop because you might not be able to start up again. The latest feel-better fads pull you in ever-new directions, but they don't seem to work and the disappointments knock you way too far down. You're exhausting your resources, diluting the quality of your performance and too vulnerable when things don't work right.
Concerned friends tell you to slow down or to take more time off, but that means planning ahead and you can hardly deal with what is already in front of you. You know you need to let go of some of the things you are doing, but you aren't sure which ones or, even worse, don't want to give any of them up.
You should, of course, take the "sane" path. If you could just disconnect from all unnecessary obligations, let go of difficult relationships, and take more time to regenerate, you'd, of course, feel better. Yet, your reasonable self-promises just don't materialize. You are tired of being tired, stressed from being stressed, and distressed about being distressed. You know you're heading for trouble, but can't seem to pull out of the complicated, downward spiral you're in.
If only you could find some renewable energy within your overwhelming present involvements, maybe you could reorganize and re-prioritize. Well, strange as it may seem, you can. Many people unnecessarily lose energy in ways they are not aware of that are actually changeable, even if you can't currently get off your treadmill. If you can stop that depletion, you can find the strength to change your situation. The following eight behaviors will help you plug up your energy drains and give you the respite you need to get back in the game.
1) Give Up Non-Resolvable Conflicts
My patients tell me every day how they are in constant conflict about something but just can't seem to find a way out of it or to make a decision one way or the other. Sometimes those energy-draining conflicts have been going on for months without resolution.
If you are careening between two pulls, exhausted from traversing the distance between them over and over, any decision will release you, even the decision to not make a decision. "I really want to lose weight, but I'm too busy to watch what I eat." "I hate this job, but I'm afraid to look for another one." "I know I have to break off this relationship, but I'm not sure there's anyone better out there." "I really should move out of this apartment, but I'm not sure I can afford the hassle right now."
The way out of those never-ending, irresolvable dilemmas is to just tell yourself that you're either not going to make a decision about them at this time in your life or you're going to take one road until you decide take another. Then focus on the things you can change and redirect your efforts in that direction.
2) Don't Expect the Improbable
Believing that something that has never happen will maybe happen this time is referred to by many people as the definition of insanity. For example, you have consistent, ample evidence that a certain relationship outcome is highly unlikely, but find yourself putting huge amounts of energy into continuing to believe it will. Then you have to allocate more energy into grieving when it doesn't and still more energy into trying to believe it will the next time around. Like, you've been disappointed or hurt over and over in the relationship you're in but continue to believe that if you just try harder, things will change. Your partner continues to behave exactly the way he or she has in the past, but you hold on to the hope that, somehow, someway, things will get better in the future.
"I keep telling my boss that I'm overworked. He assures me that he'll get me some much-needed time off soon. He's really nice about it, so I'm sure he intends to help when he comes out from under." "This time, my mom promised me that she'd only stay two weeks so my partner won't feel invaded. I've really told her how important to me and I'm sure she'll finally do what I've asked." Or, "He promised me that this weekend for sure, he'd clean the garage. I know he can't always plan perfectly, and it's been a few months, but he seems so sincere, I just know he'll come through this time."
3) Don't React Without the Power to Act
Outrage, distress, upset, anger, hurt, disappointments, anxiety, disillusionment, are all examples of emotional reactivity. Someone does something to you to activate your adrenalin response and your brain takes you immediately into fight or flight. Your muscles are primed for action, your mind is looking at alternatives, and your heart is pumping. Everything in your reaction is telling you to do something to stop your negative feelings.
"How can she even get away with that?" "Why did he say those mean things to me? I've never hurt him that way." "Stupid driver. I'm almost ran into that jerk. How do people like that ever get licenses?" "What if they don't give me my bonus? What will I do?" "I can't believe she would say that behind my back." "How dare you think you can get away with that?"
If your hyped-up body can take action to improve the situation or keep it from happening again, you will be reacting appropriately because you have an attainable goal. If you can't, you just dropped huge amounts of energy that you can't afford to lose. As the now famous Elsa sings out, "Let it go."
4) Stay out of Immobilization
Your brain's frontal lobes help you look at alternatives. Your mid-brain gives you the ability to immediately act to change a situation. Faced with a difficult challenge, if you don't choose and don't act, you will be forced into responding from your primitive brain where all your automatic functions are influenced. Breathing, digestion, temperature, heart rhythm, hormonal balances, nervous system inflammation, are all unconsciously controlled.
If you are distressed about something and stay in a state of suspended chemical activation, your body is being bombarded with invisible signals for you to face your challenge or get away from it. "I can't seem to find my way out of this maze." "Whatever direction I go will be wrong." "I'm so tired, I just can't move."
Those crucial-to-life functions will eventually falter if you stay immobilized for long periods of time. You may not notice it consciously, but you are expending huge amounts of energy by standing still. A "deer in a headlight" will eventually go down.
5) Give up Procrastinating
If you are like so many others, you have lost a huge amount of time and energy putting off something until you have no choice but to do it. That spinning without accomplishment is a huge drain. Every time you think about it, you will feel a rush of guilt, conflict, and embarrassment, as if someone were looking over your shoulder reminding you of your continuous transgression. "I'm really going to do that tonight, after I watch the show and make cookies." "I promised my boyfriend I'd set up that party and I just haven't had time. I'll get to it soon."
The way to give up procrastination is to use postponement instead and be rigorously honest about your intentions. If you aren't really going to do something until the last minute, and you've given up fooling yourself, just plan on doing it when you know you will. You can only do what is in front of you. Stirring up a major worry attack will not only get the job done, but take away from your enjoyment and competence in what you are doing in the moment.
6) Get Out of Your "Bad Deals"
All relationships are combinations of giving, exchanging, and creating synergy. If you give too much over time, you're going to feel resentful and martyred. Relationships which are more reciprocal give you, over time, as much as you give back. Synergy is the delicious feeling of creating more than the sum of the parts, giving bonuses to you and the person you care about.
Sometimes we have to stay in a deal even when the balance is skewed and we're consistently giving more than we are receiving. Unless you are unable to disconnect from that situation, you will feel much better if you just accept that you signed up for the whole deal, and don't keep score. If that is true, it would help if you have other relationships in your life which are synergistic. That will help maintain the balance. Staying in something that is costing more than you're getting over a long period of time will steal your life-force and the energy that comes with it.
"I know I should break up with her, but I just can't deal with her reaction. It's too much trouble. I don't love her anymore, but she seems okay with that." "I know I'm going nowhere in this job, but I need to pay the rent. Getting up in the morning is a drag."
7) Live More in the Moment
There is so much hype now about meditation, quiet time, and self-reflection that it is difficult to really get a bead on what those practices actually mean anymore. Living in the past is only an energy boost when you bring up memories that make you feel wonderful in the present or remind you to practice a better way of being. If you spend time ruing something you've done, embarrassed over something you've said, or wishing the past were different, your present experience is robbed of what you could be doing to regenerate. The same is true of the uncontrollable future. Security is an illusion, yet many people spend hours dreaming of what could or might be, lessening their experience of what is actually happening.
Planning for the future or looking forward to something that expands your happiness or avoids current distress can actually create more energy. So can creative thoughts and thinking of ways you can help others. Your brain will actually rest as it looks forward to better, more satisfying moments.
Mindfulness meditation, when practiced regularly, does stop the spinning for many people. When it works, it positively changes the way you experience the world. Some people feel more anxious when they try to stay that quiet without moving. If you really have trouble sitting still, moving meditations like Yoga, dancing, and martial arts can have the same effect. What is important is the joy with which you are doing them, not the worry about the stress of competitive accomplishment.
8) Give up Stressing About Stress
When I tell my patients that harmful stress is simply the way their bodies feel when they are unable to heal between demands. Unless you are ill or have a psychological disorder, your body is prepared to handle multiple sequential challenges if it can rebalance in between. Liken yourself to a fire-engine that is called into duty to handle an emergency. When the fire is over, you'd be washed, your hoses rewound, your containers refilled, and your energy restored. If you had to continuously go from fire to fire, you'd soon run out of resources and end up unable to do your job.
"I have so much stupid stuff to do before I can get to what I really want to do." "My boss is going to kill me if I don't get this brief done tonight." "I'm totally overloaded." "I know I'm not doing my best but I'm so exhausted." "I just need the world to stop spinning for one night." "I'm so stressed out, I know I'm spinning my wheels but I just don't know how to stop."
Listen for your comments and ask yourself if they actually do anything to stop your spinning. Usually, in fact, they will just feed your distress and take crucial energy away from doing the job you've set out to do. There will be times when you have to stretch but you can only do that for so long until your performance declines and then you'll stress over that. That's more energy down the drain without making the situation better.
If you can adopt these eight behavior changes, you will rapidly find yourself more energized and more hopeful . There are some obvious ways you will be able to tell. You'll start laughing again. The steel pole between you and the world will lose its rigidity. You'll find yourself actually looking at someone when you talk to them and remembering things that people tell you. You might even be able to feel optimistic again, a state of being that has been proven to cause greater productivity.
Even if you just work at giving up attachments to things that aren't good for you, saying "no" to unreasonable demands, giving up unnecessary obligations, and taking time to self-indulge, you would already be ahead of the game. Stand back and observe yourself from a place of compassion and objectivity. Look at the bigger picture. If you stay exhausted and running on an empty tank, you will eventually doom yourself to rituals and habits because they take less energy. If you, on the other hand, actively and intentionally do whatever you need to do to renew your resources, you will once again be able to face your challenges with a much greater chance of an exciting outcome.
Dr. Randi's free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you'll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded "honeymoon is over" phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring. www.heroiclove.com