Friday, April 29, 2011

Self Care 101: Regaining Traction

I'm guessing if I say "one of those days," you'll know what I mean. One of those days where it feels like you're trying to coordinate troop movements to get out of the house. One of those days when that meeting you were sure was at 2 is actually at 1. One of those days where the car needs a $500 brake job. One of those days where if your head weren't physically attached, it too would be gone (along with your keys, that paper you needed to fax, and your phone).

I think that it's probably safe for me to assume that most of us have had "one of those days." I know that I have. In fact, sometimes "those days" can feel as though they have stretched out to include a week, a month, or more. No matter what you do, it seems like you are always two steps behind. No matter how hard you push, it feels like you're spinning your wheels (and maybe throwing mud everywhere too--one more job to add to the "to do" list).

Today's post is my reminder to you (and me too), that there are ways that you can regain some traction when you're in the middle of "those days." Here are some of the tools that I teach my clients, and use myself, to help make it to firmer footing.

1. Stop spinning your wheels. I don't know about you, but the more overwhelmed I feel, the more likely I am to rush around from task to task. Nothing gets all the way done. Nothing gets done well. Instead of feeling like I'm making progress, I just feel more overwhelmed. So, the first step is to just stop. I know that may feel paradoxical, but unless you can stop and get organized, you're likely to just make a bigger mess. Take a deep breath. Get outside. Move your body. Create a small space (physically and mentally), and use that as your launch point. (For more on creating space, see my post on Pausing.)

2. Let go of what is already gone. By the time you are having "one of those days," several things have already gone wrong. Most of those things are in the past, and you can't do anything about them. So, use your small space to acknowledge any feelings of frustration, hurt, anger, or anxiety. Then let them go. If you need to, it can be helpful to write down what you want to let go of, and then physically let go of the writing (tear it up, etc.). When you free your mind from focusing on what is already gone, there is space to assess your next move.

3. Identify what you can control. For me, one of the hardest parts of "those days," is the sense that my life has gotten totally out of control. Much of this feeling comes from our tendency to focus on those pieces of the picture that are out of our control. When you shift the focus to what is under your control, that gives you the opportunity to take some productive action. (A hat tip here to Susan Giurleo, who writes about "triaging" tasks). I think a list is helpful for this step as well. Write down as many things as you can that you can actually control (it doesn't matter how small these things are, just include them in the list). Then create a priority system, and begin completing the things that you can control.

4. Focus on something positive. The reason that there are so many books, articles, and online tools that encourage you to identify "what you are grateful for," is that a focus on the good things in your life does help to contribute to a sense of control. On "those days," focusing on what is good, no matter how small those things are, is a good adjunct to the exercise of identifying what you can control. A focus on gratitude also helps you break out of the feeling that "everything is falling apart," which often pops up when we feel overwhelmed.

5. Reach for support. When you're having "those days," it can be easy to isolate yourself. You may feel embarrassed by how out of control you feel, you may not want to "bother" friends or family. Isolation increases the sense that things are awful and will not get better, so one of your best tools to fight back is to share what you're experiencing. Make a phone call, connect online, set up a date to take a walk or get a coffee. If things feel too big to handle with friends and family, call a psychologist. The key is to remind yourself that you don't have to do this alone.

Repeat these steps as often as you need to start to push back against that feeling of being overwhelmed and alone.

Please share your own "traction tools" below, as well!