What do you do when you're feeling completely overwhelmed?
Do you yell at your kids? Argue with your partner? Get completely wound up and collapse in a heap?
Like a bolt out of the blue, it hit me recently that when I am in overwhelm my natural instinct is to slip into self-care mode.
I don't know how this happened really. It's not as if I said to myself, "Wholly crap, this awful thing is happening to me, I better get a massage, have a soak in the tub and curl up with a good book."
It's just that somewhere deep inside of me I knew that self-care was the only way to survive the emotional curve ball the universe was throwing me. It's like my deeply entrenched self-care gene kicked in and said "Stop! Get off at the next station! It's time for some self-lovin'."
When I reflect on my adult life, I can see a pattern between less-than-positive life events and the intensity of the self-care I afforded myself.
When my Dad had his quadruple bypass 20 years ago I started yoga. When I miscarried at 15 weeks I took myself to bed with a box of tissues, snacks and a book - and came out when I was good and ready. When my hips started playing up after a difficult birth I turned to Pilates. When I had more stressful events than I could cope with I turned inward, with meditation becoming my drug of choice.
I hear you say "Yes, Helen, but self-care isn't always possible."
But my dear, I disagree with you. No matter how overwhelmed, how exhausted, how frustrated you are, there is always a way to care for yourself.
1. Start with your body
What does it like to do?
Does it like to go for a bike ride twice a week, meditate every morning, and eat six small meals a day? Does it like to sleep in, stay up late and drink green smoothies? Or does it prefer to hang out with friends, visit art galleries and eat tapas?
If you don't know what your body likes you need to take some time to sit with it, listen and give it more of that!
Yes, I'm saying meditate, but if that sounds way too difficult, do something else. Go for a walk, get a massage, take a swim - something on your own so you can reconnect with your body and work out what it actually likes.
If you nourish your body and your mind with fun things you like to do, work you are passionate about and fuel that keeps you going you will start the process of moving yourself out of overwhelm.
And you'll be starting to integrate self-care into your day. Hooray!
2. Go small
Once you know what your body likes it's time to honour it.
Quite often we think we need an hour of self-care (think manicure, massage, gym session) when really what we need are small pockets of self-care all day.
Yes, an hour gym session is also good but you may find it too difficult to get to your class if you're too deep in your overwhelm.
So start small.
- Take time to sip your coffee in the morning.
- Sit on the deck in the sun.
- Feel the water run over you in the shower.
- Walk slowly.
- Look up.
- Take in the buildings and nature around you.
- Smile at a stranger.
- Walk in the park.
- Kiss your partner.
- Hug your child.
There are so many self-care things you can do and so much around you that is wonderful - the list of experiences and opportunities is ripe for the picking! Notice these small things, breathe them in and most importantly do them.
You'll feel better for it.
Now I'm not suggesting that decluttering is a self-care activity (unless you really love it!) but I know that if you shift your clutter you can help shift your overwhelm as well - and make more space for self-care in your life.
When it comes to getting organised or decluttering your home, there's no way you can tackle any big task when you're feeling completely overwhelmed. So please don't start with your filing cabinet, kitchen pantry, wardrobe or any other area that needs a week of solid effort to get it done.
It's just too much.
But how would it feel to sort out your handbag? Or take the newspapers to the bin and dirty coffee cups to the dishwasher? Or pay one bill from the top of your paper pile?
Be gentle with yourself. When you are living with overwhelm there's no way you can tackle all of your clutter issues in one go.
But you can do a little bit of something each day, no matter how small, to help cut through the clutter and shift your overwhelm. And make space. Space to think more clearly, space to get focus in your life and space to bring in more self-care.
Because it's this self-care that will keep you going on both the good days and the bad. I know. Because self-care is my default when my life gets crazy. And it makes me feel good when it's not. What's better than that?