Words of Encouragement (9):
*Know when to take time out*.
As I explored previously in the post about ‘How much news is too much news?’, this one comes having just watched the news, and feeling that restless unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach, and the sense of stress in thinking about and acknowledging what our fellow human beings are going through in this window of history. Even safely tucked away from it all in my quiet flat, the news can still get right to us….and for those who are particularly empathetic it can touch us to the core.
We need to learn how to process things through this experience, this season. And we need to know when to take a step back, to take time out. This is especially true if we are in any position of responsibility or supporting or caring for other people. This might be on many levels or on one or two, but the principle holds true regardless. Your responsibilities might be your work, your volunteering roles, your parents, your spouse, your friends, your children. It could be the role you find yourself in in supporting and encouraging other people, in putting food on the table, in supporting colleagues and others, and you therefore need to know what your ‘triggers’ are in terms of when that feeling inside begins to get too much. When anxiety, stress or fear begins to overtake you.
At such times, step back.
Take some time out and rebuild yourself, nurture yourself, do something perhaps creative, artistic, musical, relaxing to take your mind and attention and emotions off this terrible situation we find ourselves in.
Take time out and take a break so that when you come back you can come back stronger, you can be there for yourself as well as those around you who are depending on you, and so that you can be purposeful in how you use your days so that you can and do make a difference for the better in the lives of those closest to you, and even in the lives of those you don’t know, by doing the right thing.
If you’ve read my earlier post at the beginning of February (2020), you’ll know that I feel compelled to continue through this month with the theme of ‘Rest’. If you haven’t read my earlier post, in summary I had a great January, yet at the start of February I have felt tired, ‘under the weather’ and not in the best of health. As such, as I often ‘theme’ my months to help me have a better focus and direction, as well as to feel more positive as I move through the year, I am honing in on the idea of rest.
Well friends, ‘life as it happens to be’ is happening as it is, unfolding one step at a time, and I hope you’ll journey with me as I discover more about rest this month. If you’ve been following me for a while, or have looked back at my posts over the past few years (since mid 2017 when I started this blog), then you’ll know that I do like to have myself an at home ‘retreat’ or two throughout the year. Sometimes these have a particular focus such as faith, or a writing retreat, or creativity. I hadn’t planned to start thinking about one so early on in the year, but it seems that I need to for my own wellbeing.
At home retreats can be fairly simple, with relatively little planning and preparation depending on how organised you generally are, or you can put more time, thought and effort into things depending on your needs. I have written about planning retreats in the past. With where I am at right now, I think the planning process itself is something that is good for my mental health, if that makes sense. It helps me not to allow myself to feel overwhelmed or give in to the lack of energy, or to feel ‘frazzled’ that I can’t keep up with things at home what with working full time and feeling a little less than my best at the moment. Some people have holidays coming up at this time of the year, but as I haven’t got anything in the diary just yet, the planning gives me those similar kind of happy ‘vibes’ and something other than the day to day routine to put my attention and focus into.
Do you ever find that planning even the simplest of things, trying to make something special out of the ‘ordinary’ helps to keep you in a positive and healthy frame of mind? I think the process of doing a little bit at a time with the build up to something, even if it’s a weekend of restfulness, is quite special, particularly after the Christmas and festive season for which there was the lovely build up and collective nostalgic feeling which with the season has now passed.
Therefore, I’m inviting you to journey on planning a restful retreat one step at a time, easy does it, no stress, more rest! If you like, please join in and carve out your own little pockets of rest this month. xx
Everyday stresses can add up over time, and if we’re not careful we may experiences a wide range of negative effects from anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, a sense of being overwhelmed, trapped and frustrated, backed into a corner, to name but a few.
Having come through times of intense stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, etc. due to a range of challenging circumstances, I know how important it is to be mindful and aware of when these little ‘niggly’ things that occur day to day begin to trigger even a hint of those feelings.
If we allow things to build up and up (which, I truly know, friends, can be difficult not to) then our bodies and nervous systems will begin to move from a state of calm, rest, efficiency and productivity, to being hypervigilant, and in fight-flight-freeze mode. Stress hormones will build up and this will affect our thinking, cloud our judgement and affect us physically. We may find it difficult to sleep, we may turn to comfort eating, or feel too stressed to eat, and so on and so forth. You get the idea. Perhaps, like me, you know it all too well.
Did you remember to breathe?
Sometimes I ‘forget to breathe’. Obviously, my body will be breathing, but what I mean is sometimes I get into a rigid state where I’m kind of holding my breath without even realising it, and therefore not getting a sufficient supply of oxygen for my wellbeing, and for regulating my nervous system.
Did you know that something as simple as breathing well is so powerful in regulating our nervous system, and promoting our wellbeing? And yet so often so many of us seem to ‘forget this’. We breathe from a ‘shallow’ place and don’t allow a full intake or exhale of our breath. Once we begin to be aware of our breathing and to intentionally practice doing it ‘better’ then our nervous systems are able to ‘calm down’. So, for your own good….”Don’t hold your breath!”.
What are those ‘little things’?
Sometimes life throws us into challenges where we feel like we may well sink if we don’t ‘swim’ to survive. At times life is so tough that our ‘default’ is to operate on fight-flight-freeze mode, simply to survive an intensely stressful, emotional, challenging and / or traumatic situation.
However, even at times when we are in those more calm and peaceful seasons where things overall are going well, our bodies and brains can be overstimulated and create a ‘stress response’ within us similar (or equivalent) to that fight-flight-freeze response.
Can you see yourself, or relate to what’s happening, in any of the following scenarios?
You all know the feeling. You’re on the way to see your friends for a great day out, but you can’t find the keys to your car, when you finally do and are on your way you then get caught in traffic and you worry that you’ll be late, you arrive just in time but can’t find a parking space, you’re feeling anxious because of angry drivers that you’ve encountered and before your great day out has even started, you kind of want to be back home where you can crawl into bed.
Finally you meet your friends and it’s great to see them. You hug and you’re reminded of why the stress of the journey was worth it. As you catch up over coffee, the noise around you and the multitude of conversations going on from other people leaves you feeling a bit disoriented. You try to listen to your friends but it’s difficult to ‘tune out’ the noise and ‘tune in’ to hear their conversations. When things finally quieten down your friends begin to share updates about their lives. They’re doing great, you’re happy for each other, but some things in the conversation seem to ‘trigger’ you and they seem insensitive to it. You listen patiently and are as encouraging and loving a friend as ever but something doesn’t feel quite right inside. A few of your friends get up to buy something to eat and you’re left alone with one friend. You’re by nature a ‘listener’ and you’ve listened attentively and shown genuine interest and contributed here and there to the group conversations. However, alone with this person they seem to ask you question after question after question. It’s been a long time since you’ve seen each other and it’s nice to catch up but you feel stressed, uneasy and needing your own space. You hope that the others will come back soon so that they dynamic will feel more ‘balanced’ once again, as far as is possible with a range of personalities, and a mix of ‘introverts, extraverts and ambiverts’. All in all by the end of the day you’ve had a lovely and a pleasant time, but some of the ‘little things’ have got to you and you don’t quite understand why you’re feeling so stressed after a nice day out.
You’ve landed your dream job. You got through the interview despite your nerves, impressed the new bosses and are finally where you’ve wanted to be for oh so long. Things are going great. You manage to push past your first day nerves, the disorientation of not knowing anyone, and having to get to know a lot of new faces, names and ways of working. After a few weeks into your dream job you’ve built some rapport with colleagues, feel comfortable and confident in what you’re doing, know the ‘lay of the land’ and where to get lunch, where different offices are and what your day to day routine is like. You’re really pleased with this great new step in your life, but somehow everyday you feel a bit of a ‘gnawing’ in the pit of your stomach, and a feeling of nervousness and stress rising up within you. The dream job you should be overjoyed about and looking forward to going to everyday doesn’t leave you feeling the way you had hoped. It’s not the job itself – it perfectly fits what you had wanted to do. It’s not the location – it’s ideal for you and the building and the facilities are great. It’s not the ‘vibe’ of the organisation, people are friendly and professional. It’s just that one little thing. That one colleague who hasn’t taken so well to you. The one who rolls their eyes, who makes subtle flippant remarks that you are sure are about you, who is overly friendly to everyone else but ignores you or responds abruptly and provides as little help or good will as possible. The one who does so many ‘little things’ that are hard to pin down as being ‘problems’ in and of themselves, but who gives you that feeling inside your chest, the one that leaves you feeling somewhat stressed. Why can’t you just ignore it, shake it off? You try but it seems to leave you feeling drained nonetheless.
You’re really thankful to have good and close friends. Or perhaps you have a loving partner or spouse. You’re so grateful for the people in your life. It’s just that sometimes you feel the need for your own space, sometimes they do or say things that make you feel stressed, sometimes you find yourself putting your needs aside to help them, to keep them happy. But those little things, they still get to you a bit, don’t they?
Life is going great. You’re doing well in your job. You’ve got good friends. You’re quite healthy. No family drama. No major life crisis. But you can’t quite seem to keep up with all that you have to or want to do. You live alone. The dishes have piled up. There are things needing done around the house. You want to get on top of things, but you’ve got to manage so many things yourself, and you spend so much time doing things yet before you know it things need to be done all over again, and you haven’t even got to that ‘to do’ list of things needing fixed, repaired and so on and so forth.
Or you’re a working mum, you love your family, your kids, they are everything to you. But sometimes they just don’t listen. They leave things lying about. They seem more interested in their phones and their friends and their computers than they do in connecting with you. You feel unappreciated, stressed, you love your life, your family, your job, but sometimes those little things…leave you feeling a bit stressed, frustrated, in need of a holiday on a beautiful desert island with a good book, all by yourself! Do you know the feeling?
Taking a step back:
We don’t need to be going through a trauma or a life crisis for things to become stressful. Sometimes the ‘little things’ in life can leave us feeling overwhelmed. And if we let them build up then at some point they might just ‘bubble over’. Have you ever ‘snapped at’ someone who really didn’t deserve it, not because of them, but because you allowed different stresses to build up over time and this was just the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’? Have you ever burst into tears, or just ended up so fatigued that you couldn’t do anything? Have you let the ‘little things’ in life get the better of you?
Or are you just beginning to notice them? Don’t let the ‘little things’ build up and overwhelm you.
Sometimes we need to try taking a step back. Sometimes that can be difficult. Sometimes it involves saying ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to someone and facing the ‘fear’ of not meeting their expectations of us for the sake of preserving and maintaining our own well being. In order to do so we need to know and be aware of what we need, we need to work on managing ours and other people’s expectations in a healthy way, managing boundaries and taking good care of ourselves.
Sometimes we need to take a step back, remind ourselves to ‘breathe’ and do something to nurture ourselves.
What are you going to do today to make sure that the ‘little things’ don’t cause you to feel stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or a bit lacklustre today?
Remember, it’s never a little thing to take care of your own wellbeing! x
In my last post (21) I wrote about taking time out just to ‘be’ and to enjoy doing nothing in particular. This post explores taking time out to reflect and to deal with some of our ‘stuff’. Not the stuff in our attics, spare rooms, garages or basements – but to spend a bit of time sorting out what’s overflowing from our ’emotional junk drawers’ in our hearts and minds.
Hopefully we’ll all have a bit of time this season where we can have even at least a day or two to ourselves to rest and reflect. If we think we don’t have this time, then maybe we are not being intentional in making this time for ourselves (time we would otherwise spend watching TV perhaps).
The new calendar year will be upon us in a matter of weeks, and the general mood of new years, and beginnings of various sorts tends to be geared more towards action rather than reflection. Those around you, as well as the things you read and see in the media, will be imparting messages of goals, things to accomplish, plans and experiences.
This time of the year, however, lends naturally to reflection, to taking time to pause and ponder, to rest and be thankful, to look back before looking forwards, to re-evaluate where we are and where we need to go. It is also a time for being honest with ourselves and taking time to deal with some of our ‘stuff’ emotionally and mentally.
We can choose to view some of our struggles as blessings. For example, this time of year can bring certain things in our lives more sharply into focus. Light might be shed upon our true feelings and motives, for example, the sociable nature of this season might reveal our inner loneliness; the frivolity and consumerism might pull on our heart strings to search for something deeper and more meaningful in our lives; the end of one year might nudge us into reflection as to whether we have made the best use of our time or simply been frittering it away.
As much as we need plans, and to take action, we also need to do this purposefully and to do so requires quieter times of thinking and reflection.
Moving forwards also requires letting go of some of the burdens that we carry. We might be allowing things from our past to hold us back from stepping into the future that we long for. Perhaps we need healing, need time to seek counsel, therapy and to get help with how to deal with traumas or difficulties in our lives. This can be a long road, but we have to start somewhere and we don’t have to do it all at once. We often face a ‘stop-start’ process in any journey of self-reflection, repentance, healing, recovery and change. But the thing is to start, to reflect upon what is needed to go from where we are to where we are meant to be.
I am blessed in that I don’t take this journey alone. Jesus Is my Shepherd, King, Healer and Lord, and He leads me forward with grace and peace. There is healing that only He can bring and things that only He can do. There are also certain things that I must do to cooperate and participate in the process – things like renewing my mind, working on difficult issues, forgiving, letting go, and reframing the way I think about difficulties I have experienced. These things, like the changing of the seasons take time.
But it’s important that we do take time to reflect upon our lives and to consider what things we have been ‘stuffing down’ deep within our hearts, and into our subconscious that we hope will just ‘go away’, things that actually in their time need to be dealt with in order for us to go forwards in our journey with a greater understanding, appreciation of life, sense of identity and purpose.
Will you give yourself some time to do just that this season? You need and deserve it. x
What does finding balance in life mean to you? And what imagery comes to mind? Do you picture a gymnast on a balance beam, scales of justice, or perhaps a busy working mum ‘juggling’ an armful of responsibilities? Do you imagine a calm, serene and peaceful individual with a balanced life? Do you think of pH levels, of acid and alkaline levels? Do you picture the natural physical balance often found in the animal kingdom, such as a flamingo standing on one leg? 🙂
What does finding balance mean to you?
A sliding scale.
Balance in life, if you’ll pardon the pun, might be seen as a sliding scale. Our ideas about living a balanced life can vary over time, they can fluctuate and move from one thing to the next and then back again. They can vary according to circumstances, insight from the people we meet, and from life experiences, for example.
Pleasing everyone or staying sane?
From observation, of myself and of others, I find that as social beings (and that applies to all of us as human beings, no matter how introverted, isolated or reclusive we think we are), balance in life is often a dance between managing the needs and expectations of others and our own.
We need to maintain our own inner equilibrium if we are to live life well and be the best we can in our relationships and in managing our commitments. And we need to be involved in a world full of connections and communication with other people for our own wellbeing, growth and happiness.
We all have a variety of mutual needs – for community, communication and contact that co-exist with more seemingly ‘individual’ needs of solitude, quiet, rest, repose, refreshment, healing and maintaining our own commitments and responsibilities.
An important part of maintaining a balanced, healthy and productive life involves growing in insight of what our needs are and how they interplay with the needs of others, especially those most close to us in our lives.
We need to also understand that maintaining this fine equilibrium may also sometimes mean saying ‘no’, taking a step back, and refocusing our time, energy and efforts, so that we can be replenished, we can keep up with our responsibilities and be our best selves for the people we love as well. If we aren’t sometimes ‘brave’ enough to say no from time to time then we may end up feeling stressed, becoming ‘frazzled’, burn out, and withdrawing from the people who mean so much to us because we just can’t cope.
We all need balance, and we all need to help each other find it, as well as to grow in understanding of ourselves and each other in our varied and unique ways of finding and maintaining such balance.
A fine art.
Perhaps the art of living a balanced life is comparable to learning to ride a bicycle, learning to dance, to walk a tight rope or on a balance beam, or to becoming a person who is wise and discerning and capable of making just and noble decisions.
The common thread among these is that balance may be in a sense intuitive, but it is not complete at the outset – it takes time, practice, effort, perseverance, diligence, insight, and often help from other people.
So if you are feeling a bit ‘frazzled’ in life, maybe you feel run down, burnt out, over committed, with too much to do and too many people to please, not enough time, energy, ‘sanity’, or peace of mind, then perhaps it is time to take a step back, time to breathe, to think and figure out a healthier way forwards.
It is worth recognising that finding balance is a part of life, and it can be difficult and we may fall down a few too many times. We may feel like a toddler who is learning to walk, with legs like jelly, unstable in our ways. Yet, with practice, we will get stronger, more adept and before long we will be off and on our way, and able to walk, run and play, including with other people. We might be scarred from too many falls off our metaphorical bikes but we don’t allow those things to keep us from getting back up again, watching and learning from others, until it becomes ‘second nature’ to us and we look for new challenges and learning opportunities.
I do think finding balance is a fine art. One which isn’t always easy to communicate. But just as we can learn to dance, to ride a bike, to grow in wisdom, to walk a tightrope, to reach out to someone else as we are doing so, so too can we learn to hone our skills at finding balance in life.
It’s important to grow in being able to communicate this with others, because just as we are working through things to find balance in our lives, so too are they. We need each other, and we’re in it together, and although we may be making a lot of mistakes, with practice, patience and love we can create a ‘dance’ that is full of beauty, love, and passion.
Stumbling is a part of learning. And finding balance is a part of that process.
It’s summer time, and while many people are going on adventures near and far, you may find that you aren’t in a position to get away somewhere for whatever reason. But sometimes what we really need is just some time out of the normal busy routine of working life to take a break and recharge. I haven’t had the chance to travel abroad this year so far, and although I love to travel, I also see time spent closer to home as valuable. I have the next week off work, and am enjoying the chance to ‘destress’, live at a slower pace, reconnect with God, and invest in those relationships that are important with people I no longer see as regularly as I once did. And this in itself is its own form of rejuvenation. I find that mid-year, and we’ve now passed the mid point of 2019, is a good time to stop and reflect on not only our achievements, or areas for improvement, but also how closely we are living to our priorities and what is most meaningful to us. Too often, we feel we need to ‘tick the biggest boxes’ whereas perhaps the slow and steady changes and investments of our time, energy, heart and mind are what matter most in the long run.
So if you do find yourself at home this summer, make the most of it. Maybe you have time off, or maybe you could take a day here or there to extend a weekend, and take some time to rest and reflect and envision where you want to go from here.
I have enjoyed the time to catch up on my sleep, to pray and spend time with God and in His Word, to see a close friend and meet her first baby for the first time, to simply sit in the sun, to exercise, to eat healthily, to play my violin and take photographs, to fellowship at church, and I hope in the next few days to visit family, and then some good friends so I guess those aren’t quite ‘vacations’ as such, but mini trips to visit loved ones. I know that all too soon I’ll be back at work, which is why it’s important to make the most of looking after myself and doing things that are meaningful in the interim, but without the stress and pressure that regular life lived ‘according to the clock’ often entails.
Another thing you could do if you can’t get away is to plan a ‘staycation’…maybe rent out a place for a change of scene for a day/night and have a mini retreat. Take time to listen to understand your thoughts and know that the time you have right here and now is precious. xx
It’s a challenging one, isn’t it? At least it can be. We have ideas of how we’d like our lives to be, we see images of that ideal we think we should be working toward. And yet…sometimes we really are just muddling through and trying to deal with each daily challenge as it comes to us. Maybe you’ve experienced burn out. And if you have, maybe you’re more conscious of the need for self care and learning to look after yourself and being attentive not only to the needs of others but also to your own, even if this way of thinking takes some getting used to.
But even if you’re someone who never has and maybe fortunately you never will experience burnout as such, you are still faced with that ‘low level’ just beneath the surface feeling that things are running away from you, getting out of order, are not quite right. And in this case I’m not talking about when something major is happening in your life, but when things are mostly fine, ‘normal’, moving along as they should in the ordinary ways of life.
But maybe you notice that you’re not feeling just ‘quite right’. It’s not that you feel bad, it’s just that you don’t feel so good. Tiredness creeps up, you’re managing the expectations of others, your boss rewards your efforts for a job well done by piling up even more work on your desk because afterall, you’re the one who will do it well and without much fuss. You offered to do a favour for someone in need, but they maybe seem to take it for granted, and while you would normally love to be a ‘cheerful giver’ with the expectations of nothing in return, you notice that you begin to get frustrated, your attitude isn’t quite what it should be, and your energy levels are low. There are demands on your time, you seem to be saying yes to everyone else which means saying no to yourself as you just don’t have the time, energy or emotional capacity to manage everything.
Most of us just push on through. But if we’re not careful, things begin to build up within us, and we know we’re not quite ok, but we don’t know how to ‘shake off’ those feelings. Sometimes just stopping and acknowledging that we need to check in with ourselves as we would with a friend, or even a child, to make sure they’re ok, is the best place to start even if we don’t actually know ‘what’s wrong’ or how to resolve things.
Slowing down, learning to tune in to our own hearts and minds, and committing to strengthening and encouraging ourselves before we take on the next commitment that is about to be given to us whether we are ready for it or not, is so important.
Maybe we don’t know what the next step to feeling more like our best self should be but stopping for a moment to be still awhile, is a good place to start…