Do you recognize this? On the freeway somebody is driving bloody slow on the fast lane. Always a nuisance. But now you are freaking out behind the wheel. Or maybe somebody suddenly says something sweet and offers you help, and you burst out in tears. Just some examples of emotions that seems to appear out of nowhere and with high intensity. Why? Because you are tired. I think we can all relate and all have experienced situations like these. Your physical and mental health are undeniably connected. Very useful to know and to use as a signal and compass.
To me, and to a lot of others, this connection between physical and mental health, is very strong. Because our heads already have the tendency to blame ourselves and not the situation. To see black rather than white. To glorify perfectionism and doing the best we can, always. When I’m tired, the self-destructive voices in my head get room to maneuver. They create anxiety and stress. And when I’m not able to rationalize these voices and feelings, I block (giving up, fleeing, being passive) and I start to misuse food and sports (too much, too little).
I just returned to the Netherlands, after three years of traveling, and started work again. It’s very physical work. Needless to say, I’m very tired. But, in the evenings I want my social life and sports, which again, needless to say, does not work out. On top of this I do all kinds of volunteering work, to which I committed when I did not have a job yet. Way too much. And a magical mix for stress, disappointment and feeling down.
So, time to turn these signals into a compass for direction and action. What can I do to create rest and balance again?
Ever been on a plane and listened to the emergency instruction? You get instructed to, when an emergency occurs, put your own oxygen mask on first. Help others comes second. So, I should focus on myself first, thinking small, before helping and living big again.
When you are going through some big changes in your life, you spent more energy. And it takes time to internalize the change and make it work. But time and energy are valuable and limited. So, when you need a lot on a certain level, you need to save resources on another level. That sounds very logical, but still a lot of us aren’t very good in practicing this theory. We want to keep all our balls in the air. But, actually, this is a very short term strategy. It will work for a while, but in the long run, you will get exhausted and the chance of all balls ending up upon the floor will grow. And probably is inevitable.
Back in the plane. Emergency. The only thing that counts right now is the oxygen mask. Perfect. Seems doable. So, right now, in my world: What is my oxygen mask? What is my priority? Work. Work has priority right now. Work will get me an income, will make sure I regain structure and will help me settle in the Netherlands again. Perfect again. I already have put on that mask. Now I need to see this as a step in the right direction and take the time for the oxygen to revitalize me. I have to give myself time and allow myself to be tired. I have a goal. When I regain strength again, I can expand my world again. I cannot punish myself for talking to my friends a little less, that I struggle with other balls, that my world is a little small right now. It has a reason, a goal. And actually, when I think about it, I am doing a great job with that! Something I do not give myself credit for. I have been focusing on the things that I need to let go for now. But I’m just focusing.
Now that I know that, temporarily, my world will be a little smaller, there are a few practical tips which I can use.
- Communication. I prioritized certain things in my life and they will take time. I can share that with my friends and family, and with everybody with whom I have commitments. Maybe I can relief myself from some obligations or social gatherings.
- I remind myself of my goal every day by sticking a post it not on my mirror which tells me I’m doing great. I see it every morning and evening.
- I keep my life simple and small for a while. Do I still have the feeling that I need to do more than I can handle? Maybe I can get help. I could make a list of things that need to be done and let people help me finish them. Either way, making a to-do list is always useful to empty your head. I often notice that it feels bigger and more in your head than on paper. So, it’s a great way to organize, rationalize, and to create space in your head.
- I try to see going to bed early, taking rest and doing nothing as a reward for working hard and making a change. I try to avoid the thought of wasting time when I take rest.
- I try to be kind to myself. I am doing the best I can, right now. I will give myself time. And I will surround myself with love from my family and friends
- I will keep my oxygen mask on. For a safe landing.