Woman at the beach. Holding her arms wide, face to the sun

Give Yourself a Break… from Yourself

Life’s been quite a ride lately, hasn’t it?

Things are intense right now, on so many fronts. The tragedies of the virus and its ensuing economic fallout, and the fight for racial justice and police reform being met with further brutality and downright fascism by the current administration. And we’re all biting our nails for November too, because lord knows what will happen then. It’s A LOT, and that’s to say nothing of however you or your loved ones have been personally impacted by all that’s going on. 

But I’m not here to talk about all that’s wrong with the world, because you don’t need any more of that. I’m here to talk about taking care of your inner space, because, quite frankly, that’s all we have. 

I firmly believe that taking care of our own mental and emotional wellbeing is fundamental to our ability to better serve the world. This belief grows stronger each time I fall off my own self-care practice and become completely useless to those around me, something that’s happened multiple times in the past five months. Each time I have to claw myself out of a hole lined with I should be doing more, there’s no time for self-care right now, that’s a privilege and you don’t deserve itI start to see the light again. It’s only when I’m taking care of myself that am I strong enough to face the work that needs to be done, both in the world and in myself.

For me, taking care of myself means getting outside for a walk each morning, meditating, and journaling before I engage with technology or start my workday. Each time I fall away from this practice, it’s a slow downward spiral until a week later I start wondering “Why am I so depressed? Why do I feel so overwhelmed and unmotivated?” 

When you know what works for you, what makes you sane and strong and stable, you have to honour that every day. 

It’s that simple. Self-care is not a one and done solution. The harder I resist this truth, the more painful the reminders become. 

* * *

And speaking of painful reminders, I’ve been learning more about saboteurs lately. By saboteurs, I mean those judgy voices we have in our heads that tell us we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not doing enough, not successful enough, or that we shouldn’t even bother trying to change. You know the ones. We all have our own unique saboteurs, our own personal chorus of inner haters, but there are some universals as well. This assessment helps you recognize some of your top saboteurs, and is a fun (if somewhat confronting) tool for self-exploration! 

Unfortunately, our saboteurs are too often the voices we listen to and take counsel from, because we’ve been taught that harsh voices are necessary to help us grow and change. As hard as it might be to accept, these harsh voices do not serve us. In fact, they’re the very voices that keep us stuck. They make us feel panicked, ashamed, afraid, defeated, hopeless and most of all frozen. And that’s exactly what they want, because they exist to preserve the status quo in our minds and in our lives. They’re strong mental habits that keep things ‘safe’ and familiar, even if familiar sucks and we are desperately longing for change. 

I have some STRONG saboteurs, and they’ve gotten louder than ever lately. Something about the complete uncertainty of the future combined with a heightened awareness of my own privilege has woken them up in a big way. 

Here’s a few familiar hijackings:

There’s so much that needs to be fixed in the world, there’s so much I want to do, so much I want to say! What’s the point of even trying? Trump is going to burn this country to the ground. What could you possibly do to make a difference anyway?? Even your best intentions are probably ignorant or pointless and everyone is going to hate you.  

I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss my Tuesday night yoga class. Oh poor you, is this deadly pandemic that’s disproportionately impacting people of color putting a damper on your social calendar? At least you have a roof over your head and food to eat. You should be grateful. And besides reading a bunch of books, what are you actually DOING to make any of this better? Oh what, you’re overwhelmed? Is this all too hard for you and your fragile white feelings? Get over yourself, other people have real problems. 

You get the idea. 

And while some of that might seem like good self awareness, it’s not actually helpful. It doesn’t serve. The tone, the utter contempt with which I am treating myself, all that does is feed my shame and guilt and sense of powerlessness, the very emotions that get in the way of me taking positive action. 

* * *

That’s the great irony of saboteurs. We listen to them because we think they make us self-aware, that they make us “realistic” about ourselves and our limitations. Most of all, we listen to them because we think they’ll help us grow, make us better people. In reality, they keep us spinning our wheels, exhausted by all the negative emotions they generate, and feeling too small and too scared to take a single step forward. 

Sometimes I still let these thoughts run away with me, but the more I come to understand my saboteurs, the more I can recognize when I’ve been hijacked. For one, I completely stop breathing. If I let these thoughts run wild, I get so caught up in the panic that I literally start holding my breath, a classic anxiety trigger. That’s the crazy power of saboteurs, they trigger our sympathetic nervous systems, start flooding our bodies with cortisol, and before we know it, we’re in “fight, flight or freeze” mode, which is a super toxic (link) place to live. 

Luckily, once you’re aware of your own saboteurs, intercepting them is surprisingly simple. The quickest way is to simply get present, to get in touch with your senses, your breath, the sights and sounds around you. Anything that gets you into your body and out of your racing mind helps to break the cycle. This is why taking a few deep breaths when you’re really stressed can be so powerful. 

* * *

And this is where that self-care practice comes in. Taking a walk and practicing mindfulness before I start my day means reading “Trump sends more troops to Portland” is less likely to trigger my victim saboteur, the one who says “why even bother doing anything at all?“, and puts me in a depressive funk all day. 

With all that’s going on right now, staying sane is no small feat. But it is a worthy effort, a little mini revolution. And when we let go of our saboteurs and their lies, we remember that the more we fill ourselves up, the more we have to give.

So what does self care mean to you? What makes you feel strong and calm? What daily practices can help you navigate this exceptionally difficult time in the world?

If you’re struggling with negative self talk, or looking for support to set up self care practices, you know where to find me!

Wishing you strength and calm amidst the chaos,

Karen

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