There are times in our lives when we will all go through periods of extreme stress. It could be on an individual level, like a divorce or death of a loved one. Or it could be on a societal level, such as Corona virus threats, wars, stockmarket crashes or political leadership changes. When these things happen, the worry and fear can become so intense that people often decompensate by stress eating, or numbing out with TV, social media, alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.
Let’s face it: the brain is steering us toward the path of least resistance in order to feel better fast. But in the end, these things only give us a quick lift, and then we often feel worse afterward.
There can also be a tendency in times of stress to go into denial mode. “Maybe if I just ignore it, it will go away”. Many times I’ll hear people tell me that they have stopped listening to the news because it only invokes fear, or that they have tuned out politics because they feel so helpless to make a difference. In an effort to stop the overwhelm, they turn their back and walk away. I’m not going to lie, sometimes we all need a day to mentally check out and turn off the social media feeds, but as high functioning adults, we may also want to stay informed and connected.
I am going to advocate that there is a middle ground that we should all aim for. A place inside of us that I will label as the “healthy zone”. A zone that strikes a balance between social advocacy yet not ovewhelm, meaningful action instead paralysis, concern but not crippling fear, preparation without hoarding, and healthy self care instead of indulgence of cravings.
But how do we get to that targeted healthy zone and stay there? The pull to go in the opposite direction can be so strong. When I think about the zone, I like to use the image of a person bowling. In order to get a perfect strike, we need to roll the ball right down the middle of the lane and aim for the king pin. The king pin is the number 1 pin that if hit correctly, it can cause every other pin to fall. If however, we aim the ball too far left or too far right, we end up in the gutter.
I like to think of the pins as all the things in life that we want to be doing well and the king pin is self care. When we are mastering self care, it has the ability to have far reaching effects on the rest of our life and the lives of those around us. When we take the time to exercise, meditate, eat healthy, get proper sleep, and manage our stress, then we are able to show up in all other areas with a clear mind and renewed vigor. It allows us to be compassionate, loving and generous with those around us. Not only that, but when our stress levels are managed, our immune system can be strong and more effectively fight illness.
How do I manage to hit the king pin in life? Well, to be totally honest, I don’t always hit a strike. I am just like every other human. I end up in the gutter sometimes. But the key here is awareness. I continue to remind myself of the bowling image and when I stray off track, I aim again for the king pin.
For me, self care comes in a whole variety of ways. Some are little, like listening to spa music when I work, or taking a hot shower at the end of a long day. Some require more discipline, like meditating for 10 minutes in the morning or exercising consistently. Some of the best ones are free: like taking a moment to stand with your face in the sun and feel the warm glow on your skin, breathing the fresh air into your lungs. For many people, it may be spiritual, like connecting with their Higher Power. And I never discount the power of a good strong mantra or prayer in the back of my mind, to get me through the day.
Here’s my mantra or prayer for you:
May you find strength, wisdom and peace in the healthy zone
May you continue to aim for the king pin in life
May you be renewed and ready to be a powerful force for good in this world.
As we all try to strike a balance in times of strain or stress, I encourage you to double down on your self care. Model it for your children, your friends and your colleagues. Nourish yourself so that you can go out and nourish others. The world needs you right now.
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