“Have respect for yourself, and patience and compassion. With these, you can handle anything.” ~Jack Kornfield
Several years ago, within a matter of months, I experienced the death of a parent, the breakdown of a committed relationship, and the death of a treasured animal companion.
I’d been doing okay with “normal” life tension, but when all that crap hit the fan… Wow.
I handled it okay. Just okay. I’m not sure it was a time to expect myself to be amazing.
Life is much better now.
One of the biggest lessons I learned going through those experiences was that I really had no idea how to take care of myself.
I’m great at taking care of others. I, like many of us, could give you loads of examples of how wonderfully supportive and understanding I can be. However, I’d neglected to take the time to understand me and what sorts of things helped me to feel nurtured, supported, and cared for.
I’ll skip the “yoga, getting enough rest, and chocolate” portion of the list (since you can find those kinds of self-care tips here). They’re super important, and the fact is, I already knew about them, but on their own they weren’t cutting it at that time in my life.
Here are some lessons I learned that I hope we can all benefit from when we’re going through a tough time.
Stay out of other people’s business.
It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the situations and emotions of those we care about.
When our partner is having a difficult time at work, we tend to feel their frustration and disappointment. When a loved one is going through a divorce, we may get caught up in their stories about how they’ve felt mistreated or how their spouse is being unfair.
While doing these things is very common and considered a normal part of friendship, it’s not the time. These behaviors can be draining to our own energy. Listening to the emotions of others can cause those emotions to be stirred up in ourselves, especially if we relate to the situations they’re talking about.
It’s simply not the time to use our energy reserves feeling other people’s emotions. We have our own to harmonize.
Yeah, we know this one already. But how many of us are actually doing it?
Here’s the thing: We can absolutely accept where we are at any given moment, while also holding space for wanting more; for being more compassionate; for having a better education, a more successful business, or for meeting a loving partner.
Accepting where we are at doesn’t mean we don’t have goals, or can’t visualize a different, presumably even more fulfilling life. It means that we recognize there are times in our life where we won’t be amazing (see above). That there are times when we’ll do the minimum to get by, because that’s all the energy we have.
Sometimes, that’s just how it’s going to be.
Accepting where we are at is always a priority, but particularly in times of intense strain. No beating ourselves up allowed.
Recognize what helps us feel good when we’re stressed.
Again, seems like a no-brainer. However, when I was going through these experiences, I assumed that having coffee or drinks with a good friend would help me feel better.
Normally, I really enjoy this and find it relaxing.
Surprisingly, I found I was not enjoying these get-togethers. It wasn’t that my friends weren’t sympathetic. It was simply that I needed me (and me alone) time to process and heal. The very greatest friend simply could not offer me what I could offer myself at that time.
We’re all different. Some of us will find great comfort in surrounding ourselves with friends; others will benefit from immersing ourselves in our hobbies or in our work. There’s no right answer here. It’s a matter of paying attention to our own needs and what works for us, not what general opinion says that we need.
This is also not a time to cave to social or family obligations if we don’t find them to be nourishing. If the weekly family dinner is fun and supportive, go for it. If it’s more of a “dredging up the past” fest, then let that routine go until you’re feeling stronger.
Re-learn how to focus.
Many of us feel busy, busy, busy. And it’s true—we are busy. That said, taking the time to really assess our Internet and social media time can be enlightening.
If I’m honest, I spend one to two hours of a “work” day cruising Facebook and Twitter, checking and answering email, and reading posts on different news outlets.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. It is, for some of us though, a behavior that has “trained” us to not be as focused as we could be.
Instead of sitting down and spending an uninterrupted two hours on a particular task, getting sidetracked online can cause that same task to take me three to four hours (or more!).
Great focusing skills also apply to our “me” time. It’s not just useful when working or studying. Focus can also help to optimize the time we do spend relaxing or self-nurturing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “intended” to meditate or nap, and have found myself obsessively checking email instead.
Using apps to limit one’s access to social media can be a great way to start the process of shifting our online habits.
In times of stress, compassion for self, in the manner that is the most soothing and fulfilling for us, is a priority. To be present in our lives, and for our loved ones, and yes, for ourselves, this self-care is imperative.
What do you pay attention to when you’re in an intense period of self-care?